Boys Camp Digs Up Thanksgiving Dinner
We hold this truth to be self-evident: The Pilgrims did not roast a pre-basted Butterball with pop-up timer for their Wampanoag guests.
More likely, the fare featured game birds cooked on an outdoor spit - or, perhaps, in a fire pit.
Residents at Cameron Boys Camp - a therapeutic wilderness facility operated by Baptist Children's Homes - are betting on the latter. On Monday, they pit-roasted a dozen foil-wrapped 20-pound turkeys for seven hours. Unearthed, the fork-tender birds were devoured, with appropriate side dishes, in a communal feast of thanks.
Turkey-in-a-Hole, an annual event since the camp opened in 1980, commenced Sunday night. A clear sky with full moon greeted 22 boys, ages 9 to 16, gathered around the bonfire soaring over the pine trees.
"It's fun - a little-boy thing to do," said counselor/teacher Chief Drew Scott.
Legend has it that a camp founder and friend spent a long-ago Thanksgiving river rafting. Rather than abstain, they cooked a turkey in a fire pit on the sandbar.
Before retiring to their sleeping bags, the campers sang songs, including "Turkey in the Straw." Each boy threw a stick on the flames while expressing thanks for something.
"This is a time to reflect, to be thankful to God," camp director Tim Gibson said.
Boys who collected the most hardwood were allowed to feed the fire through the night.
Soon after dawn, they loaded "earth birds" into the 3-foot- deep trench lined with coals and covered them with dirt.
This primal preparation follows camp principles of self-sufficiency. Groups of boys, most from troubled homes, live in shelters constructed with trees they cut down themselves. Practical applications become lessons in the accredited alternative-school curriculum.
"Learning is life-wide, not necessarily sit-down class time," Scott said. "We build on any success we can."
At 3 p.m. Monday, the digging crew arrived. As with most activities, this one began with a prayer: "Thanks for this beautiful day. Lord help these turkeys to taste real good."
A cheer went up as the first steaming packet was hoisted from the pit and loaded into a truck.
Back at the Chuck Wagon dining hall, cooks Martha Snyder, Tammy Morrison and Lisa Daniels were preparing dinner rolls, cranberry chutney, green bean casserole, sweet and mashed potatoes, a spicy stuffing and several varieties of pie.
"Whatever each cook is good at, she does," Morrison said.
Snyder's pride was cornucopias made from bread dough used as centerpieces.
Outside, Scott and Chief Jeremy Powers performed the most difficult and dangerous task: unwrapping, draining and plating the steaming birds (some plain, some with Cajun and Caribbean jerk seasoning and others with sage and rosemary), which collapsed off the bones, releasing an overpowering aroma.
"Look out - the bears'll be here soon," an onlooker shouted.
Twenty-two campers and about 100 guests took their places at tables covered by white cloths. Among them was Keith Henry, of Thomasville, vice president of Baptist Children's Homes, with his sons.
"This is a long tradition, a bonding experience for campers," Henry said. "It's like Thanksgiving for our family."
It is also a homecoming for graduates. U.S. Marine Brian Del Canto, 21, of Fuquay-Varina, attended camp for 20 months as a teen.
"I have a lot of good memories, especially the bonfire," Del Canto said. "I haven't been here for six years, but I keep in touch with the chiefs on Facebook."
After a stirring chorus of "God is Great, God is Good," each table host served the boys, who waited politely for paper plates that collapsed under the bounty.
This meal, Gibson said, is the highlight of the year for the Cameron community. On Wednesday, campers return to their families for a more personal celebration.
Teenage boys aren't the most articulate diners. How's the turkey? elicited nods and smiles - except for 12-year-old Cameron Elkins, who flashed a thumbs-up.
"It's not really sweet, it's just good," he said, before admitting, grudgingly: Better here than at home."
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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