Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Wishing Well

This is the time of year when my thoughts return to camp. As a child, Camp Council was my second home. My experiences there were formative. You can imagine how I felt a few years ago when I came upon the wishing well.

On a sprawling suburban lawn in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, sits a wishing well. To passersby, it looks as if it was built to compliment the sunny, stone colonial home beyond it. It’s a pleasant accent to the well-manicured lawn. But a closer look will reveal names carved into the top ledge of the well. These names are unrelated to this home or any of the other homes in the neighborhood. Trace the timeworn cement embossed letters with your fingers and travel back to a time when this same wishing well, in this same spot, sat in the center of Camp Council. Camp Council existed from 1925 until 1986 as a summer place for urban, Jewish youth from Philadelphia.
When I attended camp from 1963 until 1974, it was all girls. For me, it was a refuge from the taunts of my three brothers and the other boys on the block who only let me play sports with them when their older brothers were not around. Apparently, playing stickball with girls was an embarrassment. At camp, I became an athlete, a swimmer, gymnast, singer, and a writer of spirited songs and poems - about camp. This was my home away from home where I developed self-confidence, experienced acceptance and even popularity. Where I had the nerve to sing in a talent show and the nurturance to learn with alacrity any new skill presented. This was where I actually enjoyed being a girl among girls and witnessed girls who were strong and tough, who could hammer nails and hit a softball really far. Also, I saw girls with beautiful long hair and incredible singing voices who could play guitar, piano and sight read music; and girls who could make a Friday night service meaningful to a ten year old, with stories and songs about friendship, nature and the nature of friendship. I came away understanding that I could be any one of those girls, and I would be valued.
Camp seemed worlds away from home, although the actual distance between them was thirty miles. Things happened so differently there. Camp was my Oz, Northeast Philadelphia - my Kansas. This realization began during my first summer at camp when I was seven-and-a-half. It was July Fourth. We had an evening activity of skits and songs. All day there were rumors about fireworks, but none so far. At the conclusion of our final song, we had milk and cookies and headed back to our bunks to be tucked in with a goodnight kiss. Still no sign of fireworks. The lights went out, the counselors left, the complaints began.
“No fireworks!! If I were home... I’m never coming back here again...” I couldn’t
believe this was how this day would end. I said a silent prayer for fireworks. The voices trailed off as sleep overcame us. All of a sudden, we were awakened by, “Attention all campers and counselors, attention all campers and counselors:
Put on your bathrobes and slippers, and hurry down to the softball field for
fireworks!” I couldn’t believe it. This would never happen at home, where bedtime meant bedtime! In seconds, we were racing to the field in the dark. I remember the older girls with their hair wrapped around orange juice cans, wearing fuzzy slippers, and bounding down from the hill. I remember marveling at that big sky filled with light, as I sat on the bench at the third baseline. I remember the rush of night air through my pajamas and the excitement of the unexpected at the eleventh hour. I got the sense that anything can happen if you want it badly enough. I returned each year until I was eighteen with fireworks in my heart for camp.
In 1972, during my summer as a junior counselor, we built a wishing well - the junior counselors’ gift to the camp. Uncle John guided us through every layer of stone but we did much of the grunt work. We lifted heavy rocks out of the stream by the campfire site, loaded them into a wheelbarrow and hauled them to the office circle where we built the wishing well. I was sixteen. I felt so strong and healthy, mixing cement in the midday sun, and watching the stone wall grow higher and higher, as did our appreciation of each other and ourselves. When the well was finished, and we carved our names into the top layer of cement, we felt - accomplished.
So let passersby think that the wishing well is just a lawn ornament on somebody else’s property. Council Campers know that it leads to a bottomless source of laughter, song, friendship and an enduring spirit that you can access simply by thinking about camp.

Back to Camp Weekend:May 23-25, 2009
Attention all campers, families, friends, and anyone who has ever wanted to go to camp, or go back to camp:
Please join the ‘girls’ of Camp Council for a back to camp weekend of fun, frolic and forever-young feelings. Come away with us to Camp Golden Slipper in the Pocono Mountains from May 23-25th, 2009. From the pajama breakfast until the campfire embers die away, you will feel transported back to the magical summers of youth. Your inner child will thank you and so will your children and grandchildren. So bring the gang for swimming, boating, singing, sports, crafts and general silliness. All meals and lodging in bunks included. And of course, all the bug juice you can drink.
Call Fern @ 610-494-2848 for more details. See you soon!!!


itsmomlive said...

I've read this numerous times and I'm still sitting here wailing! Nice piece on the bottom! i love you!

RozieKay said...

I loved what you wrote. Your enthusiasm is sooo much like your mom! She lives on Tracy!
Your descriptive words are so well expressed, that I can only wish that I had shared that camping experience with you!
Remember the art school we shared, I'm sure you'll write of that sooner or later. Now, that was a fun-time with you.

Love Ya ~ Roz
Is Amidy going to go off to camp?