Thursday, August 11, 2011

One is Silver and the Other Gold

I've waited for a few days to write this post.  (In truth, it will probably turn out to be a series of posts.  A lifetime love is hard to capture in one entry.) 

Remember, I needed a bit of time to get back on the "normal" side of the Nostalgia Line?  Well, tonight I spent one last evening with several of my wonderfully sweet and dedicated summer staff.  The twinge to float down Amnesia Lane was there, but it did not leave me in a tearful mess on the drive home.  No tears.  That's the green-light for thinking about the past without calling up all of my friends, blubbering the words, "Remember when...?  Waaahhhh..."  No tears = safe zone.

At the end of the summer, I couldn't help but start to think about the past and how my life in camping has come full-circle.  How 25 years ago, I was changed without even knowing it.  And I'd catch myself, looking at my counselors and campers, wondering where this journey would take them in a quarter of a century.

When I was 10, I spent my first summer at Camp Cibola, a Girl Scout camp only about 5 miles from my house.  I can clearly remember asking my parents if I could go, worried that they'd see the price and pass out.  But they didn't, and over the next 3 summers, my dad made deals to help with the mowing and maintenance of camp and my mom -- a cosmetology student at the local community college -- sold hundreds of boxes of cookies to help defray the cost of a week or two at camp.  Literally, one summer, I am fairly certain the CJC Bulldog and Lady Bulldog basketball teams paid my way in mountains of Thin Mints.  It slowed them on the court a bit, but their cookie addictions helped change and shape my life.

My camp was forced to close when I was 14 due to financial constraints, and my friends and I were sad.  I didn't realize at the time what it was that we were really losing.  To the naked eye, it's just a few acres with some cabins and a pool, but for me, I realize now, it was home. A beginning, a spark.  Smells, songs, tastes, sounds... little snippets of the past catch me in the strangest of times and will flash me back 268 miles and 25 years.  It's the only kind of time travel I believe in.

Here is Camp Cibola for me:
  • The smell of the Arts and Crafts building -- old stone and clay and tempra paint.
  • Archery with Ernie the Archery Dude.
  • My achievement beads -- specifically the crimson beads for bullseyes at Archery
  • the redwood deck outside the dining hall
  • mail call -- to this day, I still have yet to receive a letter from my mom while at camp.
  • the Canteen
  • trying to figure out all of the counselor's "real" names.  I'm still disappointed that B.G.'s real name was "Lanetta".  And "Froggy" will always be "Froggy".  Never Tracy.
  • sleeping in the covered wagons with the flaps raised.
  • sleeping in the covered wagon at the end of camp after the canvases were taken down
  • stealing plums from the Chief Crazy Horse's (the camp director's) trailer while we were supposed to be typing the camp newspaper.  It's funny now that she never stopped replacing them.
  • the mimeograph machine in the A&C building, cranking out copies of said newspaper.
  • red, yellow, green swim caps.  I'll never forget the day I earned my green cap and went off the diving board.  I learned how to both swim and dive at camp, skills I will always owe to Momma Duke's fierce determination to get me to "put your dang face in the water, Nazworth!"
  • the cinnamon and nutmeg smell of sweet potato muffins from the kitchen and peanut butter and honey on my pancakes.
  • Three Brownie Bites and a Prune-a-Day.  Le sigh.
  • The Buffalo Song
  • Sleep-overs and star-gazing in the valley meadow.  And the smell of freshly mown grass.
  • The cross-tie "bridge" on the forest trail.
  • Fruit-flavored snipe hunts armed only with my pillowcase and a broken flashlight.  I still don't know how the counselors got that snipe smell to permeate our adventures.  My only guess is sno-cone syrup.  Or Kool-Aid packets.  I was terrified and thrilled all at once. 
  •  skits and songs at the ampitheatre.
  • red sashes on the color guard at flag ceremony and complete silence at flag before singing Taps.
  • Kelly, the lifeguard, making friendship bracelets at the pool every day.  She held them in place with a band-aid, and she had a weird tan line where the band-aid was every day.  Now, I realize that maybe it wasn't the best idea for her to be crafting while guarding, but back then, she was just plain cool.
  • platform tents
  • the god-awful smell of the latrines and the intense heat and humidity of the showerhouse.
  • Ivory soap in panty hose hanging from the trough sink.
  • one-match fires
  • chicken pot pie and macaroni and cheese cooked over the campfire.
  • Greens and whites, knee socks and hats.
  • canoeing across Lake Greenbelt with the staff when I was a P.A.T.  Then into town for Blizzards and Chinese Fire Drills on Main Street.
  • Christel, Sarah, Erin, and Cara -- my camp buddies.
  • Being severely homesick the first night only to realize that being homesick was a drag.
  • aluminum foil boats with candles lighting the pool.
  • the first s'more of the summer
  • the last song of the summer... "mmm-hmmm... I want to linger..."
About 12 years ago, I took another of my camp friends (from my 2nd camp), Courtney, to see my old camp.  Even though it'd been closed and the land sold, no one developed it.  We hopped the fence, and after being closed for a decade, it was like looking at a skeleton of someone I loved.  The structures were still there, but the beauty, the spirit, the essence... had died long before.  They now only existed in some film I never took the time to develop and the memories, so clear in my heart.  I thought for a moment that I would simply sit down and fall apart.  But I didn't.  I walked her all over that camp, risking snakes in the grass and a nice trespassing charge, just to paint a picture of the place I loved so dearly if only for a short time.  I knew that she was one of the only people who would understand this need to say good-bye.  In our 16 year friendship, I'd have to say that afternoon was one of my favorite moments; it was the melding of my old camp life and my new camp life. 

"Make new friends... but keep the old... One is silver and the other gold."

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