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Down the Road

I know a girls' camp, five miles away
By Milton M. Gross
Oct 7, 2012 - 12:57:13 AM

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I know a girls' camp five miles away,

Where they serve rotten food three times a day.

Oh, how the campers yell!

When they hear that dinner bell.

Oh, how the food does smell,

Five miles away.

Five miles away and 50 years ago, that's how long ago it was I sang that good old camp song with all the others from Camp Sandy Hill, a boys' camp in Maryland. The song was about Camp Sandy Cove, the sister camp for the girls, where the girls would sing "our" song in reverse.

I thought of the camp this evening, as I was walking from our bus terminal to Miss Kitty, our Toyota Yaris. And without thinking, I began to belt out that old camp song as I walked.

Sure lucky the parking lot was damp from rain, and no one was around. I wonder how that song would sound from the nut house.

I have good memories from those camp counseling days, including the pay way back then, which was $25 a week. Doesn't seem like much these days, but with it you got all the mosquitoes you could want, lots of kids to drive you a bit off your rocker, a chance and reason -- for me -- to start wearing shorts, which I hadn't worn since I was a TT (tiny tyke), huge breakfasts that I now emulate on Sunday mornings and which Dolores dutifully eats, oh, yes, and a chance to haul a cabin's worth of campers in a '57 Chevy.

I don't recall where I toted that bunch in the Chevy sedan, probably to Camp Sandy Cove for some common activity. I mostly remember packing them in, kind of shoving the last two or three into that back seat.

Of course, motor vehicle laws were a bit different in those days, so no one cared if you carried 12 or 14 little kids in your sedan -- horrors, without seat belts. Wouldn't have mattered, they were packed in so tightly that had we had an accident, they couldn't have moved. They kind of formed their own organic seat belt.

I was Chief Milt. I haven't been a chief since, although I have been a genuine teaching principal in a couple of rural schools in Maine and an editor of a weekly paper, which may have been called the Weekly Blah, can't quite recall.

Our cabins each had a native American name, in those days called Indian names. I don't recall which tribe I was chief of, and, I suppose it doesn't matter a whole lot. Some tribe.

We had contests among the cabins, primarily to see which cabin could be the cleanest and neatest by the time we raced off to breakfast, where no one yelled. Perhaps, sang a bit of, "Here we sit like (somethings) in the wilderness, waiting for our (something). You can probably fill in those missing words by guessing as well as I can.

My memory for those details somehow is lacking. Hah, "birds" was the first one. Second one is gone. Don't think we were waiting for our "worms."

Everyone complained about those meals, kind of a rite of camper- and counselorhood, as we later did in the Air Force. But I thought those breakfasts were great, cereal, heaps of scrambled eggs, and some kind of juice.

I didn't particularly think the Kool Aid by whatever name was right up there on my favorite drink list. But we didn't die of thirst.

One morning I got to try my wild-game killing skill, when as I walked out the cabin door on my way to the whatever we called that little room with seats that had holes in the center, I spied a huge (as in about a foot) long rat, just outside the cabin. After I had done what you do in that little room with seats that had holes in the center, I spied him again.

He (couldn't have been a girl rat in a boys' camp) was waiting for me on the top step to the door of the cabin. I looked around and found a rake, although looking back on it after these few years it has taken me to become 29.5, I can't figure out why we had a rake so handy. Maybe it was the camp's anti-rat weapon -- or anti-really-bratty-camper weapon.

Disclaimer: I didn't have any really bratty campers, in case you are reading this and remember being in my cabin.

I grabbed the rake and made an unmerciful end to Mr. Rat's days at Camp Sandy Hill.

Never told those campers, although I was tempted to warn the really-bratty-campers (the ones which were not in my cabin) that this could be next for them if they didn't straighten out. (In those days of long ago, corporal punishment was permitted, even when I began to teach school and grabbed a really-bratty-would-be student in preparation for some corporal something. He clung to my neckties in desperation, figuring, I guess, that both of us would go down with the same corporal-punishment ship.

We both ended up laughing, and we both let go.

It may have been that disciplining incident that led to corporal punishment being prohibited in Maine schools.

At Sandy Hill, I was the canoeing instructor, because I knew my right from my left. Of course, for the little ones learning to paddle -- or not, I had to translate that into starboard and port. (I've always wondered why those seagoing folk didn't just say "left" and "right." Maybe starboard faced the open skies, seas, and stars. And maybe port faced the dock. Maybe. Sailing history is not my strong point.)

If I have a strong point.

Dolores is not expert at left and right, which in our canoe used to cause problems. I'd see a rock coming on the port bow side and holler, "Paddle hard on the left!" But, over the years, I don't think we ever actually hit any rocks from any misdirected paddling.

We did hit one a year ago, when we put into Lake Megunticook with our electric motor, with which I didn't have to holler left or right or port or starboard or even, "Paddle hard." And we only bounced off one rock, actually it being the plastic protective gizmo on the bottom of the electric motor that did the bouncing. No damage, just glad that none of my camper canoeing students watched it happen.

Unless it was that old guy in the nearest boat, who had been a camper-canoeing student at good old Sandy Hill. Not one of the really bratty ones, of course.

I do recall from those long-ago days how a large vessel plying (I think that's a nautical term.) the Northeast River sent a huge, as in five or six feet high, wave from its stabilizer racing toward our shore. I hollered at the kids to get their canoes onto the shore, leave them, and run like crazy. (The actual language I used to warn them may not have been quite that technical.)

It may have been the confusion as to run port or starboard, although I just meant "run!" as in "RUN, RUN!!! that led to one camper staying by his ship. Which rose up and over him when the wave hit and then, as do all things that go up, down. Right on top of him.

It was a boys' camp, so I recall it was a him.

Him wasn't really hurt that much, but the word "liability" was floating around somewhere in the back of my Chief-Milt brain. I banged on his chest awhile, either to see if it made a drumming noise at this Indian-name based camp or to see if I could get him to breathe again. He breathed, climbed to his feet, and headed for dinner (which in Maryland was actually lunch, but which, being a not-quite-Maineiac after 46 years here, I call dinner).

Oh yes, about the last day or so before we Native Americans headed back to our whatever-we-did endeavors for the rest of the year, I awoke in the morning to find that some evil counselors had dragged a couple of canoes up the hill from the river and deposited them in the swimming pool.

I most remember the camp director's shouting through the camp-wide intercom, "None of you guys will ever get a reference from me."

He was right. Never did.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

Milt Gross Down the Road A Piece Column

Milt Gross Book Reviews


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