Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee
When Walter Dotson volunteered at the Red Boiling Springs Christian Camp, just before his final year of medical school, he had no idea he would meet the woman destined to become his wife.
He came from a religious and educated family, and couldn't remember a Sunday when he and his brothers and sisters, along with their parents, weren't on the second pew from the front at the Westmoreland, Tennessee, Christian Church. Walter grew up around Bible reading, music, and literature, and all three had continued to shape his life and interests. At the camp, in addition to teaching Bible study classes, he conducted elective sessions on Shakespeare and was responsible for organizing the camp orchestra. Walter himself played the tuba and was becoming fairly profi cient with the violin.
Walter was standing with the other counselors in front of the camp assembly building, taking his turn at greeting the newly arriving campers when a gig, pulled by a dusty, lathered sorrel, rolled slowly to a stop in the red gravel of the assembly yard. He watched as a girl stepped down, stretching her back and arms after the long drive on the rutted roads from the railroad station.
Later, Walter was fond of remarking that nothing about her silky blonde hair, her striking blue eyes, or her slender neck and perfect features had caused him to saunter over and introduce himself. "I was just doing my job," he'd say, as Anna would roll her eyes in obvious, practiced skepticism.
In fact, Walter first approached the man stepping down from the carriage, presumably the young woman's father.
"Hello, sir. I'm Walter Dotson, one of the counselors here. I'd like to welcome you and your family to the camp."
"Pastor Dennis. Pleased to meet you. I'm the minister at Lafayette Christian Church in Lafayette, Tennessee. This is my daughter, Anna. She'll be here at the camp."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Dennis," Walter said, offering his hand. Anna squeezed his fingers politely and gave a little curtsy. Her eyes never wavered from his as she said, "It's nice to meet you, too, Mr. Dotson."
It was a couple of seconds before Walter remembered the clipboard tucked beneath his left arm. He ran his finger down the list of names. "Yes, Miss Dennis, you've been assigned to Cabin Four, just up this hill and on the left. If you like, I'll carry your bags."
"Better see how many she brought before you offer that, young fella," her father said with a chuckle.
Walter grinned. He went to the rear of the buggy and gripped the handles of the two suitcases he found there. "Right this way," he said, motioning with his head. Anna Dennis and her father started up the hill ahead of him.
As they walked, Walter found himself studying the young woman's figure. She carried herself with a surety and a possession that seemed beyond what he would have expected of a sixteen-year-old, as he guessed Anna to be. She laid a hand on her father's arm as they went, and the skin of her hand appeared to Walter to be as flawless and soft as that of an infant. She laughed at something her father said, and the sound was completely enchanting to Walter. Then he realized the path of his thoughts and gave himself a little silent lecture. She was likely to be at least five or six years his junior. No, it wouldn't do; he'd have to take strict control of his thoughts where young Anna Dennis was concerned.
Later that afternoon, when the parents had departed and the campers had stored their belongings in their cabins, the entire camp assembled in the main building. Walter sat on the dais with the other counselors and camp staff and listened as the camp director addressed the campers, sitting in rows before him. Without really meaning to, Walter searched the upturned faces until he found Anna's. His eyes shied away, then returned, again and again. Each time he looked at her, he started a fresh sermon in his head.
Like any healthy young man, Walter hoped and expected to someday find a woman with whom he could start a home and a family. And, as he thought on it, he realized there was no shortage of young ladies back in Westmoreland who had let him know in various ways that they weren't averse to the company of a tall, slender fellow with a strong chin and an intelligent look about him --- at least, that was how Walter's mother summed it up. But there was a proper way to go about things, as Walter knew very well. Courting, or even thinking about courting, a young girl who was away from the watchful eyes of her parents was strictly not on the list of proper behavior.
The director welcomed them all and announced the basic schedule for each day, which consisted of Bible study in the morning, followed by elective activities ranging from athletic pursuits to more intellectual options in the afternoons. Evenings would be devoted to various entertainments and social activities.
When the director outlined the camp rules, Walter found himself cringing with guilt; one of the director's first topics was the prohibition of fraternization between campers and staff. "This is a camp dedicated to the nourishment of the soul, mind, and body," the director said. "It is not a social club. Young ladies, if any of my counselors behave improperly in the least, I expect you to let me know, and I'll deal decisively with the matter." Walter hoped he wasn't blushing, and he kept his eyes studiously averted from Anna Dennis's vicinity during this part of the presentation.
The director asked each of the counselors to make a brief personal introduction and give a description of the elective courses he would be teaching. When Walter's turn came, he did his best to be persuasive about the merits of Shakespeare. He also made a brief pitch for the camp orchestra. As he was finishing, he allowed his eyes to drift in Anna's direction. That blue gaze was fixed on him; he had to work hard to keep from stammering his concluding remarks.
The next morning, the counselors received listings of those who would be in both their Bible classes and electives. When Walter came to the D's he slowed, hoping and at the same time thinking it would be better for all concerned if…
But there she was, "Anna Dennis," subscribed both in his Shakespeare class and as a member of the orchestra! Walter was thrilled --- despite knowing he would need to say a lot of prayers for forgiveness over the course of the camp session.
The first week of camp progressed, and Walter soon knew he was in trouble. When he and his students read from Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, or Romeo and Juliet, Anna's face drew his eyes like a magnet. During the discussions, she rarely took her eyes from his. Walter didn't have to work too hard to convince himself that she could be imagining herself as Katharina to his Petruchio, Hermia to his Lysander… or even, he dared to suppose, Juliet to his Romeo. In music classes, she stated a desire to learn the violin. Before long, she was staying after the rest of the group had left. Walter demonstrated the position of the instrument and coached her on fingering and bowing technique. As he touched her wrist to correct an angle or nudged her fingers toward a better position on the strings, it was as if fire flowed into him from her soft skin. In the evenings, after the close of the day's events, Walter spent a great deal of time rereading the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount --- especially Matthew 5:28: "… But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
By the middle of the second week, Walter had to admit to himself that he was thoroughly besotted. Anna Dennis was his every thought, waking and sleeping. He only hoped that the other students in his classes hadn't noticed the way he looked at her. And it wasn't just her attractive appearance; Anna was intelligent and perceptive. In Shakespeare class, she often asked the question that plunged to the very heart of the Bard's meaning for the passage. Sometimes, it seemed to Walter that she had somehow looked inside his mind to see how he intended to guide the class, then made the very comment that propelled the discussion in his intended direction. He had never experienced anything like it. And if he smiled and congratulated her on her insight, she returned his smile with a cocked, knowing expression that seemed to say, "Of course. What else would you expect?"
Walter found himself wishing he could empty his soul to her, longing to tell her things he had never wanted to tell anyone before. And the maddening thing was, she gave every evidence of wanting to hear! But how on God's green earth could he permit himself such intimacies with a camper in his charge? It was impossible. So he stewed in his own juices, growing more deliciously miserable each time he saw her.
On the final Saturday, the last day of camp, everyone had free time in the afternoon. Walter was sitting on the back steps of the counselors' cabin, looking at the spectacular sunset and moping, because tomorrow after the campers left he wouldn't see Anna again, probably for the rest of his life. He heard footsteps on the path beside the cabin and his heart went a-scramble in his chest when he realized she was walking toward him.
"Hello, Walter," she said. "I hope I may call you 'Walter'?"
"Uh, yes," he said, rising awkwardly to his feet and brushing his hands on the seat of his pants. "But… Miss Dennis, are you certain you should be here?"
She gave a quick glance over her shoulder, then back at him, and the expression on her face made Walter's pulse race even faster. "I'm quite certain," she said, "that I want to be here."
They stared at each other for several seconds. "There's… there's a bit of a cliff just over there, through the woods," Walter said. "Quite a view, actually. We could… we could watch the sun setting."
"Yes. We could." She smiled at him. "Will you show me the way?" Walter willed his breathing to slow. Collect yourself, Dotson, for pity's sake! He offered her his arm, and she placed her hand in the crook of his elbow.
They reached the small clearing that opened onto the cliff. Walter dusted at a convenient boulder with his hand and gestured for Anna to sit. They stared out across the forestscape as the sunset limned the trees with gold.
" 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' " Walter said, half to himself.
"Oh, it's…just some Shakespeare."
"Something we read in class?"
"No, one of the sonnets."
"What's the rest?"
"Oh, I --- "
"Please! I'm sure you know it."
"Well, you must know a little more anyway. Won't you humor me, Walter?"
Walter cleared his throat, feeling a bit foolish reciting poetry like a hero in a dime novel romance. But then, he reminded himself, this was no different from reading a passage from Macbeth in class to his students.
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date…
"That's all I can remember," Walter said.
"It was beautiful." She stood, holding his eyes in her crystal-blue stare, then leaned forward and kissed him. Walter pulled back, surprised.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm afraid I'm rather impetuous. It's a fault I've had since birth, my father tells me."
"I'm… not sorry at all." Giving in at last, Walter drew her to him and kissed her deeply.