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A Tribute to "Big Jeff"

The following was an entry by Sam Miller in the "Camp Alton - Celebrating Fifty Years - 1937 - 1987"

Although not originally written as a "tribute" the many references to Jeff Greenfield throughout are a testament to the legacy of the man known affectionately in Alton lore as "Big Jeff"

From the 80’s by Sam Miller

Long before I ever came to Alton, or even thought about it, I had heard of Jeffrey. For two winters before my arrival in 1981, Neil Brier awed me with stories of a man literally larger than life. I would sit and listen to Uncle Neil while my schoolmates watched Fantasy Island. Through these tales the strangely inglorious stories of camp came to life. And Jeffrey seemed to be in the middle of all of them.

I didn't meet him, though, until my second year at camp. During my first year I heard more stories, about Jeffrey and Wrestling Night and the Masked Wrestler and the Rush. Leon Cox was in my bunk, and he lived for the Rush. We were only thirteen but he knew he was going to get the Shtick that year. He told us about it while we stuffed shorts into the wooden cubbies of bunk J on opening day. He would wear a headband all summer in preparation for the war he would personally win. I teased him about it.

When the Greens won the Sing, Leon ran back to J-1. Then he heard the song 13 and 14-year-olds dread most; "da da, da da da da, you're on the Shtick."

Leon was so disappointed that he must have told his nephew Emmet to seek revenge. Emmet ravaged the Grey team that year and nearly punctured my throat taking my Rec Hall 35.

Not just the Rush but also every event arrived with the well-worn baggage of past legends that summer. I listened while everyone talked. Remember when he did that at the relay?; remember when they said that at the Circ-Ass?; remember when Jeffrey jumped off the third rung? I was bombarded by the past. And I enjoyed it, being surrounded by people who regarded the silliest things as legendary. Because people talked about them so much, and Dusty and Paule and the Doctor loved to reminisce, I felt invited to join. Nobody said things would get worse, only better, more fun, more outrageous. I knew I had jumped into a great party.

But I still felt like I had arrived in the middle of everything. I still felt as though I had missed the beginning, that I had not experienced the best days of camp, and that I guess I never really would. I hadn't become really familiar with Alton, in a perversely intimate way, until I met Jeffrey. Only then did it become more than just a summer camp for me.

It was late at night, and I had just fallen asleep after a particularly exhausting night of Ethical Discussion (M.G. Diamond had led the talk). I was almost asleep on the cove side of bunk I when the door swung open. I lifted my head to see a huge hulking figure above me searching for something as if in a panic. It was way too early for the Wrestler, I thought; I was a little scared. But then he spoke, and in that sarcastic ring master voice which makes anybody who hears it smile.

"A pillow, boys, I need a pillow and a blanket." I knew who it was and gave him my pillow and blanket. "Thank you, whoa, thanks, I'll see you later boys", he said even though everyone had been asleep. Then he left as loudly as he had come. I stole Johnny Kaufman's laundry bag and used it as a pillow.

The next day at lunch assembly Jeffrey came over to me to thank me for the stuff. Then he invited me to take a few "hookies" with him on the biddies. Of course I said ok. We shot around for a while and then he beat me in three games of ‘horse'. I was laughing too much to play well at all; every word he said, the way he said it, was hilarious to me even though he made references to people and things I had only vaguely heard of. He kept talking to me later while he watched us play softball on the junior diamond.

"Whoa, Javan Oston can hit. He can't do much else, but he hit the shit out of that fuckin softball. Whoa, boys, you're blocking my views, boys...."

After dinner I thought about meeting him. He was such a character, just as funny as Neil had said. And that voice, it was so comforting and yet ridiculous. But more importantly, it was here, at Alton now, talking with me or anybody else. Jeffrey was here. He didn't just talk about the past, either; he talked about the present, and he was still funny.

Jeffrey personified all the abstract ideas of camp, which I had heard about so often. He made them real. I had heard all the stories about him: how he ordered Chinese food by ripping the menu in half; how he yelled "tempest fugit" while devouring Chinese leftovers in the lounge; how he egg rolled and leapt from high ladders. But the best story for me is the one where he stole my pillow and blanket before meeting me. It is not the funniest tale, by far, but it has made me better appreciate all the others. It made me feel more a part of the fun.

Not that camp would have been dull for me without that chance meeting. It wouldn't have been. Jeffrey personified the intangible spirit of camp for me he brought it all together. If he hadn't, someone else would have. There are so many others, though no one quite like Jeffrey, who does that to the camp experience. There are so many people who in some way embody Alton that nearly everyone eventually gets more than just a great camp experience during the summer; they also get a strange but loving affinity for Alton.

And this to me makes camp great. Old Rush stories are interesting, wrestling feats are great to relive. But making new memories with those who created the old ones blends the past with the present to create a bond (Paul Harvey Bond?), which can only be found, I think, at Alton.