West Chazy Campground–Observance Present, Memories Past

DFH Volume 1 Issue 23

By Camilla [Dayton] Luckey, daughter of Rev. Charles and Josephine Dayton.

AUGUST 2019:   It was my high school 50th— Beekmantown Central, the sprawling, district school a few miles south of West Chazy on Rte. 22. Yes, class of ‘69, summer of love, Age of Aquarius, Woodstock. My class! Maybe I’ll get to my part of that story later.  

Joyce Timpson Schauer, lifelong friend from Corinth, had mentioned that Norma, her sister, spends lots of time in West Chazy these days. Norma stays on the campground, I believe with Lori, John’s widow, who has Uncle Paul’s cottage. It occurred to me that if I were to attend my Class of ‘69 reunion I might as well pay the campmeeting association instead of LaQuinta, if, that is, the new campmeeting association would allow. They would.  Phil Hunter, of that long-faithful Glens Falls family, was my contact, suggested by Norma. Phil seems to be the official groundskeeper, although association members share never-ending tasks such as leaf-raking and roof repair; there are prices to be paid for that glorious old-tree canopy.

A house with trees in the background

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I stayed at the Perry “Motel,” built in the sixties-seventies cement-block frenzy that followed whatever year it was that my dad’s autumnal leaf burning ritual—a solo task that year—turned disastrous. One of his several simultaneously burning piles of leaves (he was always a person to multi-task) turned to embers the dorm and two or three cottages that directly faced the tabernacle. In those days, towering shade trees, heavy with leaves, graced the now bare, blistering lawn today used more for parking rather than for picnics.  The century-old wooden dorm and cottages were tinder boxes. Dry leaves had collected underneath and lay there, waiting.  I remember the afternoon but not the year. I know from other afternoons the crafty, peek-a-boo glint of those sparkly orange snakes as they try to curl their way onto the route and destination of their own choice That day they succeeded, and the campgrounds were forever changed.

The Perry “Motel” was built for tabernacle access, like the wooden dorm it replaced, but the Perry is sited at one side, not the front, of the main tabernacle (Charles Dayton Tabernacle) and is equally close to the Missionary Tabernacle, sometimes called the Ladies’ Tabernacle.

The Perry is located approximately where stood what I believe was the Hewitt cottage, the one with the friendly screened-in front porch, the one that should perhaps be intentionally typo’d ‘perch.’ The Hewitt cottage was heart and center of the campground, a watchman’s perfect tower or a gossip’s paradise. Every flow of pedestrian or vehicular traffic was visible and, it seemed, every passerby’s conversation or crunch of gravel was clearly audible. Jo Hewitt’s porch rocker was probably closer to the tabernacle pulpit than was the back row of tabernacle pews, and Jo was anything but a gossip. She was a person of fewer-than-few words and a perfect person to overhear material that needed to be lifted in prayer. She, widow of Rev. Reginald Hewitt, conference president who preceded my father, was a watchman who had suffered much. Reginald had died in 1961(?) in a flaming car crash only a few minutes from West Chazy camp, his destination. My own last memory of the quiet Mrs. Hewitt—remarkable to a child (and to me even as a young adult) for her veined apple-red cheeks and cute little apple-shaped body bestowed dignity by a permanently flawless French chignon and super thick rimless spectacles—was my mother greeting Mrs. Hewitt the summer after Mrs. Hewitt had just endured a winter of chemotherapy. Mrs. Hewitt nodded, not speaking aloud, her cheeks still rosy with red spider veins set now upon a palette of pea greens. Her chignon, maybe a bit thinner, was unchanged. My mother held her horror till we’d passed from earshot. My mother didn’t know, of course, that only a few summers later she herself would have her own pea green chemo pallor.

The Perry, as of 2019, is twenty bucks a night.  It’s a little rough but the water’s hot, the sheets clean, very few spiders (nothing worse!), and there were two bottles of water as well as a souvenir frig magnet in my welcome packet. And air conditioning!  Alas, to have AC, a window unit, meant the sole window was sealed, at least it could not be opened (!), and thus I could not enjoy the melodious sweet summer breezes which I believe are the campground’s hallmark natural beauty, a glory of the leafy trees.

A house with trees in the background

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Those fabulous trees are losing the battle to practicality  “Fire and ice” prudent board members have forever intoned, understandably. That’s a lot of leaves to rake. Fires are a proven danger.  Just read the above paragraphs! And who will pay for the roof when age or ice brings down a limb from one of these high and mighty beauties? and the roof moss!! I note that several cottages have been given shiny metal roofs, including my dad’s cottage that Shirley Pauling now owns. Cottages that have been let go, and there are several, belong on movie sets, romantically covered and drooping from pretty, green decay. Nevertheless, if you, dear reader, are looking at these lines  “in future years” and the pragmatists have won and the entire campground is scalped to a silent but easily mown-and-raked grass green, not moss green, with no standing timber.  Be aware that there was another time, a time when Mother Nature (and the Atwood family, local farmers) gifted West Chazy with a sanctuary much bigger than the cement-block tabernacle interior and naked front yard. There was a place where the psalmist would have felt at home, where Nature’s praises of her Creator were in glorious concert. There are just enough trees and just enough space between them to make beautiful worship music, as well as problems.

I was given, besides my Perry key, which I never used, and two water bottles and a frig magnet and registration form, a standardized and very general “holiness” statement requiring my signature. It was so general it presented no problems. Anyway, who doesn’t want holiness?  It’s just the type of lifestyle that puts ten-year-old girls into garters that I find problematic!

 Anyway, the entire experience felt very strange and very precious on counts too numerous to give in detail. One I will mention: the continuity of some of the population.

(to be continued next month—November 2019, Vol 1 Issue 24)

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