“Don’t get any ideas”



At a reader’s request, I’m telling the story of how Priscilla and I met and decided to get married.  I explained last time that we originally met in 1975 as counselors at a children’s camp in Quebec.

In between each week-long camp, we counselors were given a day off. On one such day, Priscilla, her brother, his girlfriend, and I walked several miles into town to a McDonald’s, ate lunch there, and then walked the several miles back. “Do you feel as if you got away?” her brother asked. They say “a change is as good as a rest,” and I think I recognized even then that the principle applied, because I said, “Yes. I think so.”

We still had the evening left of our “day off,” so the four of us sat on a hillside and talked on and on as the long summer daylight faded.  Then, as we were watching the moon rise, Priscilla offered the bit of speculation I mentioned last time about all of us getting married.  (In light of a couple of things I’ve said earlier, I should explain that her longtime boyfriend had actually broken up with her that spring, but she now had another.)

After the children’s camps ended, I stayed to help with the family camps.  When the director discovered I was a certified lifeguard, he made that my job for those weeks.  Once all the camps were over, I helped the Godfreys move from the Montreal area to Bethel, as Mr. Godfrey had taken a new job as the school’s maintenance director.  My family then came to pick me up, and in the process to enjoy a second trip to Quebec (after Expo ’67) and a visit with their former camping neighbors.

My father enjoyed getting to know Priscilla.  As he was saying goodbye to her at the end of the visit, he asked, “How old are you?”  “Twenty,” she replied.  “That’s too bad,” he said.  “Why?” she asked.  “Because if you’d been any younger, I’d have had you in mind for Chris.”

We thought our families would actually reunite in only a few weeks, since the Godfreys were planning to go to Sacandaga, as they typically did when the Bethel camps were over, and my family intended to return there as well.  But unexpected circumstances prevented us from getting back that year, and in fact we were never able to go as a family again, though some of my siblings later served on the camp staff.  I don’t see how we’d ever have had the opportunity to meet the Godfreys if we hadn’t been placed in a campsite right next to them the previous summer.

At our parting, Priscilla had also said, “Write!”  So I did. (This was well before the days of email, text messages, Facebook, and so forth.  Long-distance telephoning was still expensive.  So the typical way of communicating with anybody you wouldn’t see in person was by letter.  People were used to waiting several days to hear from one another.)

On August 13, 1975, I sent Priscilla my first letter, expressing regret that our families hadn’t been able to get together.  Perhaps picking up on her moonlight speculations, I also suggested playfully that we elope.  On August 13, 1980, completely unaware that it was the five-year anniversary of this first letter, we got engaged.  But I’m getting ahead of my story.

Though I returned to help with Camp de Béthel the next summer, I didn’t see Priscilla then, because she was in Montreal helping a Christian youth group called Jeunesse en Mouvement share the good news about Jesus with the many people who’d come from all over the world for the 1976 summer Olympics.  But I did happen to be in her family’s home one afternoon when she phoned to say hello, so we were able to catch up briefly on the latest in one another’s lives.  I learned that in order to fulfill her mission that summer, she’d been sleeping in a church basement and taking cold-water showers in a bathing suit using a garden hose in the alley behind the church.  This formed an indelible impression in my mind of her as someone who would go anywhere and do anything to help advance the kingdom of God.

Though we didn’t see one another in person for a couple of years after we first met, we did maintain our friendship through letters.  In them we’d tell one another unhesitatingly about our respective girlfriends and boyfriends, and ask for relationship advice.  Clearly we both considered ours to be an innocent boy-girl friendship, though a warm and sincere one.

In light of the fact that we later did get married, some of the exchanges in our letters now have a light comic feel to them.  When I returned to Camp de Béthel for a third summer in 1977, Priscilla and I had many opportunities to visit and talk in person.  At the end of the last family camp, we were sitting next to one another in the “tabernacle,” talking familiarly as the closing meeting was about to begin, when she abruptly got up and left.  I didn’t have the chance to ask her in person why she’d done this, so I inquired about it in a letter after I returned home.

She replied that people had a tendency to read things into scenes such as we were presenting, and she hadn’t wanted them to.  I responded, “I thought no one would think anything of our sitting together, because I’m almost a member of your family.”  In other words, beyond being good friends, I also considered us to be practically brother and sister.  But since she’d also added, “Don’t get any ideas,” I assured her, “I won’t.”

Priscilla took this picture of me at a backyard cookout with her family during my fourth summer at the camp.
Priscilla took this picture of a backyard cookout to which her family invited me during one of my summers at Bethel. When I was in Sherbrooke, the Godfreys hosted me for meals like this one, did my laundry for me, etc., so it was no surprise I thought of myself as “practically a member of the family.”

Other people, however, did “get ideas” the next summer.  Priscilla was then living and working in Ottawa, a city a few hours away, but she came to visit the camp for a weekend.  I had returned as a counselor, and we talked and visited at every opportunity.  No sooner had she left than one of my campers approached me to ask, “Oncle Christophe, puis-je te poser une question indiscrète?”  (“Uncle Christopher”—that was how counselors were addressed—“may I ask you an indiscreet question?”)  It turned out to be, “Is Priscilla your girlfriend?”  “Oh no,” I assured him, “we’re just good friends.”

According to a letter I sent Priscilla shortly afterwards to say I hoped she’d had a safe trip back, this camper “walked off looking a little skeptical.”  Perhaps this will be understandable if I explain that in my next letter, I accepted an invitation from Priscilla to come visit her in Ottawa several weeks later, over the Labor Day weekend.

These plans ultimately were not fulfilled, however, because I incurred some unexpected expenses and was unable to afford the trip.  I had to pay several hundred dollars for repairs after a two-car accident.  I was the driver of both vehicles.

Author: endlessmercies

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister and served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School. Dr. Smith answers questions about the Bible, particularly those that arise from the use of his study guides, at goodquestionblog.com.

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