Welcome to my new series about how Chuck and I met and fell in love. You can read part one here. All names except for Chuck’s and mine have been changed.
On reflection I do remember the first time I saw Chuck.
It was under the big top. Yup, a genuine circus big top in red, white and blue plunked into the jungle of Merritt Island, Florida. The tent was filled with several hundred folding chairs. My team was assembled there under a sign that read: Brazil Fish. Chuck was preoccupied with watching over two dozen teens and sorting paperwork. He was muscular, had his blond hair in a short, close cut and was wearing outdoorsy looking cargo pants and a blue t-shirt. I had no reason to be interested in our team leaders, I was too eager to begin bonding with my fellow team members. The girls, that is.
Teens Missions has an extremely strict “no pairing off” rule. This means no boyfriend/girlfriend relationships and also no cliques. The idea behind this is to prevent summer romances as well as groups of popular and not-so-popular kids. Teen Missions is all about teamwork all the time. This was just fine with me. My first summer with Teen Missions taught me that no matter how cute a guy might look at the beginning of summer, after spending twenty-four hours a day with a teenage boy who lived in a tent, was only able to wash in a bucket, brushed his teeth sporadically and considered deodorant optional, they kind of lost their appeal. A little too much togetherness and reality all mashed together in a circle of a dozen tents in the Amazon jungle.
The Amazon jungle…that is where we spent five weeks, digging two large ponds using machetes, shovels and pickaxes. Believe it or not, I was in Buff Alaskan Woman Heaven. I loved everything about the jungle; the beautiful foliage, the colorful rainbow of birds, watching the hot steam rise off the ground each morning. We were close to the equator so the sun rose at 7 am every morning and set at 7 pm. I loved the rhythm of the pickax in my arms making the dirt fly in all directions. I loved swinging the machete and even enjoyed digging with a regular old shovel. I had been seeking adventure and found it. I fell into a routine of washing my dirty clothes every other day in the nearby pond. This gave me one day to wash and one to just relax and enjoy the water. Some teens waited until all of their clothes were dirty before washing, but not me. Every other day I would wash 2 days worth of clothing. These were hung on a clothesline to never-quite-dry in the damp rainforest climate.
One day several of the boys were attacking a tree that needed to be uprooted for the pond. They bombarded it with machetes and dug around the roots with their shovels until one boy, Brad, eventually climbed up the tree to use his weight as a lever, hoping to make the tree come crashing down. We all stood around watching, cameras ready for the big moment…suddenly Brad let out an ear-piercing shriek and jumped straight up and out of the tree. A tarantula the size of my hand, rather out of sorts from having his home disturbed, jumped onto his neck. Brad didn’t appreciate this arachnid greeting and ran around our fishpond-to-be screaming while unleashing a string of forbidden swear words.
Another time we were swimming in a small pond and washing our clothes after our workday was over. One of the boys jumped in to the middle of the pond and came up screaming that something had bit him. He hobbled out onto dry land and sure enough, he had blood dripping from a small bite in the bottom of his foot. We never did discover what type of creature had helped himself to a snack that evening.
Adventure was around every corner and I was loving it all. Our days fell into a consistent pattern: awake at six am, morning devotions, breakfast, work from 8-4 with (lunch break in the middle), free time/laundry, dinner, evening devotions and bed. As the days and then weeks went by, evenings often found me chatting with Christy, our female leader from Alaska or Pamela, our head female leader. One evening as we waited for group devotions, Chuck and Christy were chatting and I heard Chuck say he wanted to have ten kids.
“Hey Chuck,” I yelled. “Do you really want to have ten kids?”
He gave me a shy grin and with a sheepish laugh he said, “Yeah, I do”.
I remember this moment well. It was the first time I ever took a second look at Chuck. A twenty-two year old guy who wanted ten kids? Really? AND he was a Christian, he was cute, he had a job…and that Canadian accent was just adorable…