Can You Put a Price On Girl Scout Camp Memories? Camp Memories, Part I…

Thirty-seven years ago around this time, I went to “sleep-away” Girl Scout camp for the first time. I was 9 years old, and had just completed the third grade. I would be away from my home/family for two whole weeks! It was a pretty exciting time, and to mark the occasion, I got my first “professional” haircut, which would allow me to wash my own hair! Here are a couple of “before” and “after” photos…

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Clearly this haircut was an improvement, wasn’t it? My grandma, me and my brother on the Pictured Rocks boat cruise in 1981. As you can see, I had long since outgrown my 4 foot 11 inch tall grandmother! I have a rabbit’s foot on a chain attached to my belt loop. Wow, how barbaric was THAT fad?

The camp I would be attending was called Camp ‘O Fair Winds and was located about 25 miles northeast of Flint, MI. I say “was” because the camp is no longer open, its land on the east side of McKeen Lake in Lapeer County was auctioned off a few years ago, along with most of the camp’s equipment. Unsure what became of the buildings/lodges, though “earth view” in Google maps tells me the buildings are…gone. I can see concrete areas where lodge buildings such as Cedar Crest and Willow Crest stood, and also a huge concrete void where the dining hall and swimming pool were located.

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Dining hall at Camp ‘O Fair Winds. The pool and flag area also were located here, as well as the archery range (I earned a junior yeoman pin).

The camp’s land and all equipment of value (including industrial grade kitchen equipment, brooms and bunk beds, according to this article) was auctioned off in October, 2014; and the camp was closed in 2009. Unsure why anyone would consider brooms to be items of value, but maybe some of the big push brooms would be considered valuable? I honestly don’t know…

So the creaky metal military-grade bunk (single, not double decker) on which I slept  had a dollar value? Thirteen consecutive nights, three consecutive years, plus random weekend trips with my Girl Scout troop? Can you put a dollar “value” on my childhood memories? Chatting with the other girls into the night after lights-out, shining flashlight beams on the ceiling and playing pretend “Pac Man,” reading one of my favorite books while strategically aiming my flashlight so as not to bother the other girls trying to sleep?Shining my flashlight into the toilet to make sure there were no critters hiding there? Listening to my friend and tentmate Ginny S. explaining to me how babies were made (yes this really happened)? Making sure my bunk area was tidy when counselors came to inspect  our “quarters?” Yes, after my “bunkmates” and I flunked an inspection of our tent, we tried to step up our game! Keep those sleeping bags neat! Make sure my “Bad News Bear” teddy bear was nicely centered on my pillow and my dirty laundry was stashed in my laundry bag under my bunk!

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My plush “Bad News Bear,” which I still own…

In my third (and last) year of camp, my tentmate Cindy broke one of the cardinal rules. She smuggled in candy, which was strictly verboten. We learned why after the first night of munching on her illicit sweet goodies… Just after we’d started drifting off to sleep, we heard telltale scurrying sounds from between the inner and outer screen of the tent, which was essentially a frame house, similar to a yurt. It looked like this…

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These things were covered with canvas when in use by the Girl Scouts. We could roll up the flaps to let in the breeze on warm days, and when it was chilly or rainy, we were kept warm/dry.

It didn’t take much for a mouse to sniff out Cindy’s “contraband!” This mouse was determined, and clearly wanted a piece of the sugary action! Though Cindy had brought the candy into the camp inside a small hard-sided suitcase, the mouse probably still got a whiff of the candy wrappers, or perhaps our breath? Who knows! We made sure to be as quiet as a mouse (and not tell the counselors), lest Cindy get into trouble for breaking the rules. There’s a code of honor among thieves, and also among the Girl Scouts, which had its own credos/laws, which we had to learn. Go ahead, auctioneers! Try to put a price tag on those memories, will ya?

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Sign at entry of Camp ‘O Fair Winds

Even the benches in the community area were eventually put on the auction block, as I learned via the Facebook page for Camp ‘O Fair Winds, which I follow. What’s the dollar value of singing “Taps,” doing the flag ceremony to close the day, and later, sit on our “sit upons” and sing songs on “the hill” below the pool? Priceless, I’d say…So what’s a “sit upon,” you ask?  It’s whatever we used as a small mat to sit on the ground, which was usually homemade, and could contain foam, newspaper, etc. Mine was made of brown and white checkered vinyl and was made years ago before I was in Brownies (hence the color scheme). “Sit upons” were typically covered with plastic material (such as vinyl tablecloth material) and stitched together by hand.  They typically look like this…

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A “situpon” in progress…

Then there was the swimming pool, a place ripe with many, many memories (not all of them pleasant). In its Girl Scout camp heyday, it looked like this…

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We all had to wear swim caps in the pool, which were color-coded according to our levels of swimming. Beginners wore red caps, intermediate swimmers wore yellow, advanced swimmers wore green, and the most advanced swimmers wore blue caps. This is a 1969 postcard photo.

The first year I attended camp in 1981, the pool was not open, so swimming lessons happened in a cordoned-off area of McKeen Lake instead. Which meant you were at the mercy of whatever temperature the lake decided to be! As memory serves, it was kind of chilly/rainy during this camping session, so the lake was NEVER warm enough for me! Nonetheless, swimmers HAD to get used to the water quickly whether they liked or not, and the way the swimming instructors did this was to make us do “bobs,” which meant ducking under the water and coming back up quickly. We always had to do a certain number of these before we could start our lessons. I ABSOLUTELY  HATED DOING THESE! And I still don’t like getting into water unless it’s a comfortable temperature for me! We had to do early morning “polar bear swims” in our pajamas/nightgowns, which to me, was akin to medieval torture. I even agonized about these in my letters I wrote to my parents (I’ll get to those letters in a bit).

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McKeen Lake’s swimming area and boating dock, as depicted on this old postcard. This lake was rumored to have a monster lurking in its depths named “Greta,” who would devour girls who were homesick! Yeah, us Gen X girls certainly weren’t coddled!

In my later years at camp, I learned to… negotiate my way out of doing the swimming bobs. I made a deal with my swim instructor on days that it was her job to clear her table in the mess hall. I said I’d do her table clearing detail if she didn’t make me do the swimming “bobs.” It was a pretty sweet deal! I much preferred handling and schlepping dirty dishes – and sweeping the floor – to doing those silly “bobs.”

My first year of camp I was in the “beginning” (red caps) swimming group, and learned a couple of strokes, such as the elementary backstroke and the basic “front crawl.” I had also somewhat mastered the sidestroke. When we had “tryouts” my second year (by that time the pool was open again), they wanted to assess my swimming abilities. I knew that if they thought I’d mastered the sidestroke, I would be put in the green class, which was semi-advanced, and would have to do more “work.” Advanced swimmers not only had to do more work in their classes, but in the boating classes, too (I hope to discuss my boating adventures in a future blog). I didn’t want to be in the beginning class again, either, so I pretended I didn’t know how to do the sidestroke, though I could do the front crawl and elementary backstroke. As a result, I was placed in the intermediate class, which meant I had a yellow swimming cap. I was in this class the last two years of camp.

Though swimming lessons were a lot of work and usually involved those annoying “bobs” when I didn’t negotiate my way out of doing them (LOL), I eagerly awaited swimming lessons when I attended camp in late June and early July, 1983. This was because while I was at camp this year, it was brutally hot, and we were in the midst of a heat wave, which was chronicled in letters I’d written home from camp, some of which took on quite  a…bitter tone. One of the letters explained how all girls wearing jeans or pants had to change into shorts – by order of the camp nurse – on one particularly hot day. In the letter shown below, I eloquently explained the reasons my cup had runneth over (in pencil, I must have left my pen back at “base camp” that day)…

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Letter dated July 5, 1983. I gave a rundown of my activities, which included describing the outfit I’d assembled for”Red, White and Blue Day.” I closed out the letter explaining the reasons I couldn’t wait to get back home, which were: “#1 The food is terrible and #2, We do the same things every day.” On the back of this note, I wrote, “I wasn’t kidding about this ‘I wanna go home’ business. I really do! I even put in the quote marks surrounding ‘I wanna go home.'” The arrow indicates that the letter continued on the other side.

Though not all of my camp memories were happy ones, they are still priceless to me. And no auctioneer, no matter how seasoned, could put a price on them! Can you start the bidding at “priceless?”

 

 

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