Last night I had the opportunity to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the camp I went to for 12 years. As you might expect, it was full of hugs, oohs and ahs. There were the requisite speeches (from every era!) and the slide show — all emphasizing everything I knew to be true.
Through all those years, I was building the me I would become. Although it was only for two of the 12 months of the year, camp became my foundation. I learned sportsmanship, confidence, diversity, love and connection, values, traditions, the Lord’s Prayer and how to be a Red Sox fan. (Although people came from all over the world, most of the kids then were from Massachusetts and New York or Connecticut, and the Yankees were booed while the Red Sox were cheered at every morning assembly. There was a weathervane fish named Aloyisious who was said to cry when the Yankees won.)
As with any camp, I suppose, there was the lore. We had Mr. Friendly, who wasn’t friendly at all, Charlie Ugg Ugg, Grant, the underwater banana-eating camp director, Billy Monomy, and the afterglow. We learned riflery and archery at a time when these sports were cheered and not jeered.
As junior counselors, we chose majors and had to have four in all. We learned everything we could about our area (riflery, archery, sailing, swimming, arts & crafts, woodworking, sports, to name a few) so that we could give back to the younger campers by teaching them how to love what we loved.
Every year my friends and I would arrive on Day One with tears of joy and leave on the Last Day with tears of parting. The night before the Last Day, toilet paper stock holders rejoiced. (For the copious amounts of tears cried at the ominous partings of the morrow. What did you think I meant?)
Because of camp, I learned how to get along with people. We had to live in bunks of 10-12-15 people and cope with every emotion known to (wo)man. We learned to respect each other and our stuff. We learned manners. We learned how to shave our legs and experience our first kiss (a shout out to Eddie C. on the tennis courts at the big camp dance to the tune of “I can’t find the time to tell you”). We learned camp songs. There were songs for spirit and for saying Grace and for competing in the dining hall and for saying goodnight. Oh, the songs! I remember every word and used them as lullabies for my kids when they were little.
We would arrive each year with our newly acquired talents, like learning French or French kissing, and share all of our worldly knowledge with this group of people who were attached to you as no others ever would be.
Of course, you have the friends of your other seasons, but camp friends are the kind where you can go for years without seeing them and as soon as you do, it is as if you had just parted.
Last night we rejoiced in seeing each other again. We laughed about our youthful antics, and were still secretly proud of all we had accomplished. We hugged and oohed and ahed. It was sad when we had to say goodbye again. The toilet paper was unnecessary however because our tears were in our hearts this time around knowing it might be years again before we next see each other, and also knowing that those connections will remain as strong and true as they ever did.
Here’s to the regattas, both won and lost, to the awards that lie in their boxes in my jewelry chest, to the homemade bubblegum ice cream and the midnight pop tart raids, to the recorded bugle and colors on the parade ground, to learning how to use a tampon and buying fudge on our trips to Provincetown, to the mosquitos at Long Pond, to the swim meets and macrame lessons and tennis balls still lost in the high sea grass, to the initials carved in almost every cabin on site, to the Pavilion viewings of “Oklahoma,” “The Music Man” and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, to the camp store where buying a Sky Bar and a grape soda was a luxury, to all those character-building memories. And to the main characters, my summer girls. You influenced every season of my life.