Well, the kids are out of school for the summer. They are bored and restless. What are you going to do with them? Of course, send them to camp!
And there are plenty of camps to ship them off to. There are sports camps. Johnny can improve his baseball skills. Hopefully, the instructors can help him learn to hit well enough to make the starting lineup on the travel ball team that you spend so many weekends going here and there to tournaments. There are also soccer camps, basketball camps, football camps, and cheerleading camps. Many of these camps have connections with school. This includes band camps. But even sports like fencing and water polo have summer camps.
Of course, there are other types of camps beside sports camps. There are camps for the budding artist in your home. Art camps focus on developing a child’s talents in the areas of dance, art, acting, music, etc. Academic camps can help your child grow and learn in the summer in areas like math and science. Adventure camps enable the kids to do cool stuff, like rock climbing and scuba diving. Then, there are the more traditional camps. Some of you reading this may remember going to 4-H camp, FFA camp, Boy Scout camp, or a church camp.
When you send a kid off to camp, you want him or her to have a good time. You want them to come home with some good memories. But you should expect more than that. Hopefully, Johnny or Jane will learn something, experience something that will help them as they head toward becoming an adult.
So maybe Johnny or Jane should skip those camps this summer and go to the camp I went to. I went to this camp every summer until I graduated from high school. It was called Camp Tobacco Field. Okay, it really wasn’t a camp. But I did learn much that has helped me through the years.
My sister and I started working in tobacco on the family farm when we were around six or seven years old. It began as handing leaves of tobacco to the person tying it on a stick at the barn. It later progressed as I got older to driving the tractor in the field, then back and forth to the barn and finally, to cropping (or picking the leaves, for you city folk) tobacco in the field. The hours were long. Often, the day would start sometimes at 5:30, if we had to take out a barn of cured tobacco and would end late, usually around dark.
Tobacco barning days were hot, sticky and hard, especially when I started cropping tobacco in the field. You would get soaking wet first thing in the morning from the dew on the tobacco leaves. Then as the day progressed, the baking sun would turn the field into a sauna. Many days, when we were not barning our tobacco, we were helping our neighbors or relatives with their crop, since their kids were helping us. And working in tobacco with your friends and cousins, while hard, could be fun.
What did I learn at Camp Tobacco Field?
First, that hard work never killed anyone. Well, that’s what I was told many times. I wondered about that often those summers, especially while cropping sand lugs (the lowest tobacco leaves on the stalk, for you city folks.) And it didn’t kill me, although I did see the “monkey” a couple of times (that’s getting too hot and dehydrated, for you city folks.)
Second, responsibility. You were given a job to do, even at six or seven years old. And even if the job was small, it needed to be done. And if you didn’t do it, someone else would have to do it. As I became older, the responsibilities became greater. If you couldn’t handle cropping your row, someone else would have to help you, or you would slow down the whole operation.
Third, the value of a dollar. That was a very important lesson. Most of what little amount I would receive while working was used to help buy school clothes. When you realize that a couple of dollars extra spent on a shirt is another hour out in the field working, you shop a little more carefully.
There were other lessons learned. But the most important one was embedded in my being almost every day in that tobacco field. Simply, get an education so I won’t have to do this when I get older.
Let’s see – hard work, responsibility, the value of a dollar, and get an education. That may be more important for a child’s future than learning to hit a curve ball or whitewater rafting. Maybe it’s time to bring back Camp Tobacco Field.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]