Friday, August 31, 2018

Memories that Linger: Epilogue.... A Reminicent Sketch of Camp

My "Memories that Linger" quilt was installed and unveiled at Camp Newaygo last week.  What a thrill that was!  (To see the seven posts about the making of this project, look at my blog archive list for 2018 and you'll find them.)

It was very moving for me, to see the quilt hanging in its forever home, looking like it had always been there.


My friend Meg Cox had asked me to jot down some of my own memories of Camp Arbutus. It was just a little ways north of Camp Newaygo and identical in spirit.


My own lingering memories were so much fun to write......

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Memories that Linger, Indeed: A Sketch of Camp

A trunk filled with everything you need for 2 months.  Yes, we lucky ones were drop kicked from our boring, sweaty homes in the suburbs to an old growth pine forest on a lake for a summer with our friends. We were freed from the dynamics of family, dysfunctional or not, and sent to camp.

After an endless 3 hour drive north, finally seeing that beloved camp sign, turning down the long gravel road to the greeting area by the main lodge, that trunk bumping in the back of the station wagon—Arrival made the heart beat so fast! 

No electricity in our cabins. No running water or heat (or AC). Certainly no internet or cell phones.  Bunk beds were squeaky, mattresses were thin, an orange crate was your storage area, and there were 6 of us plus a counselor in a very small one room space.

Slide Inn, photo by Don Harrison. My home for the summer in 1969 as a camper, and 1974 as a counselor

But we didn't care about those spartan cabins.  We loved them. 

We ate together around big tables on the huge screen porch of the lodge, three pretty awful meals a day—powdered eggs and Wonderbread for breakfast, cheap bologna and more Wonderbread for lunch, mystery meat, instant mashed potatoes, and overcooked canned vegetables for dinner.  Watery Kool-aid (aka, "bug juice") was the campers' beverage; the counselors drank the worst coffee in the world, hardly improved when we would sneak soy sauce into it.  Ice cream squares like Styrofoam appeared on a good night for desert.
But we didn't care about the food. We were hungry!

The group bathrooms had concrete floors, sinks with orange rust stains around the drains, daddy long leg spiders in the corners of the showers. The older girls required those mysterious feminine hygiene disposal buckets that had a pungent fecund smell. It was freezing after a shower to wrap up in a towel and walk back to your cabin and you always got your feet dirty again right away.
But we didn't care about the bathrooms. We went swimming in the lake twice a day.

Not only was there no family from home at camp (two cousins and my little sister totally lost their family aspect at camp)—even more importantly, there were no boys.
Of course, by age 12 all we thought about at night was boys….and in the dark, after taps, one of us would whisper a story from "True Confessions" magazine out loud by flashlight, and there would be strange heavy breathing coming out of those bunk beds. "Naked and Alone on Mainstreet" was a good one…and you got in serious trouble sneaking out to visit the boys' camp down the lake ("She was sent home, Oh my God!")
But our society was complete unto itself without them.  Just for the summer, not for our whole life.
We learned to sail, canoe, shoot 22s, arrows, ride horses, pass inspection, play tennis, compete in sports—all without those boys trying to beat us. They weren't even in our minds.

We had crushes, paired up and broke up, followed charismatic girls as leaders; we put on skits and danced flirty polka dances on rainy nights in the lodge; had dramatic melt downs that involved smoking contraband cigarettes in the woods with a friend's arm around our shoulders; we lit campfires and sang our hearts out in four part harmonies under the trees and the stars---all without those boys, and it was good.

Lucy and Alice, the two counselors standing in the back during morning sing, developed a deep friendship that thrilled all of us all summer.

Our camp ceremonies were extremely serious, and always conducted in silence. Dressed in our whites, we would line up by cabin and take a special trail to a campfire deep in the woods used only for this purpose.  The mosquitoes would be fierce. Our procession was led by two girls selected (by whom?  We never knew.) for the honor by their good behavior and overall camp spirit. They wore special Indian style fringed dresses, their faces darkened with grease paint, and held aloft blazing torches made of poles with kotexes tightly wired to the end that had been soaked in kerosene overnight—they burned for hours and smelled terrible, but more of them around the campfire did help with those mosquitoes.
We sat in our cabin groups around the fire, and Indian role call was given—each cabin had a tribal name.  When your tribe was called, you pounded the ground where you were seated with the flat of your hands, which raised a ton of dust. After the roll call, two more girls appeared from the woods, also in Indian garb, and did a special welcoming Indian dance around the fire.
I can still do it.  I was one of those girls one year.  It was one of the highlights of my growing up years.
Then the actual ceremony would begin.

Over the weeks of camp there were several ceremonies, and we looked forward to all of them: a welcoming ceremony, an awards ceremony, a Final Vespers ceremony, and at the end, the sacred Birch Bark ceremony.  This last was the most special of all.
A genuine and ancient birch bark canoe hung in the lodge.  Once a year, at the end of camp, we all, in our whites of course, lined the steps from the lodge down to the water front.  Extremely carefully, the birch bark canoe was lifted from where it hung and passed between the line of girls down to the beach.  Getting to touch the birch bark was very moving and quite thrilling as it passed through our hands on its way to the water.
One girl was chosen for the honor of paddling the birch bark.  No one knew who she would be until she appeared, again dressed in Indian garb with grease paint darkening her skin, slowly walking up the beach to the canoe, at sunset.  We would all gasp when we saw who it was—the choice (again, by whom?) was always perfect.
 We would sing the special birch bark song—only sung that night—as she paddled out into the lake.
And hopefully the ceremony would end before the canoe sank, as it was very leaky.  We always quickly returned to our cabins before our camp director Mac would quietly motor her barge out to the canoe and rescue it and the paddler.

 The birchbark canoe

The next day would be Final Banquet, (fried chicken!) followed by the final ceremony (unofficial)—that of being picked up by one's parents to be taken home.
You would wait in dread for them to come.  When you spotted them walking towards you, as you sat in the greeting area where you had been dropped off two months before, you would wail and sob as bitterly and dramatically as you could. (Some welcome for Mom and Dad, right?) You would cling to your friends who were crying with you, vow eternal loyalty and love, and be led away up the road to the station wagon in the parking area. So sad! Crying so hard!
On the drive into Traverse City, you would then brightly ask, "Can we please get some real ice cream, Mom?"
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The song sung at camps all over the US, that inspired my quilt:
If there were witchcraft, I’d make two wishes,
a winding road that beckons me to roam,
and then I’d wish for a blazing campfire,
to welcome me when I’m returning home.
But, in this real world there is no witchcraft and golden wishes do no grow on trees.
Our fondest day dreams must be the magic that brings us back those golden memories.
Memories that linger, constant and true,
memories we cherish, Arbutus of you"

 Nejee Year, 1970, in our Sunday whites  Don't let this decorum fool you.
 

4 comments :

ABC said...

Those faces at morning sing! When we have reunions, we get hoarse from 24 hour singing!

Arlene Delloro said...

I never went to camp, but surely missed out!

Leeann said...

The quilt is beautiful. I loved reading your story about going to Camp too.

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