I spent the summers of 1977-1980 at an all girls overnight camp in Maine. There were about 130 girls there each summer all donned in green shorts and white shirts. The counselors, who were as much a part of the community as the girls, wore blue shorts and white shirts. The girls ranged from ages seven-eight to fifteen-sixteen, or at camp you would say Bunk 12 (the youngest) to Senior D (the oldest).
We sang. I really mean it, we sang ALL.OF.THE.TIME. Anyone can tell you there is a song for getting up in the morning, going to bed at night and everything in between including every meal, picking up paper, perfect posture, if it rains (but you can’t say the r word) and absolutely everything you can think of. Not to mention, as the end of the summer approaches, an entirely new set of songs gets put into the mix about not wanting to go home and/or never wanting to leave camp.
There are also all green songs, all white songs, green and white songs, tons of birthday songs, and, of course, whenever anyone that is not part of the camp community enters the dining room, why, there is a song greeting them, as well.
And, if you couldn’t guess it, there were song leaders. Being a song leader was probably the most coveted role at camp, other than being a team captain (yes, Green or White teams). The song leaders were chosen at the beginning of the summer and led throughout the summer, but who am I kidding, once a song leader always a song leader.
The four song leaders per summer would stand up on chairs in the middle of the dining room during every meal. Two would face one direction and two would face the other so that every camper could see a song leader. They would choose the songs from their perch and then do a little pitch before starting the song. They would then lead us in song by keeping the beat to the song via complicated hand motions that are forever part of your DNA (for the record, I just motioned them at my desk).
The younger girls would mimic the hand motions from their seats at the dining tables while the song leaders led the entire camp in song. It was spirited and loud, but there were also moments that were more serene and peaceful. We sang at meals, at sports events, at campfires, on buses, on hikes, you name it, we sang.
Why all this talk about song?
Our camp songs have been quieted. A bright, energetic and talented song leader has just lost her battle with cancer. She was more than a song leader, she was a camper, a Green team captain, a counselor and a musician. She was a a daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife and a mom. She was a connector; she kept everyone in touch and in the loop while also caring for all.
I went to her funeral today. The service was beautiful. Her rabbi, friend, brother and husband all spoke and filled in the pieces of her that were not-camp. Her husband did mention in his eulogy that for her “all roads really did lead to camp.”
After the service the camp people gathered. There were a few people that I have been in touch with through Facebook over the years that I knew would be present. There were also faces that I had not seen in thirty-five years; once the name was said, I immediately placed them back into their green shorts and white shirts.
The age range spanned probably twenty years. There were the “big kids” from when I was a camper, and then the “little kids” to whom I was a “big kid”. And mind you, we are all now ranging from our forty’s to sixty’s or older, many of whom have sent their daughters to the camp.
It was a surreal experience. Even if there was someone there today that had not been at camp during my tenure, they were either in my sister’s bunk or knew my best friend’s sister. Our camp was small enough that everyone really knew everyone.
As we cried and grieved over the loss of our friend, we reconnected, laughed, shared stories and cried and grieved some more.
I’ve written about camp from the perspective of a parent and/or a therapist . I am writing about our kids and their experiences and how important their time at camp is for so many reasons. I didn’t realize how really important it was until today when my camp experience resurfaced as did the connections and relationships formed decades ago.
We will miss our friend so much. She was someone you were lucky to have known. She taught me more about relationships and kindness than I had realized. Her husband wrote this many times in their Caring Bridge site: call your people, let them know they are important, life is too unpredictable to have it any other way.
I have been a voyeur on the camp photos and videos where my kids are spending the summer. Ok, not really a voyeur since the camp is putting it out for all of us parents to see, but it feels a little voyeuristic. The camp does a fabulous job at portraying the daily happenings of the kids; there are photos, slideshows and videos.
The thing about these sightings is that everyone is smiling. Either there is excellent editing, or these kids are just happy! I keep thinking about when the kids see a camera; they gather together arm and arm and smile because that is what one does when they see a camera. So, is it really all that fun, or is it the view of the camera?
The videos are showing more unposed fun. There are the moments when the kids stop and scream “WE LOVE CAMP” as if they have been prompted (honestly, I don’t think they have), but for me the best moments are when the camera is just filming life.
A special moment at this camp is Shabbat (the Sabbath). The camp has religious services, a special meal and increased music on Shabbat. I just watched one of the Shabbat videos and could feel the joy emanating from the kids and adults. There is a traditional banging on the tables during some songs and, as my kids have reported to me, the song leaders jump from table to table with their guitars. (I was relieved when my daughter guaranteed that the kids scrub the tables extra hard after this table jumping event). I saw little girls spontaneously breaking into dancing circles in the middle of the dining room while their bunk mates ran over to join the dance. This wasn’t posed, this was fun and ruach (Hebrew for spirit).
Then the therapist in me takes over. Not every kid is happy every single moment; of course not. There is homesickness, bunk drama, kids being excluded and overtired campers and staff. There are bad meals, rainy days and even some boring ‘learning’ time, as I have been told. I am reminded again and again, without some down moments, how could any of us ever truly appreciate pure joy? I am not sure we would experience it as wholly if we didn’t have a yucky day with which to compare it.
At camp though, my gut says that the joy outweighs the yuck. Weeks of sleepovers, constant play dates, cool counselors instead of naggy parents telling you to take a shower. Sports, music, dance and craziness instead of school and homework. Camp has an unfair advantage over the rest of life, how could it not? One very long vacation.
Camp is truly my kids’ favorite place in the world. It’s not that they don’t love their parents and enjoy family time, I know they do, it’s just that camp offers a joy, a pure joy that I have yet to see replicated in any other form.