CAMPS MAKE MEMORIES

Sunday Gazette-Mail - April 17, 2005

 

Karin Vingle Fuller

 

 

WE'RE supposed to be leery of deals that promise something for nothing. And if that something-for-nothing involves the Internet and free travel, then it's doubly reeking of smarm.

 

But this past week, I got a free trip off the Internet. With just a click of my mouse, I got to travel through time, back to my days as a Carbide Camper.

 

Although I'd been to the Web site a few times before (www.carbidecamps.net), I'd somehow missed the songbook compiled by Ellen Richardson Pritchard before the first reunion of former campers held in 2002.

 

The songbook intrigued me and I clicked on the button. It was a large file, slow to load on my dial-up connection. As I waited, my thoughts drifted back to the summer evenings spent sitting cross-legged on the gritty hardwood floor of the "Castle" while the counselors played guitar and everyone sang.

 

Even as a child, I never much liked to sing, at least not if anyone could hear me. Perhaps that was because a music teacher, after hearing me solo, told me it would be fine if I just mouthed the words. So that's what I usually did, except when at camp. There, in that gritty-floored roomful of girls, this shy camper didn't lip-sync.

 

When the lyrics finally appeared on my screen, I greedily scrolled through them.

 

Do your ears hang low? Do they wobble to and fro? Can you tie them in a knot? Can you tie them in a bow?

 

Fried ham. Fried ham. Cheese and boloney. And after the macaroni, we'll have pickles and onions, and then we'll have some more fried ham ... fried ham, fried ham. Second verse, same as the first ...

 

John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt. His name is my name too ...

 

I can remember belting out those songs, laughing hard with my new friends, my shyness forgotten. Or rather, temporarily set aside.

 

Last summer, it was my own daughter's turn to experience summer camp for the first time. Celeste was just 6, and the year and a half leading up to that summer had been rough for her. She'd lost her sister, then endured her parents' divorce. The experiences had caused her to draw inward. Although she seemed happy enough, she'd stopped being a joiner, seeming to prefer isolation over the scary uncertainty of getting to know someone new.

 

I wanted to help, but wasn't sure how. I signed her up for soccer and dance, but she found ways to separate herself from the others. She wanted only me, her pets and her two closest friends. Her isolation and shyness seemed to be intensifying.

 

Right around that time, I started working on The Charleston Gazette's annual Send-A-Child-To-Camp fund, which I've helped handle since it began back in 1996. Although I'd been reading and processing camp applications for years, I saw them in a new light. The camp directors told one story after another about how camp had helped many of the children who attended.

 

The programs at Creative Capers, a day camp held at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, seemed the best fit for her, so I signed her up. The first day of camp, she begged me not to leave her. The second day, she begged me not to pick her up. I'm not sure how they did it, but in one week, my painfully shy child had a complete turnaround.

 

The evening of the last day of camp, the campers put on a show. As the children waited for the guests to arrive, she dragged me all over the camp, proudly showing me where they'd learned yoga and crafts, where they ate, where they gathered to sing.

 

"I thought you said she was shy and a loner," a friend of mine said as we watched my little girl mingling comfortably with kids of all ages, playfully teasing the teen counselors, hugging some of her friends.

 

"She was," I said. And she hasn't been ever since.

 

The second Carbide Camp Reunion will be held July 22-24. Compete details are available on the Carbide Camp Web site at www.carbidecamps.net or by contacting Scott Mease at (908) 272-8224 or scottmease @aol.com, or Michael Potter at [email protected]

 

To learn more about The Charleston Gazette's Send-A-Child-To-Camp fund, read the kickoff story on the front page of today's Sunday Gazette-Mail or visit our Web site at www.wvgazette.com.

 

E-mail Karin Fuller at karin [email protected]