Friday, August 17, 2012

The Silver Pines Day Camp Incident

...from Sweet Southern Boys...

As twilight deepened, Shelby grew increasingly anxious.  With his friends at his side, he meandered toward the SAR operations shelters with the intention of unobtrusively eavesdropping on communications.

"I think it's stupid that me and Daddy can't help with the search," he muttered.  "We know how to get along in the woods, and she's our kid."

"They have their reasons," John Mark murmured. He'd been uncharacteristically quiet since he'd arrived and Shelby caught glimpses of his own anxiety mirrored in John Mark's brown eyes.

"And she'd be upset if they brought her out and you weren't here," Randy said.

Shelby pulled in a breath, held it a moment, and blew it out.  "You're right.  I didn't think of that. It would--"

He stopped walking at the same instant he abruptly went silent.  His companions halted a step or two later and looked back to see that his face was like thunder. They followed his line of vision to a clump of volunteers waiting to sign in at the next table over. They barely made out, just beyond the volunteers, the familiar and dreaded form of Wesley Bratcher standing under one of the rustic pavilions. Zach Hornsby was with him.

Shelby took long, swift strides across the grass and his friends had to hurry to keep up with him. He got to Bratcher and abruptly stepped in front of him.

"What're you doing here?"

"Hello to you, too, Kincaid. I see your suth'n hospitality is down to its usual standards."

"What are you doing here?"

"Zach's dad heads up a search team that was called up for this search. We came along in case we could be of some help."

"Well, you can't. You're not needed. There's more than enough volunteers so you can turn around and go home."

Wesley laughed. "Are you in charge of this operation?"

"I don't want you here," Shelby said.

"Too bad. I'm here. I was here before you were."

"You don't learn, do you? I told you a long time ago I don't want you around my sister. If I find out you've been anywhere near her, I will hunt you down and beat the crap out of you. Now, you just go home."

"You rednecks do love violence, don't you?"

"What are you doing still standing here?"

"Kincaid, Mr. Hornsby is my ride home, and he is committed for twenty-four hours, or until they find the brat, whichever comes fir--"

Shelby's fist smacked into Wesley's jaw so hard it snapped his head back and sent him reeling backwards three or four steps. The haymaker was so powerful it sent a jolt like electricity through Shelby's hand and up his arm, across his shoulder, into his own neck and jaw.

Shelby stepped forward, preparing to swing with his other fist when he felt himself being restrained. John Mark and Randy had his arms and they were holding on tight. He couldn't move.

"What do you think you're doing?" he squeaked, outraged, trying to jerk his arms free. "Let me go!"

"No," Randy said.

"I said let me go," Shelby said through his teeth.


Shelby turned to John Mark and, in a more reasonable tone, said, "Wock, turn me loose."

"You heard Randy-man. Calm down, Shelby."

"I can't believe y'all are doing this," he said, jerking harder to try to free himself.

John Mark said, "Bratch, why don't you and Zach go someplace where you're out of sight."

Wesley was rubbing his jaw and forehead and didn't answer; seemed not to hear.

Zach said, "Wes, you all right?"

"Yeah," Wesley said faintly. "Seeing stars, ears ringing...."

"Let's go," Zach said, taking him by the arm and steering him toward the seats farther away from the staging area.

Shelby calmed enough to watch him go, then looked reproachfully at first one of his friends and then the other. They continued to hold onto his arms even after he began to relax.

Breathing hard, he turned his indignant face toward Randy. "Why?"

"Because," Randy said calmly.

* * *

Four days after Ainsley's dramatic rescue, the phone rang at the Kincaid house. Gina was cooking supper and Kurt sat in his recliner, looking over papers he'd brought home from the office, so Shelby answered the phone.

He was no worse for the wear after this fainting spell at the hospital, but like his parents, he was caught up with worry for Ainsley and he found comfort in the calls from friends and family checking on her recovery and offering well wishes.


A woman's voice he didn't recognize asked, "May I speak with Mr. Kincaid, please?"

"Just a minute.  Daddy, it's for you."

Kurt picked up the telephone extension beside his recliner, "Kurt Kincaid," he said, inadvertently lapsing into workplace communications lingo.  His eyes didn't leave the reports he'd brought home from the office and he paid only nominal attention to the call.

"Mr. Kincaid, my name is Cheryl Duncan. My daughter, Lindsey, was at day camp with your daughter this year, and she was on the canoe trip when Ainsley got lost. I was just calling to see how she's doing."

The question dented Kurt's concentration enough for him to lower the papers and raise his head. "Well, I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Duncan. Ainsley's doing very well physically. She had some scrapes and scratches and bumps.  Her worst injury was a twisted ankle, which is healing normally."

"I'm glad to hear that. Lindsey was concerned. Mr. Kincaid, while I have you on the phone, may I ask you a question?"

"Sure, go ahead."

"What has Ainsley told you about that canoe trip?"

Kurt didn't answer for a moment and Cheryl picked up on the silence. "If you don't want to answer, that's fine. It's none of my business, of course. I was just curious, considering some things Lindsey has told me."

By now, the reports from work were relegated to the background of Kurt's consciousness and he laid them aside. "I would be interested in what your daughter told you because, frankly, Ainsley hasn't told us anything about it. She won't talk about it at all."

"Hmmm," Cheryl said. "There were seven campers on that trip. Because of things they've told their families about it, most of the parents have gotten in contact with each other and compared notes, and we've pieced together a pretty good picture of what happened. None of us are professional analysts or anything, but it looks to us like the counselor who took our girls on that trip did so specifically for the purpose of emotionally and psychologically traumatizing them."

Kurt frowned. "That's a pretty serious charge."

"Yes it is. And if it's true, that counselor succeeded most effectively with your daughter."

"I'd like to hear the reason for your suspicions.”

"And I'll be glad to tell you what we've come up with. I would rather do it in person, and have my daughter present. She's fourteen. She was the oldest one on the trip, and she can give you a first hand account. Lindsey and I can come to your home whenever you say, or you and your family can visit ours."

"Then please, come to our house tomorrow evening. We usually get home from midweek Bible study about eight fifteen.  Is eight thirty all right?"

"That's fine."

"We're at 1382 Cloverdale Road. That's north of Forsythe Street.

"I'm pretty familiar with that neighborhood. Shouldn't have any trouble finding it."

"All right. Mrs. Duncan, thank you for calling. I look forward to meeting with you and Lindsey."

"You're welcome, Mr. Kincaid. We'll see you tomorrow night."

 * * *

"...and there were seven of us," Lindsey Duncan said. "Counselor Nora said she'd picked us special."

She and her mother sat on the black Naugahyde couch in the Kincaid's family room, refreshed with sips of Gina's sweet tea.  Shelby shared the sofa with the visitors, Kurt was in his recliner and, as hostess, Gina took a side chair nearest the kitchen.

"Excuse me for interrupting," Shelby said softly. "Right after camp started, Ainsley told me Nora Weir was from up north somewhere and none of the campers liked her very much."

Lindsey nodded. "That's right, a lot of us didn't like her. She was all the time putting down the South and saying Southerners are hicks and stuff.  Besides that, she's just ... creepy."

"Wonder if her last name is Bratcher," Shelby muttered under his breath.


"Never mind, I was being facetious."

"Shelby," Kurt said. "Let's stick with relevant questions right now."

Shelby nodded.

Lindsay continued her account. "Well, Ainsley didn't want to go -- none of us wanted to go, but we  thought, well, we'll just go and get it over with, and get back right after the picnic.  There's a grassy place by the creek not too far from camp where we usually ate dinner on canoe trips but Counselor Nora made us go past it. She made us keep paddling and we went a long way and we were starting to get a little scared."

"Did she say why she took you so far?" Kurt asked.

"She just said it was a special trip and we were going to a special place."

"What were you getting scared of?"

Lindsey shook her head. "Some of us just felt like something bad was gonna happen. We went until we got to a bridge that was too low to paddle under. We hadn't ever been that far before and we didn't know where we were."

"A bridge? An old one, or did it look like it was still in use? Like there was a road?" Kurt asked.

"I don't know, just a bridge made out of concrete. I don't think Counselor Nora knew it was there. I think she meant us to go even further, but we couldn't, so she told us to get out there. It wasn't a good place for a picnic. There weren't any grassy spots, it was mostly bushes and a few big trees. It was so hot and dusty it was hard to breathe."

Lindsey sighed deeply, as if reliving the heat and suffocation. As her narrative progressed, she would shift her attention from Kurt to Gina to Shelby and back again. Now she looked at Gina.

"Some girls sat on a fallen log, but I remembered what we learned in school about where snakes hide, so I wouldn't sit there. Ainsley wouldn't either. The whole place looked snaky to me so we sat on the canoe seats. It was sort of uncomfortable because the seats were a little bit lower than the edge of the canoe, but it was the only place to sit.  Anyway, Counselor Nora told us to get out."

She turned her gaze back to Kurt. "We weren't even in the canoe, Mr. Kincaid, we were just sitting at the end of the seats with our feet outside the boat, but she told us to get out. I said there was no other place to sit, and she started fussing at us but we weren't about to sit on the ground."

Lindsey told them about the stale cornbread and tepid buttermilk in the white take-out boxes Nora gave them instead of sandwiches and colas.

"Counselor Nora said it was slave food, and she told us about slavery and the civil war. She said slavery in the South was the worst thing that could happen to a human being. She told us a writer -- I don't remember her name but she was some famous writer from New York -- she said white people are the cancer of the world, and Counselor Nora said white Southerners were the worst cancers of all because they enslaved black people."

Kurt's brows drew together and he ran his fingers across his lips. "Unbelievable."

"That's when I realized she had just brought white girls on the picnic," Lindsey said.

Then Counselor Nora had told them about brutal lynchings in South Georgia history after slavery ended, concentrating particularly on a week-long lynching spree in and around Verona in the  1920s.  The camp counselor had gone into horrifying and graphic detail that Lindsey could not duplicate in the retelling.

"It was awful. It was just awful," Lindsey said in a trembling voice and shaking her head furiously, as if to shake the images out of it. Her mother put her arm around Lindsey's shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze.

Lindsey composed herself, cleared her throat and continued. "She told us that every girl on the canoe trip had ancestors in Verona and the same hatred and evil was in every one of us, too.  She said it had been in our people for generations.  She said our race-hate had changed our DNA so we weren't really human anymore."

A few seconds of stunned silence filled the family room.

"I read up on that lynching rampage," Cheryl told the Kincaids. "It was an unspeakably horrible thing. You really wouldn't be human if it didn't tear at your insides. But Mr. Kincaid, to try to saddle our girls with responsibility for savage crimes that happened generations before they were born... I cannot fathom why someone would do that."

Cheryl Duncan cleared her throat and indecision flitted across her face, but only a moment. "I don't know whether I should say this, but a few of us have wondered whether Nora was attempting to take them to the place where one of the worst incidents occurred -- near a swampy area between Tellico Creek and the Oostachula River, according to one book I read. She may not have known there was a bridge that would block them.  In any case, it's pure speculation on our part."

Gina listened with a hand pressed to her cheek. "My gosh, if that's what she was attempting, you have to wonder what she planned to do there...."

With a nod to Gina, Cheryl looked at her daughter and said, "Go on."

Lindsey's troubled eyes went  to Kurt. "Then she went back to talking about slavery and the whippings slaves got.  She took a whip out of the backpack and told  us to pretend a pine tree by the clearing was a slave whipping post.  She wanted us to take turns whipping the tree like there was a slave tied to it, and she chose Ainsley to go first.  But Ainsley wouldn't.  She started crying and yelled No! and ran off into the woods. We thought she was running back to camp, but we found out later she had got lost.  Anyway,  when Ainsley ran off, Counselor Nora said that was the end of the picnic and told us get back into the boats."

Cheryl said, "For a child to spend twelve hours lost in the woods just after her young mind has been filled with such brutal imagery, and to be told she's responsible for it -- well, Mr. Kincaid, it's no wonder your daughter is reacting the way she is. All the girls are still haunted by it, and they weren't lost in the woods."

* * *
From The Verona Beacon
No litigation against camp counselor, for now
by Beacon staff

The parents of seven day-campers have decided against filing suit at this time for what they say was a purposeful attempt by a camp counselor to emotionally traumatize their daughters.

Cheryl Duncan of Verona, spokesperson for the parents, said the termination of the camp counselor's association with Silver Pines Day Camp is a step in the right direction.

"We learned that the counselor, Nora Weir, was a volunteer, not an employee," Duncan said, "so she can't be fired.  We are looking at other actions to take that will keep this person from harming other children in the future, although we haven't permanently ruled out litigation."

A native of Binghamton, N.Y., Weir relocated to Verona seven years ago to help with the start-up of the Anti-Racist Initiative, a non-profit organization with a three-person board of directors. Weir is the only full-time employee in a small office that primarily makes information available to schools, businesses, churches and community groups for improving and enhancing race relations.

Another parent, Debra Pryor, said, "If the goal is better race relations, traumatizing young girls is not the way to achieve it."

Camp Administrator Frances Clevenger said this was the first year that Weir had volunteered at Silver Pines.  The incident occurred in late August, during the camp's last session of the summer.

"Nora's report to the camp's board of directors said she took the seven campers on a canoe trip and picnic, and told them stories from Verona's history," Clevenger told The Beacon.  "She said the stories can be found in numerous history books about south Georgia."

Duncan disagreed with that description of the incident. "This was not history lessons or scary stories told around a campfire," she said.  "She traumatized our daughters with accounts of violent racial incidents from Verona's past and attempted to instill personal guilt in them for events that happened generations ago."

Nine-year-old camper Ainsley Kincaid, upset by the stories, ran away from the picnic and was lost in the woods for twelve hours. She was found by a search-and-rescue operation conducted by the Yancey County Sheriff's Office. It was unknown at the time what caused her flight into the woods.

"It only came out later," Duncan said, "when parents of the campers got together and shared accounts their daughters had told them about the incident."
Neither Weir nor any Anti-Racist Initiative board members could be reached for comment.
Copyright © 2012 by Connie Chastain. All rights reserved.

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