BY SAVAGE GLASCOCK
There is a Double G camp alumni in Chattanooga that includes a wide range of community leaders, business executives, professional men and women and well-regarded citizens who spent a few summer weeks working as counselors at our camp, which has operated continuously since 1956. The camp was given to Orange Grove Center to use for a couple of weeks in the summer by the Gordon Street family, who developed it for the use of organizations serving individuals with health and developmental issues.
One of the most enduring aspects of the camp has been the appreciation of the summer job that young counselors had and how it has impacted their lives. These teenagers have carried the experience with them as they matured and began careers in leadership in our community. They comprise a group who still have the interests of our individuals foremost in their minds and hearts. What follows is a compelling story by Savage Glascock, who was dragged into a summer job at Double G Camp and the effect is has had on him.
We so appreciate the article by Mr. Glascock and are going to use it as a springboard to invite all of the camp alumni to visit us this year as we begin our 60 first year of fun for the summer.
– Hal Baker, Former Deputy Director, Orange Grove Center
At my age I’ve come to understand that my attention to the obituary section is required more and more every day. Regardless, I don’t do it enough. For that reason, I’ve learned to shut my mouth when somebody says, “I gotta go to a funeral today” because before, I’d blurt “Who died?” which would be followed by, “Oh man, I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” which is reasonably interpreted as I don’t really give a crap about you or your dead cousin and that’s not true. I do care.
So today I went up and down the obit in Chattanoogan and saw Michael L. Nation. I know of some Nations in this town and shuddered a little as I clicked on his name. I was met by the wonderful smile of what would appear to be a Downs’ syndrome guy who loved to prank people and watch TV. His favorite food was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and his special heroes were his Momma and Daddy, Nora and Buddy. I spent 10 full minutes looking at his face.
People born with disadvantaged mental capacity pierce my heart. Riled or twisted are words that are too strong for my feeling on this subject, but saying that it gets my attention is not strong enough. I would like to say that I have put in tons of time as a volunteer but I haven’t and that’s just what it is. I don’t deserve to but I want to hug Buddy and Nora, not just for their dedicated sacrifice which is tremendous and something not all normal parents are capable of, but for what they know. Though we’ve never met, I have a fraction of a clue of what they’re all about and they live in a special place deep in my heart. I guess you could call me fully involved from my chair in front of this monitor.
When I was little, my next younger brother and I agreed to be the patients in a game of doctor out in the yard with our neighbor, Janie, who was a Down’s syndrome girl. We were instructed to pull our pants down and bend over the swings so she could take our temperature. We were good patients and we did as instructed and prone that way, Janie inserted pine needles in our behinds in a very clinical and professional way. She pulled them out and looked at them with grave concern and then flapped them in the air and stuck ‘em back in. I’ll never stop laughing at the memory of Battle in a winter coat with his britches around his knees and eyes that took a similarly situated me in and said, “Hmmm, I don’t know about this Brother.” Even then I knew it was funny and I also knew there was no evil of any kind afoot. We loved Janie.
Janie’s sibling, Corinne, was buddies with Monica and she was over the top fierce in her protection of her big sister. I remember many times when Monica belly ached about it. “Whatta heck did I do?!” Again, I don’t know what it was like to be Corinne but I have the same kind of fractional notion of her world that I have of the Nations’. I’ll try my best to explain.
What little I know about this comes from two weeks in July during the summer of 1974 that changed my life. While looking at Michael, I ventured back to those wondrous 14 days.
I was 15 years old and didn’t have a summer job and couldn’t drive and I was immature and I knew it. I’d just successfully negotiated puberty and came out OK but was too much of a young chump to do anything about it. Life selfishly sucked for all of these reasons. I did odd jobs and stuff and bided time. Then I found out that my sister, who was off at Orange Grove Summer Camp, called and told Mom that one of the counselors had had a family issue or something and had to go home. With no hesitation at all, Mom volunteered me to fill in. Yep, I would be there the next day.
SUMMER FUN: “After about an hour at Double G, I relaxed and began to understand why my sisters loved this place so much.”
In 1974 it may have been, “What the blue living hell?!” Today, there would be an “F” word involved.
By the time I’d been drafted to “retarded” summer camp, I’d forgotten about Janie and I was terrified of “those people.” My older sister had been to GG Summer Camp years before as well and she invited Bobby Owens to our house once. He scared the living crap out of me. He was about 6’9” and loud and menacing. I later learned that he was actually none of the above and was much more gut-bustingly hilarious. It was with this mind-set that I sat in the back seat of Dad’s big Pontiac and privately freaked out as he and Mom prattled on about this and that on the way up Highway 27 to Double G Ranch.
When I got there, it was late Sunday afternoon and all of the “kids” had already been assigned to their respective cabins and were settling in. Right after Mom and Dad dropped me off at the lodge, it was supper time and somebody rang a bell or something and a mob of gawking, loud, fat, skinny, old and young crazy people came out of the woods and ascended up the lawn toward… me.
There were six or seven cabins on each side of a big slough in the Tennessee River and the cabins on the north shore were for the boys. At breakfast, lunch and supper, each cabin would assemble in a spot out on the lawn before going in to eat. I was to be in Cabin 2. My co-counselors were Bill Harvey, a gregarious 21ish muscled guy from Atlanta who was the cabin boss, and David Dobson. David went to Red Bank and had hair that went all the way down his back. Very much the peacenik, he wore oval John Lennon glasses and he played the electric guitar.
Neither Bill nor David needed to introduce me to the campers because most of them vigorously did that themselves. I had no time to be scared anymore because, holy crap, I was mobbed. I met Jackie, Jeff (pronounced jay-yuff), Steven (Eeebbun), Johnny Graaaaayson and several others whose names I’ve sadly forgotten. There were two other Downs guys who didn’t join into the mob thing. They were off to the side and sorta cool. Bill introduced them to me as Mark and Johnny.
Sister Monica had already told me about Mark. I think his last name was Casey. There was also Mark Kelsey (I think) who did shocked Christopher Lloyd better than Christopher Lloyd. The man kept you in stitches. Mark Kelsey was in later cabins and I get their last names confused now. Mark Casey (I think) was a Special Olympics medalist in swimming. He was famous and all of the girl campers swooned but he was cool about it. He didn’t brag or anything because being a stud was his lot in life and, you know, whatta ya gonna do? He put his arm around me and took me in. Forty five to 60 seconds after we first met, he had my back.
Johnny was reserved. He wore new clothes and was clean as a whistle. He had shiny red hair that was soft and cut into a helmet shape and his white, freckled skin had the texture of cream cheese. I asked him what his full name was and he faced me with a cocked head and eyes that went off to the side meaning “I told you this already, you dummy” and said “I’m Johnny COOOOleee!” And then he gave me the first of the many, many Michael Nation smiles I received at GG. I’m telling you that puts you into the most wonderful dimension.
After about an hour at Double G, I relaxed and began to understand why my sisters loved this place so much.
Johnny and I got to be buddies. There was this genuine sweetness about him that drew me in. All of the campers were sweet but he was super sweet. Like a defenseless flower, he was precious and innocent. The boy had no sin and I’m serious when I say I had his back.
We’d all cut up in the cabin and all start hollering at each other, or at the moon, or other cabins as they walked by. Whatever, we knew we were the best. Johnny couldn’t pronounce my name but he tried. I was walking down the road to Cabin 2 after supper once and he came rushing out in a panic. Somebody had done something unspeakable inside, probably Eeebun and Jayuff getting ready to duke it out again, and Johnny needed help. He looked down the road and saw me and hollered “CLAAAABBOOOOOSE!”
It stuck. All the other campers called me that and soon, the counselors I’d buddied with joined in too. I was delighted.
As I said, I replaced a counselor mid-way through that season’s summer camp. There were two two-week sessions and I only got to do one of them. Regardless, those two weeks had a profound impact on me. At the end of that session after everybody was packed and started leaving, some of the girl counselors cried. I would be a liar if I said I too didn’t struggle with my emotions. I don’t know if it was a lack of sleep; going from order and boredom to irresistible chaos in a matter of hours; learning that I lived in a bubble before GG as it related to campers and counselors or whatever, telling Edmund, Jeff, Steven, Jackie, Mark and the two Johnnies I’d see them next year was tough. I would count every day from that July to next June and come hell or high water, I would most certainly be back.
I got home not depressed and went back to the odd job boredom thing until it was time to register for high school. I was tall and skinny and the football coach was in the hallway and he said I should play like all of my big brothers did so I signed up. At school and at football practice, I blended in and mixed and mingled in a new environment and I had a pretty dang good time. However, Double G was still on my mind all the time and I talked about it to anybody who’d listen.
I stunk at organized football. I was too slow and stupid to be anything but a tackle or an end but I did go both ways and I loved defense. As soon as the ball moved 1/32 of an inch you could slam into the guy in front of you and be in the backfield before anybody could react. The pickle is that you had to be bigger and stronger than the guy in front of you and the guy I practiced with was Peter Bowl – a 6’7” 250 pounder who could stay up with cornerbacks in the 40. Sweet Jesus, no sir.
But I did carry the bang off the ball part to PE class for the shirts and skins sand lot football sessions. With no ref, you could cheat like the dickens and get away with it and I became pretty disruptive when the other side had the ball. It got to the point where a starting varsity fullback on the other side stood up in the huddle and screamed, “Come on dammit! Who’s got Claboose?!”
Right there on the line in my naked upper half and gasping for air, I laughed and Johnny Cooley flooded my mind. I was who I was in large part because of him and his buds. I decided, then, that I deeply loved “those people.”
Later, we’d all sit up with Mom on Saturday night in the TV room and, curled up on the couch, she’d have a whole half gallon of ice cream in one arm and a big spoon in the other. We howled at stuff like Dan Aykroyd as Jimmy Carter describing his enemies as “Lusty, zesty men, seething with vital hormonal secretions..” and when SNL was over, the conversation kept going.
These were some of the best moments of my life with Mom. Sometimes the conversations got serious but most of the time we just kept on laughing about things. I did GG summer camp until I was 19, as did a number of my sibs, so those exploits were in at least two out of five of these late Saturday night pow wow’s. In those conversations, Janie would inevitably come up and Mom always teared up at the observation, many years ago, that Janie first befriended Paul, then the next year it was Tim, then Monica, then Ann, then me, then Battle. Everybody grew up except Janie who just picked up with the next Glascock in line. Before Chris had his turn, Janie had a heart attack and died. Even in my early twenties, I didn’t yet understand death but I knew exactly why Momma cried.
So back to now and looking at Michael Nation and wondering about Johnny, I Googled. On February 28, 2015, John McConnell Cooley died at the age of 53. He liked to sing and go on vacation and he spent a lot of time on the putting green. “He extended love, joy and hugs to EVERYONE he met.”
I guarantee he did.
And now it’s me who struggles as he writes. What a beautiful person! What a beautiful family! How lucky am I to have known him?
For various reasons that are mine alone, I have permanently lost religion but that doesn’t mean I don’t talk to and lean on God every day. If you waver, let me suggest you meet a guy like Johnny. He had no stipulations. No holds. No caveats. His was unbridled, simple, warm and unconditional love. There is nothing on this planet more powerful than that.
That’s God. That’s why I want to hug Buddy and Nora. That’s why Corinne acted like she did and that’s why, no matter what happens, I will always be happy and believe.•
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Savage Glascock is 57 and he lives on Signal Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was born the 9th of 12 children who remain very close to this day. Savage has five children of his own who he adores. As a teenager, Savage spent his summers as a counselor at Orange Grove Summer Camp which was held at GG Ranch on Chickamauga Lake. It is from those miraculous memories that he tells this story.