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Gay Boy Scouts At Camp

It was the summer of 1973, and we were isolated in northern lower Michigan at the scout camp. If you want to know what the attitude was, just listen to that song by Kid Rock, All Summer Long.  Although we weren't passing a bottle around or partying on the beach sand, it is the exact time period and location that Kid Rock describes in his song.

Anyway, we were about 40 guys of varying ages that were enlisted in running the boy scout camp. There were two archery, riffle range instructor who as it turns out, were cousins... or at least, that's what they said.

There was a Chaplain, who might have been in the seminary, but I never knew what his background was. He would lead religious services, prayer services, invocations, dedications and also counsel scout or leaders that were having problems. I'm not sure what all he did most of the time.

But the Chaplain took a liking to Westley, a scout who came from a nearby rural town. That is, Westley was from a town only 15 miles from my home, and so, he knew a few people that I knew, and I had expected, by reputation, that we would get along well. I must say that I was a bit surprised when Westley not only was befriended by the Chaplain, but pretty much spent all his free time with him.

As the two horsed around, various people began to talk about if they were more than just friends. No one wanted to criticize the Chaplain, as he was a great guy, and it just wasn't done: You didn't cross the religious leader in the camp. But they spent SO much time together, and had eyes only for each other...perhaps it was inevitable for the whispers to start.

Now this was the time period of Explo 72, and "Peace through Christ", and born-again Christians who witnessed to others were cool. And it turns out that Westley and the Chaplain both liked to share their faith with each other. It was a tight little bond, and frankly, I felt jealous. There was no room nor time for either of them to spend with others.

Westley, I think, ran the trading post. He had a high, nasal type of voice and being smart, he was a bit of a geek or nerd, even before the terms had been invented. In those days, if he walked into a fast food restaurant where other kids were hanging out, there would be calls of "Narc, Narc" and he'd be shunned. But with the Chaplain, he had found a soul-mate. They spent all their free time together.

One weekend, between sessions of camp (the new troops showed up on Sunday afternoon, and checked out, leaving on Saturday morning or early afternoon) something unfortunate happened. We had Saturday afternoon to prepare the camp for the next round, and if finished, then by dinnertime, we could leave camp, do laundry, hang out or ride the camp bus about 25 miles up to "TC" (Traverse City) for some night life. (Of course, we were almost all under age, so the lure of a night out quickly faded when we couldn't drink or score any girls.) Very shortly, the majority of guys would want to stay "in camp" to do laundry, sneak some drinks, get high or lay around on their night off.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and a somewhat overcast and cool day, but that didn't stop Westley and the Chaplain from planning on a swim together. They violated the camp rule about not swimming in the lake without a lifeguard, but justified the activity by saying that they were each other's buddy. I was working on the raised part of the beach that overlooked the lake, replacing leads or ropes that tied up rowboats, canoes and other waterfront chores. But I could hear them swimming together in the deepest, #3 swimmer area.

The dock was in a large F-shape, with number 1 non-swimmers in the closest area, the #2 intermediate swimmers in the space between the crossbars, and the #3 swimmers beyond the top rung all the way out to the raft, which was anchored about 20 feet out. The depth was between 12 and 18 feet, and the raft was tied to a railroad rail stuck in the mud of the lake bed.

The raft was about 6 ft square, made of aluminum over Styrofoam, and featured a short ladder that stood above a small 3 ft square trampoline. A person stood on top of the ladder, dropped down onto the tramp, and shot off over the deep water. It was our version of a diving board.

This particular day, the guys were laughing and joking, talking up a storm, calling to each other, and racing or swimming out to the dock. The Chaplain was a large, burly dark haired guy with a groomed mustache and shaggy hair, dark chest hair over broad chest. Westley on the other hand, was a spindly high school kid who needed glasses, had short reddish hair, and was obviously fully developed at age 17, as he had hair under his arms and a small trail of hair disappearing under his plaid shorts swimsuit.

The guys were horsing around, trying to shake the raft and fake each other out on the tramp.
They were doing jack-knife dives, cannon balls, and can-openers. But with only two guys, there was never a wait to get back out of the water and back up on the ladder. They were only limited by their stamina. Then, as the Chaplain stood to jump, or dive, Westley tried to haul himself up onto the raft, and it lurched a little. The Chaplain grabbed for the ladder and steadied himself. He jumped, bounced and all was well. Then it was turnabout and Westley was standing on top of the ladder when the Chaplain grabbed the raft and gave it a shake.

Westley lost his balance, and fell over the edge of the ladder, landing on the aluminum deck with a thud. I looked up and saw only the horseplay and then Westley laying on the deck, so I didn't actually see the impact. But the Chaplain was up on the deck in a flash, bending over the limp figure.  I couldn't hear the conversation, but I could hear the change in tone of the voices as looked up at them. Something was wrong. I could tell from that great distance.

Within a moment, he looked up and spotted me on the beach, tying up rowboats, and called for help. We had to transport Westley across the lake to the health cabin for an immediate exam.  NO ONE ELSE was around.  In fact, had I not hung around to do odd chores (and keep an eye on them) they'd have been alone.

I hopped into the boat and rowed for all I was worth out to the raft. I was tuned and expertly docking against the raft in a matter of moments. The Chaplain fairly lifted Westley to his feet and lowered him into the boat.  Westley was cradling his arm, somewhat curled over. He had a towel draped over him, probably for shock.

Just as I was about to row for the health cabin at headquarters down the length of the lake (it would take more than a half hour to get there), the Chaplain directed that I just take them directly ashore.
Westley was conscious and nursing his arm and shoulder. I followed the direction and within a few powerful strokes, I had turned the boat and headed for the beach. The Chaplain's car was waiting next to the guest cabin, and he could drive faster than I could row across the lake.

I warned them that we were about to hit the beach, and then we were moored. They scrambled out, the Chaplain guided Westley into the car and they were off down the one lane dirt road at quite a speed. They would be at the nurse's station within 5 minutes.

 I felt bad for them, but worse that I hadn't stopped their swim date when it had started. As a lifeguard, I could have tried, but knew that they were going to do it anyway. (Plus, I was curious to see just how far it might go with them down to just their swim trunks.)

After Westley was examined and transported to the closest hospital in Kalkaska, about 15 miles away, he was returned and had his arm in a black sling. It was more than just a sling, his whole shoulder was isolated in this harness, and he looked like he couldn't do much work, let alone set up a campsite or heft anything. So he was sent home... for the rest of the summer.

He returned to lower Michigan and I never heard from him again. The Chaplain, well, he stayed on, but he kept to himself. He kicked himself a lot for injuring his buddy, but he was obviously lonely and didn't open up to anyone. Lord knows, I tried, and made several overtures to him and even tried to talk religion with him, but his heart wasn't into it. I concluded that he was pinning for Westley, and for the remaining weeks of camp, he kept a low profile.

But that didn't stop the rumor mill. Deprived of the obvious pair, the tongues started wagging about the two firing range cousins. Word spread that they were gay for each other, and word finally reached the camp director. He called a meeting over a lunch and offered the floor to the gun range instructor. The dude was outraged to hear that he and his cousin had been targeted as "homos". He was outraged, but no way to counter the accusation cause he was innocent. He stopped short of calling it sick, but it was a vulgar display of anti-gay, homophobic rant to try to sell that he was straight. It was awkward, cause it was all one-sided and nobody else spoke. 

One would have expected the Chaplain to rise to his defense or to provide some sage words of council, but the man of faith kept quiet. That made me wonder why.  There was an awkward silence after this impassioned speech.  I think most of the staff were convinced that the whispers were at least partially true.

And so, as the heat shifted onto the weapons guys for the rest of the summer, my money was on the Chaplain.  I kept my eye on him, but he never opened up to me.  Nor anyone else that I could tell.   I never told anyone what I had seen out on the raft, what I could hear, what they were doing, and nobody ever asked me.  Maybe nobody cared, maybe they already had their answer.

I never saw him again after that summer either.
studfinder studfinder 56-60, M Nov 15, 2012

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