The Meal Ticket
My call to write came at an early age. At the time I was far too young to understand how my camp letters home would someday prove to be one of my earliest and truest forms of self-expression. Camp Desoto was a month long girls camp situated high in the Rocky Mountains of Tennessee. On a hot June Saturday in 1973, with me riding alone in the back seat, my parents took the three hour drive up from Atlanta to drop me off for the summer. Other than holiday weekends away at my cousins’ house in Nashville, my parents would have never allowed me in the past to be away from home and family for any extended length of time. I had just completed third grade, yet was not too young to discern how much had changed in my parent’s thinking over the last months. Less than a year prior, my younger brother Rob had suddenly fallen ill with infectious hepatitis. He celebrated his 7th birthday in the hospital and two weeks later, leaving my parents in shock, he was gone. Our car entered the entrance gates and I stared at the huge banners welcoming new and returning campers. The three of us approached the sign-in table manned by a cheery college co-ed who pointed us in the direction of my camp section. My father backed up the family station wagon as close as he could to my assigned cabin and lugged out a green footlocker, which I’d been given that March for my birthday, along with a DeSoto brochure and card from my parents informing me they’d enrolled me in the June session.
We entered the cabin and the screen door slapped shut behind us. The lodgings were rustic and it smelled musty. I was one of the earliest campers to arrive so I had my pick of beds. My mother helped me make up my camp cot, its’ rusty springs creaking as she attempted to make her usual hospital corners with the sheets. My father placed the green footlocker at end of the bunk and together we unpacked the sundries, placing them in the little wooden