Growing up in the Okanagan Valley was more than just a dream, it truly was a blessing.
Straight out of a novel or Hallmark movie I had the ideal childhood, romping throughout the summers in a world of sunshine, swimming, and the simple, sweet life. When I wasn’t roaming in the hills around Bear Creek I was playing road hockey with Danny, Rob, Kenny and the rest of the crew around Water Street or Knox Crescent, or hanging around City Park earning potential manhood stripes by jumping off the top of Athens’s Tower into the cold waters of Okanagan Lake.
Fun in the sun? Cripey, I was the prince of paradise – or so I like to recall.
My parents were good folk, for the most part. My mother a living angel and my dad a Jekyll and Hyde – part amazing part monster, but both loved their kids to bits.
What I did not know back then was that we lived a lie.
I always had a warm house, food on the table, and no real recognition that my parents struggled not only with their health but financial disaster. My proud dad did his best to see to it that as kids we did not go without. I never knew that while we appeared to live in the world of middle income we were bankrupt, almost always.
I suppose to some degree I simply took many of my pleasures as routine, not knowing the sacrifices the adults in my world gave to make them take place. One of ‘regular’ joys I enjoyed as a youth, (and looked forward too throughout the winters) was my summer excursions at ‘summer camp’. As mentioned previously I spent four or five summers attending either church or cub camps at the fabulous facility known as the Anglican Church Camp (OAC) located on Westside Road.
Countless magical moments flicker through my brain as I recall nights spent sharing ghost stories or similar scary tales with other young campers huddled in the old cabins lined with bunk beds. Armed with flashlights and our favourite blankets and pillows we would secretly cower in our beds, attempting to be brave while the older or braver lads in our hut would succeed in attempting to scare the day-lights out of us. Thankfully there was always the elder cabin ‘captains’ or wardens who would appear at just the moment when a good bed-wetting or tears of fear attack was pending – and save us the humility of such a scenario.
One particular episode I will never forget was when my cohorts and I of the Sixth Kelowna Cub Pack set off on a planned nature trek from our cabins to the giant cross situated high up on the hillside overlooking the lake. In order to reach the sacred spot, we had to pass by a former dump site which was noted for attracting a particular family of skunks. My mom, who also doubled as the cub pack’s Akela, gave us all a lengthy lecture about how we were to remain walking in formation with our designated buddy, and most important of all we were to, (under no circumstances), go near the family of skunks that resided at the dump site.
Less than an hour later, with Mom/s lecture still foremost in my brain, I watched in spellbound horror as my assigned buddy, Charlie Ulmer broke the vow. In total delight at spotting the skunk clan Ulmer rushed over to mother skunk, (proudly sporting her magnificent tail complete with an impressive and almost iridescent white stripe), scooped up the terrified critter and rushed back to the troop of kids. Then, with total glee and enthusiasm, thrust the skunk towards me with his arms extended fully until the skunk was mere inches from my face, and squealed, “Look what I got Charlie.”
Before I could utter a single word of protest the captured creature let loose with its top defence mechanism and covered me from head to toe in the foulest fumes known to man.
I can still recall my mother’s agonizing scream mixed with equal portions of abject horror, dismayed disbelief, and motherly morbid recognition of the reality of what had just unfolded before her eyes.
Within mere moments I was whisked back to the main camp where I had to sit and wait while my father drove from town to pick me up and return me home to a tub full of tomato juice. Apparently the only known solution to arresting the nauseating aroma in those days was to be submerged in the red liquid for a lengthy time period. I am sure my father dearly wanted to hold me under until the bubbles stopped.
To this day I admit to a slight aversion to the site of a glass of tomato juice. I’m not sure if I have ever truly forgiven Charlie Ulmer for ending my summer camp experience that year. In fact, I may just have to find out just where he resides at present because clearly the moral church camp lesson about how to forgive is divine still allude me.