The last morning of Camp Paxson had arrived, and the typical craziness of that last day at camp was in progress. Breakfast was over, and then began the mad rush to get all of the campers ready to head home.
The bus back to Bozeman, Montana, would leave at 9 a.m., and hopefully parents of the remaining campers would be there and gone by 11. During that time, we, as staff, would be getting camp gear loaded into the truck, as well as cleaning the cabins, bathrooms and lodge — and, by God’s grace, making sure no kids were left behind.
And that is where the story begins … .
The hour had arrived, and it was time to load the bus. Things were going as per usual — counting and recounting campers, making sure all of those campers had all of their gear and, of course, offering goodbyes. Those were always hard. That's when word began to spread that one of the campers was trying to take a bat home — not of the baseball variety, but of the rat-with-wings variety.
Perhaps a bit of explanation is good here. Camp Paxson is home to way too many bats. Up until recently, when bat houses were built around camp, many of the bats lived in the bathrooms. It was common to see them hanging from the dark corners of the logs in the ceiling or flying above you. Needless to say, bathroom breaks and showers were an adventure at times.
Such was the case one evening when Barry Curtis, pastor, and I were attempting to brush our teeth and one particular bat was practicing its dive-bombing skills over our heads. When one of his passes came too close, we both dove for cover. Unfortunately, the paper towel dispenser was in the path of Curtis' escape attempt. This was before concussions were as talked about as they are now. Today, he would have been put in concussion protocol, but on this occasion he just a good laugh and went off to bed.
This likely explains what took place the next day as we decided to take a camp boat out and try our hand at northern pike fishing during some time off. Fishing was slow, and we had only caught one little one. Like any good fishermen, we would not give up until we had tried everything we had at every spot that looked like it might be home to a fish of any kind, any size.
This led us to the boat dock. No luck there.
This led us to try under the boat dock. Did I mention Curtis was driving? In a matter of moments, the windshield was wedged under the dock support beam and we were stuck.
Attempts to free ourselves were hampered by a lack of strength due to laughing. Two grown men may have never laughed harder, but it gets better. At that very moment, a Montana Fish and Game warden pulled up alongside the dock in his boat. No need to ask what our problem was, but he did want to see our fishing licenses. Fortunately, we each had them, and the warden’s presence had calmed our laughter to the place where we were able to get out from under the dock.
Wow, how did I get so sidetracked …? I will tell you it is easy to do. When I start thinking about Camp Paxson and the 20 years I have been blessed to serve there, the memories just keep coming. The same is true when I am able to talk with former staff and campers — the stories, the memories, just keep coming. That is what makes Camp Paxson so special — the memories.
Well, back to what started all of this — the boy who wanted to take a bat home. Batboy was one of Casey’s kids, a group of kids that Casey Higgins, pastor, and his Helena Church would sponsor each year. For many of these kids, the week at Camp Paxson was one of the best weeks of their lives.
As I arrived at the bus that Sunday morning, Batboy was receiving a pat-down from the bus driver, Ray Wheeling. Apparently, Wheeling had heard rumors of a bat on the bus and had quickly narrowed the list of potential carriers to one.
Sure enough, Batboy had hidden a bat under his clothing. To be sure, Batboy was highly disappointed he wasn’t leaving camp with a bat, but he left smiling. He left thankful he had come. And he was leaving with something. He left with memories of Camp Paxson and more than just of the bats. He left with friends he had met. He left with thoughts of water skiing, water toys, archery — a week of learning and fun.
Most importantly though, he left knowing Jesus in a way he hadn’t before. You see, he and every camper had a great week of fun activities, but they also had a week where every morning and evening were times to get to know Jesus. Batboy is a grown young man now, and I don’t know what his life is like today. But I do know what he left Camp Paxson with is still with him in some way — memories of a bat and a great week of fun and friends, memories of a Jesus who will always be with him and there for him.
I am so thankful for Camp Paxson. It has been and will continue to be a blessing, and it will continue to give campers something to take home with them — memories and Jesus.