So what’s across the road

St. Petersburg Times
Special to the Times

    We were Methodists because my father,when he was anything, was a Methodist. His grandfather had been a circuit-riding Methodist minister around the small churches of southern Mississippi. So I was raised in Galloway Memorial in Jackson, Miss., celebrating Holy Communion in our seats by drinking grape juice out of tiny glasses.

    The summer I was 12, everything changed. I spent vacations up at Allison's Wells, the hotel and spa my mother's family owned. Maybe I got to be too much of a handful, because my aunt, Miss Hosford, sent me across the road for a week at the Episcopal camp, Bratton-Green.

    I didn't know anything about Episcopalians except that Miss Hosford was one and they seemed awfully snooty. At least she did. Whenever she talked about the church, she'd get all whispery, as if the whole business was too sanctified to speak about in a normal voice.

    So I crossed the road with a bit of dread (a feeling I should learn to follow like white stones in a dark forest). I expected a whole camp full of whispery holy-ghosters. My first surprise was finding boys. Half the camp was male. The only other camp I'd gone to was all-girl, and I had almost been thrown out for pretending to be hypnotized and trying to kiss the young man who taught sharpshooting.

    My next happy discovery was dirty jokes. Nobody in my family told them, certainly not Miss Hosford. Every now and then my Aunt Leigh announced she was getting ready to tell a naughty story. My ears would prick up. She'd make us all promise not to say where we'd heard it, and then it would turn out to be some lame thing about having two glasses of wine.

    At camp, after dinner and the singing and storytelling around the campfire, the girls in my cabin sat in our bunks swapping dirty jokes. I didn't have any to swap, but I laughed hard enough to make up for it.

    On the third night, after lights out, we sneaked out and went down to the lake to meet boys. It was mostly whispers and giggles and muted screams at the excitement of it all, but a tall, dark- haired boy stepped out from behind a pine tree and kissed me on the mouth.

    I couldn't concentrate on how it felt. I was too busy being amazed. I was being kissed. This was my first kiss. Somebody actually wanted to kiss me.

    That would have been more than enough for one week, but then it was Sunday, our last day at camp, and we went to church up at the Big House. I managed to follow along in the prayer book, and get down and up with the others. When the time came for communion, I went.

    Kneeling at the rail, I held out my hands for the host and popped it into my mouth. Here came the priest with a silver chalice. I watched. You were supposed to help him by tilting the base with your hands so he'd know when you had a swallow, and then he wiped where your mouth had been with a white napkin. I tilted the cup expecting grape juice and got a mouthful of delicious golden wine, which went burning straight down, converting me to Episcopalianism on the spot. Was this a great church or what? Boys, dirty jokes, kissing and now, real wine.

    I walked back across the road to the hotel with my duffle bag.

    "How was it?" Miss Hosford said.

    I shrugged. "Okay."

    You really can't give grownups an inch.


Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal. Her memoir, The Last Resort, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2011.