MY VERY FIRST GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY
by Elena Friedman
Camp Birch Knoll - Our Cabin
MY VERY FIRST GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY
I left home without my parents for two months the summer of my ninth birthday. My next door neighbor, Donna and I went together to Camp Birch Knoll in Phelps, Wisconsin. I'll never forget waiting for the train at the station in Wilmette, Illinois with my fellow campers, some of us with tears in our eyes clinging to our parents and others trying as hard as we could to show we were strong and hid neither our tears nor our fears.
We saw some of our fellow campers attempt to "act cool" as though they didn't know their parents. They looked instead for their friends. The look in their eyes said not only that they didn't want their parents to worry about them, but also that they were mature enough to take care of themselves. Who were we kidding? Those of us who had never been away from home alone were terrified. The rest of us just wanted our parents to think weren't scared.
Donna and I spent our six summers in the same cabin. We started camp that first year knowing only each other. Yet it didn't take long before we developed friendships with the other girls in Cabin Two,a.k.a., Beaver's Nest (at least that's the name I recall.) I welcome input from any of the girls/now women, in our cabin: Donna, Barb, AnnDee, Linda. How are your memories?
I encourage all young women who can afford the time whether it's locally or some distance away from home to spend time developing the special bond that is unique to women. There is often in our DNA a particularly exceptional closeness that binds us together from the time we are kids through adulthood.
Camp was a place where we could learn how to swim, synchronize swim, horseback ride, water ski, canoe, play tennis and archery. We also learned ceramics and how to make silver jewelry. I can't think of any of my camp friends who would have given up the opportunity to learn all of the above-mentioned activities without worrying about boys making fun of us.
We also took a few trips a summer to popular tourist sites not to far from camp. One summer, we took a bus trip to Mackinaw Island, Michigan. We camped out and wandered around the Island during the day. No one makes fudge like they do.
For those of you who don't think you can survive eight weeks without boys, you always have the option of reducing the number of weeks you spend at camp. For others, whose parents want you to stay away from boys for as many summers as possible, or for girls who choose to spend time with their girlfriends....fear not, we had socials with boys camps several times a summer.
Our parents came up for visiter's weekend twice a summer. I'll never forget one visiter's weekend when I was particularly excited to see my parents. After breakfast, I ran on a stone walkway to my cabin. I was wearing moccasins and inadvertently smashed my large toe into one of the stones.
One of the counselors was nearby and heard me scream in pain. She took me to the infirmary. The nurse there thought I needed X-rays and a doctor's opinion so she drove me to a clinic. Sure enough, I broke my toe.
My parents arrived, but they couldn't locate me. After a while, one of the counselors recalled that another counselor had taken me to the clinic in town. She drove my nervous parents there. I hobbled up and threw my arms around them. It was a warm and loving greeting.
The doctor put a cast around my toe, taught me how to use crutches and off we went. Thus began my accident prone life. Despite my aching toe, we had a great weekend full of laughter over my minor accident. I was saddened to see my parents leave, but we had a fun-filled weekend.
Other memorable incidents that I'll never forget were some of the pranks that were pulled. There was the time some kids rounded up all of the bras in each cabin, tied them all together and strung them up on the flagpole. Sure they took their "licks," that is if the directors figured out the culprits, but it sure was worth it, or so I'm told.
Then there was the shoe heist. While we were at dinner, some kids rounded up all the shoes they could find, lined them up in rows down the hillside, and spelled out "Camp Birch Knoll." I heard the pranksters were given what was considered the worst punishment possible.
They were marched down to the Camp Director's office. Just one snarly look from "Pops" was enough to render them scared to death. Apologies were given and accepted, but no one wanted to find themselves there again. Which isn't to say that was the end of camp pranks.
Every Friday night, after dinner we sang songs. I'm sure we sang our camp song though I don't remember it. What I do remember was singing, "Climb Every Mountain." To this day, this remains one of my favorite songs.
At the end of the summer, we put on a Broadway type show. This gave us the chance to try our chops singing or seeing whether we had two left feet while learning to dance.
I remember with sadness packing our steamer trunks when we awoke the next day. We said our goodbyes and waited for the train to take us to our respective locations. Saying goodbye was difficult, but most of knew that we'd see each other the following summer.