Photo of the Order of the Arrow pocket flap patch for the Klahican Lodge, the lodge into which I was "tapped out."
"Wednesday night campfire at Camp Tom Upchurch in Hope Mills was a big thing. Families were invited and on this particular night, my grandparents had driven over from Pinehurst. Grandma brought a picnic dinner—fried chicken, rolls, potato salad, fresh tomatoes, deviled eggs, a jug of ice tea. It was a welcome relief from the food they served in the dining hall.
A bugle called us to the campfire circle about an hour before dark. We sat on wooden benches, the scouts in front, each troop sitting together, with family members sitting behind. It wasn’t actually a circle, but a semi-circle that faced the lake, with two fire pits between the benches and the water. It was still warm and humid when we arrived. The buzz of mosquitoes filled the air and in the distance, we could hear the roll of thunder. Or maybe it was artillery from Fort Bragg. To be prepared, we all had our ponchos and had doused ourselves with OFF. As soon as everyone was seated, a staff member dressed as an Indian warrior from the Plains called down the fire. Arrows shot into each pit, igniting the wood. It seemed to be a miracle, but it really “only takes a spark to get a fire going” (to quote from a church camp song) when one utilizes petroleum products. With the fires burning, we sang songs, watched corny skits and listened to stories as the light drained from the sky and the chorus of frogs threatened to drown us out. When it was finally dark, the mood became more somber and we sang the song of the voyageurs.
Our paddles keen and bright, flashing like silver; swift as the wild goose flight, dip, dip, and swing.
Dip, dip, and swing them back, flashing like silver; swift as the wild goose flight, dip, dip and swing.
Over and over we sang the song, each time getting softer. Soon, we could hear fish jump in lily pads near the water’s edge. We started another round and then it appeared. In the middle of the lake was the Chief standing in a canoe, his arms folded across his chest, a full bonnet of feathers surrounding his head and hanging down his back. A lantern sitting in the bottom of the canoe illuminated him as two braves paddled quietly. We watched in awe. The canoe beached and several other staff members, dressed as Indians were on hand to help the chief out of the boat. In the distance, a drum began to beat and the warriors started to dance around the dying flames. Then the Chief joined in, dancing across the front and then up into the benches where he crossed back and forth in front of the sitting scouts, just inches away. Had one of the scouts been so inclined, he could have plucked a feather from his bonnet, but we were too entranced for that. When he came to me, he stopped, turned, slapped my shoulders, and then lifted me up. Before I knew what was happening, one of the braves quickly whisked me to the front and had me stand by the fire with my arms crossed over my chest. Several other scouts soon joined me. After a while, the Chief led us away as the campfire closed with the singing of the scout vespers.
Softly falls the light of day, as our campfire fades away. Silently each Scout should ask,"Have I done my daily task? Have I kept my honor bright? Can I guiltless sleep tonight? Have I done and have I dared, everything to Be Prepared?"
I had just been tapped out for the Order of the Arrow, the brotherhood of honored campers. That night, the Chief told us we’d been elected by our peers to be a part of this elite fellowship, but before we would be welcomed into the group, we’d have to pass an ordeal. The ordeal was scheduled for later that summer. I was excited, yet nervous about what I’d have to endure. I’d heard about the ordeals: a night alone in the woods, a day of little food, hard work and silence.
When he told us we could go back to our troops, I set out to find my grandparents. I could tell that they were proud of me. Granddaddy asked me to walk with them to their car and once we got there, I spied on the floor board of the back seat, one each side of the drive train hump, a watermelon. Granddaddy gave me one and he took the other and we walked over to our troop site. My grandma carried a butcher knife and salt shaker. She cut up the melons on a picnic table, sprinkled salt on them, and gave everyone a thick wedge. I think the watermelons came from Coy’s farm. Coy was grandma’s uncle and he was still farming a little in 1970. In addition to growing and curing some of the best bright-leaf tobacco in the county, he was well-known for his watermelon patch.
I’ll have to write more about the ordeal later… I should also note that Camp Tom Upchurch closed in 1974. I wish I could find some photos of it.