Sunday, July 20, 2014

Missing Those Camp Visits in Maine

Ginny, Camp Wawenock, Lake Sebago, ME

I never went to camp, and had my parents tried to send me, I would have had Marxian – Groucho, not Karl – sentiments about going to some camp dumb enough to accept me. I was content to wander the streets near home, peddling my beloved Rudge with my new summer Keds, and watching or playing stickball, stoopball, or Whiffle Ball. Not to mention quaffing a thousand or so Mission brand sodas in a matter of weeks. That last one was funded by an occasional pass at mowing my grandfather’s lawn and clipping his hedges: a boy’s own hedge fund.

I never knew what I was missing until we contemplated sending our own children away to camps in Maine, beginning with my son Teddy, as he was then known. I was impressed that the camp’s director, known as “Chief,” came to our house to make a presentation to boys in the area about Camp Agawam on Crescent Lake near Raymond, where my brother-in-law had been a “Wam.” Teddy’s best friend Freddy went along with him for the seven-week stay.

Early this year, on a job interview in Seattle where he now resides, Ted met with the CEO of a small software company. She acknowledged his degree from what she recognized as a very fine college in Maine, Colby: an unusual thing to occur in the Northwest. But, she saved her biggest praise for Agawam, where, as “Corp” – all counselors received special monikers – he managed out-of-camp expeditions and in-camp games. In an amazing bit of serendipity, the CEO’s sister had gone to Camp Wawenock, Agawam’s nearby sister camp.

Of course, this kind of connection doesn’t necessarily lead to a job. But it does lead to a conclusion that picking the right camp could mean more than just a fun summer of swimming, hiking, canoeing, and possibly canoodling with Ms. or Mr. Summer Love.

My son would say, if fact, has said on several occasions that he owes the most important things he’s learned in life to his Agawam years. His mother and I believe him, even as we tote up the not inconsequential sum invested in other educational attempts to enlighten him.

Agawam’s foundations were Ernest Thompson Seton’s Woodcraft Laws – see link below – and the weekly Saturday night Council with its fire, magically lit by Chief’s use of his special tribal powers. Council included fun competitions between campers and each week boys would have a goal, called a katiaki to achieve.

As it happens, Chief’s daughter had attended Wawenock. His recommendation, as well as the fact that Freddy’s sister and his mom had also gone there, was enough to entice us to send our older daughter Betsy there.

Despite its close relationship with the Ags and Wams five miles away – only as the proverbial crow flies, and not by twisty, foggy lakeside roads – Wawenock was a decidedly different place, with its almost new-age approach to fun and friendships, overseen by two women, June and Pat, who had been there forever.  The girls had tribes too–Wawenocks and Owaissians – as well as a Sunday evening Council atop “Images” overlooking Sebago Lake and the sunset, where they sang songs and celebrated another week together.

"Corp" Ted McDernott's bunk, Crescent Lake ME
Betsy thrived at Wawenock, made lifelong friends there, and starred in the camp production of “Hello Dolly.” When her younger sister Ginny joined her at an early age – perhaps far too early – we had all three kids together in Maine for the summer.

Looking back at those years, it now occurs to me that Ginny’s greatest camp achievement was to perfect the fine art of a literary genre known as the Letter Home from Camp. “You’re really wasting your money here,” one missive began before listing the many ways the camp was wanting, the number of transgressions that she and her friend had been falsely accused of, and worse ones to which she pled guilty. “You really ought to just take me home when you visit,” she advised in another.

As if.

Eventually, and to our minor astonishment, the ladies who ran the camp pretty much agreed with her, but this only served to steel our determination to have her stick it out.

In hindsight, it’s clear that they meant well and we have only good feelings for the camp today. Ginny did stay for a while and I’m confident in stating that one way or another her camp years played a role in her becoming the fun, caring, bright young woman she is today.

Visiting camp, always on the hottest weekend of summer, and staying in a number of barely one-star hotels became our summer vacation for a number of years. By Sunday evening, heading home after driving back and forth around lakes for many hours, my wife and I were worn out, not to mention nearly broke from visiting outlets in Freeport.

One time, late in our careers as camp parents, we were headed south, passing Deb’s Diner and the miniature golf course, when I said to Becky, “You know, as funny as it sounds, we’re actually going to look back on these years and really miss them.”

We do, and trust me on this, so will you.

Ed Note: You can read more about Agawam's Woodcraft Laws and Camp Wawenock here:

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