Camping It Up

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Growing up in Keeseville, I knew of no one who went away to “camp” for the summer. As a matter of fact, when my parents wrote relatives that they had purchased a camp by the lake, my Aunt Pearl wrote back, “Don’t you have enough on your plate managing two stores without running a camp for the summer?” From then on, my parents referred to it as their summer cottage.

We had enough to keep us busy in our small upstate town. From the first week of July through mid-August, the town offered arts and crafts at a building across from the high school. In the morning, buses shipped us off to swim lessons at Port Douglas, where we froze in Lake Champlain’s chilly waters. Every afternoon, another bus would drive us again to Port Douglas beach for recreational swimming. On the days that I didn’t feel like going to the beach, I was totally happy sitting on our side porch on an old chaise lounge and reading Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, or Beverly Cleary. My cousin in Long Island went to a Jewish sleep-away camp for at least four weeks, but that was so “downstate.”

The only opportunities for my friends and me to go to a sleep-away camp were at church-run facilities or at Boy and Girl Scout locations. In 1961, four of us eleven-year-old girls from Keeseville spent one week at Camp Tapawingo at Point Au Roche on Lake Champlain, which was in operation as a Girl Scout camp in the 1960s. Julie, Margaret, Betsy and I were set up with several other campers in bunk beds housed in a lean-to. The structure had three walls and a roof, but the front area was wide open to the elements. “I remember the smell,” recalled Betsy. “Woodsy and damp.”

Meals were served in a large dining room. Each morning at breakfast, we were given a glass of orange or grapefruit juice, which we had to finish before we would get the milk to wash down the bitterness. Peanut butter and jelly on white bread was a staple for lunch. We swam, sang Girl Scout songs, told ghost stories, and ate s’mores around an open fire. We took a day hike. Everyone got sun-burned and lined up for a coating of Noxzema that night. We did crafts, making long lanyards from plastic rope. We attempted archery and canoeing. We got bitten by mosquitos.

And we got homesick. Julie had to go to “Nursey” to have a cry, and I shed my own tears when I didn’t get a letter from home. Why I expected mail when I was away for a week baffles me now, but at the time I felt deserted. But we had fun, despite the rain and the sunburns and the occasional tears.

Soon after our camping experience, Julie and her family moved twenty miles away and Betsy and her family moved to Texas. Margaret and I stopped going to Girl Scouts, and we got involved in band and baseball and junior high angst.

Although I have lost touch with Margaret, I have kept in touch with Julie and Betsy all these years. Julie moved back to Keeseville in time to graduate with our class. Her in-laws had a cottage in Willsboro just down the road from my parents’.place, and we would visit when she and her husband came down from Maine during the summer.

During my second pregnancy, I read M. M. Kaye’s Far Pavilions and loved the main character Juli. I thought of my sweet friend from childhood After some discussion, Larry and I chose the name Julie Rose, after my Grandpa Joe and Larry’s Bubbie Rose. Julie and her husband moved to Austin, and we “see” each other on Facebook.

Betsy and I kept in touch with letters, holiday missives, and, more recently, Facebook. In 2014, I received an unexpected email from Betsy. She and her second husband were coming to New York to see their son, who was a chef in New York City. They decided to take a side trip to Glens Falls to see her grandmother’s house. Would we like to meet them for dinner? Yes! I emailed back.

A few weeks later, Betsy came in my front door. We hugged each other, and almost fifty years apart melted away. “My best friend!” she whispered in my ear. We talked and talked, went out to eat together, and had a wonderful evening. We still keep in touch, and I promised her and Julie that I would stop by to see them in Texas on one of our future summer cross-country trips from Florida to Colorado.

When I was packing up the house for our move to Florida, I found on the bottom of an old trunk my green Girl Scout sash with the cloth merit badges along with group picture taken at Camp Tapiwingo. Betsy is front row center; I am next to her, smiling a toothy grin; Julie is at the end. For a moment, I was eleven years old again, homesick, sunburned, and happy.

There Goes My Heart

Camp Tapawingo 1961. Julie is sitting on far left, I am third on the left, and Betsy is next to me on left. Camp Tapawingo 1961. Julie is sitting on far left, I am third on the left, and Betsy is next to me on left.

Camp? What is a camp?

Growing up in Keesevile, I knew of no one who went away to “camp” for the summer. As a matter of fact, when my parents wrote relatives that they had purchased a camp by the lake, my Aunt Pearl wrote back, “Don’t you have enough on your plate with two stores without running a camp for the summer?” From then on, my parents referred to it as their summer cottage.

We had enough to keep us busy in our small upstate town. From July first through mid-August,  the town offered arts and crafts at a building across from the high school. In the morning, buses shipped us off to swim lessons at Port Douglas, where we froze in Lake Champlain’s chilly waters…

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