Thursday, August 30, 2012

In the Kiamichis, What a Wonderful Time . . .

Today would have been my mom's 88th birthday. I offer this post in her memory.

When I was growing up, one of the family vacations we took was the same each year. We would go to a little town in southeastern Oklahoma called Honobia that most people don't know exists. Why in the world would anyone ever go there? We attended a family camp there each year sponsored by the Kiamichi Mountain Christian Mission. It was always held the first full week of August. (When school didn't start until after Labor Day, you could do this.) There were lots of other families who did the same thing. It was a pretty cheap vacation when you thought about it. You could park free on the grounds. While there were hookups available, you had to make sure you were near them.

On the way to family camp, we would go through Hot Springs, Arkansas. I loved looking at the beautiful hotels on "bathhouse row" in that city. We'd venture a little further down the road and have a picnic lunch at one of those little roadside parks beside a creek. Something out of a can like SPAM or Vienna sausages was usually on the menu. We'd make a stop at Lum and Abner's Jot-em-down store.

The first year that we went camping, we had a tent. We were also glad that my dad had been thoughtful enough to purchase cots for the tent. When it began raining and the water was coming down that hill, we didn't get wet, unlike my newly found friends the Simmons who were camping with their grandparents, the Van Zyles, who were missionaries for the mission. The oldest daughter Robin was my age. Her sister Karen was a year or two younger. There was a younger brother named Bucky, but I don't think he was there the first year.

Many of the families ate in the "dining hall", but we had purchased a Coleman stove and brought a grill. We always stopped in Mena, Arkansas to do our grocery shopping before heading in to the campground. During the week, we usually went into the town of Talahina to do laundry and to do additional grocery shopping. (Food only kept so long in a cooler.)  You could buy ice at the campground which was called "Christ's 40 Acres" (although I was told it had grown to more like 100 acres). There was a little store in Honobia, that in later years we called "the Mall."

In the mornings, the kids went to sessions especially designed for them. These were held in a building called the Memorial Chapel, but it was a big white building with a dorm above it. I don't remember the names of all the faithful ladies who worked with us, but I do remember Janet Hudson would always lead the singing. I believe she taught one of the elementary groups also. She came from Ohio and later on Kentucky to do this each year. Mark Layman, the son of one of the missionaries, usually did the sessions for the teens. The teen sessions moved around the campground over the years, but there was a big metal building where they were held for most of the years. The adults had two morning sessions -- Devotions and a "Faith and Freedom" session. The adult sessions were held under the "Big Steel Tent" which was a steel framed building with canvas sides in places to allow air to flow. (You needed to stock up on those funeral home fans before you went.)

We had the afternoons free to do whatever we liked. There was usually horseback riding available in a little ring up by the old post office which was on the grounds of the mission. There was a donkey wheel for the younger ones. Some people went swimming in one of the nearby creeks. I don't remember what the name of the one we usually swam in was. We called it the "Honobia swimming hole" or the "Honobia Municipal Swimming Pool" if we were trying to be cute. It was about a mile down a dirt and rock road behind "the mall". Some people went swimming in Cucumber Creek, but it was much shallower, and the rocks were pretty sharp. I remember one of my friends cut herself on the rocks there one year. They had to take her all the way to Mena, since it was the closest hospital. As a teen, I walked a long time to get there with the Godfreys from Florida and some other friends on our "Honobia Platform Shoes" (which were cola cans that fit under the heels of our shoes). (Needless to say, this was back when cola cans were a bit heavier than they are now.) Of course, one day would be taken up with the laundry and other duties. We'd sometimes take a scenic drive. Then there were softball games on a field near the canteen and an 18-hole hand golf course. The balls were more or less the size of croquet balls, and you would throw them. One of the missionaries, Paul Cook, always had a game going, but a lot of us joined in the fun and got our own games together. They had balls available in the office that you could check out. Dad would nearly always beat me and Mom, but I got better as the years went on.  There was one other thing to do. Some of us decided to go sliding down the red clay hill next to the bathhouse. I didn't realize this was the red clay hill that mom had told me not to slide down. You see, it wasn't really big enough to be called a hill. To me, a hill was much larger. This was more like a "ditch" with sloping sides. Needless to say, all of us got in trouble that first year because we didn't think that was a hill. We would always take a few watermelons with us to cut throughout the week. We'd share them with all our friends.

In the evenings, there would be an hour of music or a program put on by one of the mission churches followed by an evening service complete with preaching and a choir of campers. The choir practiced at 2:00 in the afternoon, and I began participating in it when I was a teen.These were all held under the "Big Steel Tent."

The second or third year, we had a small pop-up trailer. It really only slept 4 people and had room for nothing else. It basically kept you a little higher off the ground than the tent, but offered no real amenities. We only had that one for a year, I think. Then we got a Starcraft pop-up. It slept 6 (because the table folded down). It had a little sink which made it easier for mom than always trying to lug water up a hill to wash dishes. We still used the Coleman stove. We always parked in about the same place. The Crowe family from Memphis, the Smith family from Arkansas, the Daniel from Memphis, the Kingsley family from Kansas, and the Godfrey family from Florida were always camped nearby. There were kids close to my age in each of these families so we did a lot of things together. After the evening service, we would all gather around a campfire. Mr. Daniel would get out his guitar, and we would sing. It was a fun way to end the evening.

Eventually we got a Coachman travel trailer that could be pulled behind our vehicles. We'd take along my nephews when they got to an age they could enjoy camping. I think some of the older nieces may have gone in the mid-1980s when I was no longer home.

Oddly enough, when I was in college, one of the college musical groups with which I traveled was assigned to the Kiamichis to work in one of the youth camps. I was already very familiar with the place.

There was a song which I still remember as being #50 in the Kiamichi songbook which was written by the founder of the mission that was sung a few times throughout the week.

In the Kiamichis, what a wonderful time
On Christ's Forty Acres beneath the pines.
God sends down blessings for you and me.
We'll love and serve him eternally.

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