A Lesson for Life

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
May/June 2003

By Rebecca Schneider, Illustrated by Eliott P. Frank

Billy stood on the porch of the cabin enjoying the cool, fresh air. He loved the way everything was quiet and still before the rest of the world woke up. Then he remembered—he was at camp in North Carolina, 800 miles away from his parents in Florida. Billy shivered. Suddenly, the air seemed too cold and the quietness too quiet. At home it wasn’t like that. Home. That magical word. No, stop thinking about that! Billy rubbed his eye where a tear tried to come out. Finally, he gave up and started bawling like a baby. The rest of his cabin woke up and started saying, “Crybaby crybaby, crybaby Billy’s a crybaby, crybaby, crybaby . . .”

Aah! Billy sat straight up in bed. Where was he? Oh, now he remembered, safe at home in his bed. He groped around the nightstand for the thick glasses that he needed to wear. He got out of bed and opened the window. Ahh, the wonderful balmy breezes that Florida was known for. It had just been a nightmare. He wasn’t in North Carolina and he wasn’t going to camp. He was going to spend this summer like the previous summers: at home with his family doing nothing. Billy smiled, went over to his closet, and pulled out a pair of khaki pants and a polo shirt, tucking the shirt in just so. He then went and stood in front of the mirror, examining his face carefully.

If only my glasses weren’t so thick and my hair so shaggy, Billy thought. If I didn’t have glasses then I wouldn’t look like a nerd, and my brown eyes are actually quite nice. Then if I get my hair cut like the other boys I could be a model. Well, not quite a model, but . . .

A Lesson for Life man watching sunrise beyond the mountains

He loved the way everything was quiet and still before the rest of the world woke up

Billy’s fancies were cut short by an ear-piercing yell. “Billy! Oh, Billy my boy! Breakfast is ready!”

Billy followed his nose down the stairs and into the kitchen where his mother had cooked her famous “start of the summer” breakfast. Billy smiled happily and started wolfing down her delicious pancakes and sausages. Yes, this would be a great summer. Maybe he would even make a few friends. But the next instant this feeling of happiness was shattered by the words that came out of his mother’s mouth.

In that same false, happy voice she announced, “Oh, and your father and I decided you’re going to sleep-away camp this summer.”

Billy choked on his sausage. “What?! What do you mean? You can’t send me to camp! I . . . we . . . I thought . . . ohhh!” Billy stomped up the stairs and slammed the door to his room. Well, he thought, maybe Brian will understand the way I feel. So he called his best and only friend, Brian.

“Hello?” answered a husky voice, unmistakably Brian’s.

“Hey!” replied Billy

“If you want me to play with you today I can’t because I’m going to camp in two days and I have to pack.”

“Well, actually, that was what I was calling to talk to you about. You see . . .”

“Wait!” Brian interrupted. “If you’re calling to convince me not to go, well, you can’t. Just because you don’t want to go doesn’t mean that I don’t want to go.” With that, he slammed down the phone.

While Billy was still trying to let the phone call sink in, his mother came in. “Billy, let me explain about our decision.”

“You don’t have to explain, I can tell that I’m a pain to you guys and you want to get rid of me!” snapped Billy, and, with that accusation, Billy stormed out of the room.

He grabbed his baseball, bat, and glove and ran outside to the baseball field down the street from his house. Once there, he started sobbing like a maniac, throwing the ball up and swinging the bat wildly, not caring that everyone was stopping to stare at him. The only thing that Billy accomplished from this was a bump on the left side of his head where the ball hit him. When it grew late, Billy walked back to his house and into his room, slamming the door for the second time that day. There was a tray of food on his bedside table which he gobbled down hungrily, while opening the note that was also on the table. It said:

Dear Billy,
Your mother told me about your reaction to camp, and I just want to get a few things straight. The reason we are sending you to camp is because we’re running low on money and need to work extra hours. We can’t be at home at all this summer to see you or take care of you. Because camp starts in three days, your mother will help you pack tomorrow. Your camp is in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it is called Golden Eagle. You should have a lot of fun there. You need to grow up sooner or later, and this is the best time to do it. You will not only be helping us out, but also yourself Thanks so much. Now eat your dinner and get to bed, because you’re going to need all of your energy to pack.

Love,
Dad

Well, it was pretty nice of Dad to do all that for me, thought Billy as he got ready for bed. But still . . . Billy couldn’t finish his train of thought because he burst into tears. He cried himself to sleep. The next few days went by in a blur of tears and packing. Finally, the fateful day arrived and after a long drive it was time for Billy to say goodbye to his parents. “Take care now. Have fun. Don’t forget to write us,” his parents said.

All Billy could do was nod and force back the tears that were threatening to overflow down his cheeks. Then his parents left in a cloud of dust, leaving Billy all alone in a strange place. Billy walked into his cabin, which he was sharing with nine other boys. Their names were written on their bunks, and some of the beds had bags on them already Billy walked down the aisle between the beds, reading the names: Joe, Louie, Cornelius, Daniel, Aaron, Joel, Chris, John, Bob, and Billy. His bed was at the very end. On top of him was Bob, who had already made himself at home. His bed was made, but it was a little messy He had taken the top two drawers to put his stuff in and he was sitting on the bed, moving his head to the music coining out from his Walkman. Bob was dressed in jeans shorts that came down over his knees and a tie-dyed T-shirt. He was tan and had golden hair and baby-blue eyes. Billy thought of his pale skin and shaggy, boring brown hair and brown eyes, which you couldn’t even see because of the glasses. He looked down at his khaki shorts and tucked-in white polo shirt and tugged at the corner of it, to make it not so neat. Then he opened up his duffel bag and started making his bed. There. No, too neat. Billy ruffled the top of the bed until it looked just a tad messy Then he pushed his hand through his hair until that, too, wasn’t so neat. He stepped back, looked at the kid obviously from California, and said, “Hi!” Only it came out in a squeak. Billy cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and screamed, “Hi!!” This time it was a little too loud.

Everyone in the room was quiet. Then Bob pulled off his headphones and said, “Hey! My name’s Bob. What’s yours?”

“Billy,” Billy replied.

“Cool.”

And with that, Bob put his headphones back on and continued listening to his music. During that exchange the whole cabin seemed to be listening. As soon as Bob put his headphones on the cabin exploded into action. Everyone went back to what they were doing, but they seemed friendlier than before. In fact, several people came up to Billy and introduced themselves. Billy set to work unpacking, and soon all the clothes that he had brought were in the bottom two drawers of the dresser that he and Bob were sharing. His shoes were under the bed and his books and stationery were on the nightstand on the other side of the bed, in the drawer. Finally, Billy was able to sit down and take a long look at his cabin. But Billy didn’t get farther than the sitting-down part. Because as soon as he did, his counselor walked into the room.

A Lesson for Life Billy meeting Burtelof

“Hello, Billy, I’m Burtelof Loouky William Minisup”

“OK, everyone. As I’m sure you all have noticed, we have a new member in our cabin: Billy,” announced the counselor. He walked forward and extended his hand. “Hello, Billy, I’m Burtelof Loouky William Minisup.”

Billy just stood there, openmouthed, wondering how he could ever remember his counselor’s name. And if he couldn’t, then maybe nobody would like him and . . . Billy’s thoughts were interrupted by Burtelof Loouky William Minisup, who was speaking again.

“But you can just call me Burt.” As this was said, everybody exploded into peals of laughter. Billy looked around, wondering if they were laughing at him. Then he smiled. It was a joke! Of course! And it was actually pretty funny.

Then Burt announced that they were going to go play baseball until it was time to get ready for dinner. As everybody cheered, Billy looked at his watch. Two hours of humiliation. The happy feeling inside of Billy quickly disappeared as he followed the rest of his cabin out to the baseball field.

“OK, now since we only have eleven people, we’ll divide the teams up into six and five. I’ll be on the team with five with Joe, Bob, Daniel, and Billy We’ll bat first. Everyone else is in the field,” said Burt. As the other team ran out to the field, Burt gathered his team around him. “I’ll go first, Joe second, Billy third, Bob fourth, and Daniel last. OK, now let’s play ball!”And with that he stepped into the batter’s box.

Louie threw the ball, Burt swung and hit a grounder through the second baseman’s legs for a base hit. Next came Joe. He swung and missed at the first two. The third one was a little high. He swung at the next one and got the first out. Billy waited breathlessly, wondering what his teammates were going to do. At school, whenever he struck out, everybody always yelled at him.

“Nice try. You’ll get it next time. OK, Billy, let’s see what you got,” Burt yelled. Billy breathed out a sigh of relief, picked up a bat, and with legs like Jell-O, walked to the plate. He put the bat up to his shoulder and swung. He missed by miles. Instead of hearing laughter, he heard lots of encouragement, even from the other team. He got a lot closer to the next pitch and was again encouraged instead of laughed at. On the third pitch he swung, and connected. Even though it was just a little dribbler, Billy didn’t care. It was his first hit ever. Everybody was cheering like it was a home run, even though Billy knew that it was really nothing. But it felt really good. Soon, half an inning was over, with the score 1-o. Burt had scored. Billy raced out into the field and was feeling pretty good until he realized that he would have to field. He was the only one in the outfield.

Well, maybe nobody can hit as far as the outfield. That way, nobody will know how bad I am at catching, Billy thought. But Billy was proven wrong by the first person that came up to bat, Cornelius. He swung at the first pitch and hit the ball deep into center field, where Billy was. Billy looked around, and, realizing that there was no one around to save him, started backing up to try and catch the ball. He looked up at the sky, and to his dismay, the ball was coming down way in front of him. Billy raced forward, but try as he might, he couldn’t catch it. So he just picked it up and threw it hard to second, where the runner was headed. The man on second base caught the ball and tagged Cornelius for the out. Everyone stared at Billy He knew what was coming next. They were all going to yell at him for not catching the ball. Burt was the first one to speak.

“Wow! What are you doing way out in the outfield? You should be pitching!” Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. Billy was ecstatic. Not only were they not mad, but he was going to be a pitcher, one of the most important positions. Maybe camp wouldn’t be so bad after all! The two hours went by fast after that, and soon it was time to get ready for dinner. Billy didn’t even remember the score of the game.

After dinner there was a big campfire and everyone roasted marshmallows. Billy looked around at everyone. Their faces were bathed in the orange glow of the fire, and Billy felt welcome for the first time in his life. He was really happy.

The feeling of happiness stayed even when he thought about his parents while he was getting ready for bed. He closed his eyes and was out in less than five seconds.

In the morning Billy woke up before anybody else. He went outside and stood on the porch of the cabin. It was quiet and cool, just like he liked it. He thought of home. Then Billy remembered his dream. This was exactly like what happened in it. But instead of starting to get homesick, Billy’s feeling of peacefulness lasted. The perfect weather stayed perfect. Burt came out onto the porch and, instead of calling Billy a crybaby, he just said, “Isn’t it nice out here? I just love it like this.” That was when Billy realized that he wasn’t going to get homesick and nobody was going to make fun of him. Camp was going to be great.

A Lesson for Life Rebecca Schneider

Rebecca Schneider, 12
Atlanta, Georgia

A Lesson for Life Eliott P. Frank

Eliott P. Frank, 11
Evergreen, Colorado

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