The “random question of the day” at WorldMagBlog today was “What is your happiest childhood memory?” I answered the question there, but I enjoyed reminiscing so much that I decided to repeat it here, with some additional details (I keep thinking of more). Besides, my sister Margaret shares most of these particular memories.
My best childhood memory is sitting in the library at Eagle Camp. Eagle Camp is in South Hero, Vermont, on Lake Champlain. It is a family camp rather than a children’s camp, which is a very import distinction. I hated YMCA day camp, and Girl Scout resident camp was worse. But at Eagle Camp you were with family, rather than a counselor and a bunch of other children you didn’t know (and maybe didn’t want to know).
There was no set program, although there were scheduled activities you could participate in if you wanted to. I loved golf croquet (I even played in the tournament but always lost pretty quickly) and shuffleboard, as well as Bingo night and skit night. There was the lake where you could go swimming, or go out in a rowboat. You could fish either off the dock or from a boat, and if you caught fish and cleaned it you could take it to the kitchen and they’d fry it for you for breakfast the next morning.
For children there was a playhouse, where they had so many Lego’s you could make really big houses. You could go to the Wigwam (actually a log building, octagonal I think) and play cards. Or go to the library. The library was a small building, really just a big room filled with books, and with comfortable furniture to sit on. There was a fireplace, and it was a great place to sit and read, especially on a rainy day when outdoor activities were out.
I found books there that I had never read before. I read The Man without a Country by Edward Everett Hale. I read Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager, and for years it was one of my very favorite books. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the name of either the book or the author, and once we stopped going to Eagle Camp, I had no way to find out what it was. It wasn’t until about ten years ago, with the rise of the internet and search engines, that I could type in a few words describing what I remembered of the book, and find exactly what I was looking for.)
There were other wonderful things about Eagle Camp – such as the meals. When it was mealtime, the bugler (or trumpeter, after my cousin learned trumpet and took over the role) would play mess call, and everyone would gather on the porch, waiting for them to open the doors. Meals were served family style by waitresses (teenage girls hired for the summer), and for at least two years we sat at Bertie’s table. (I so admired Bertie, and I once asked if her name was short for Bertha, which was the only name I could think of. She seemed horrified at the idea, and explained it was for Roberta. I felt very bad for having mentioned the other name.)
They served brown bread, which I loved (and still do, but have rarely if ever had any since Eagle Camp). And dessert every day! It was the only place I ever got butterscotch pudding, and I spent 51 weeks a year looking forward to butterscotch pudding. I even liked the tuna “wiggle” casserole, and couldn’t understand why my cousin made a joke out of it at skit night. The one food I didn’t like was the fish for breakfast. I don’t remember whether I usually caught any (I was scared of getting a fish on my line – I’m not sure if I thought it might pull me in, or just break my pole), but if I did I probably gave my fish to my father or my sister, who liked them.
They also had bikes you could borrow, and we’d ride into town, where there was a shop that sold stuff for tourists. I remember getting a little rubber bunny (the size that would make a good pencil topper, though I don’t think he was an eraser). His ears were painted pink, which rather clashed with the bright green rubber, but at the time I thought he was wonderful. I’m pretty sure I got a little rubber yellow duck there too, a rather goofy looking duck but I really liked it. (My sister got a blue squirrel, I think, and a pink something-or-other, and somehow hers stayed clean while got rather dirty.)
A group of us also made a float for the 4th of July parade in town, and we children got to be on it. I vaguely remember going through a chest of costumes at camp, and dressing up as an Indian girl. At night on the 4th we could watch the fireworks across the lake, where some town in New York was setting them off. It was weird to watch fireworks but barely hear them, and the faint boom would come so long after the light – my first lesson about the speed of sound vs light. But it was nice not being scared of the noise as I was at the fireworks back home.
Not everything at the camp was wonderful – especially the mosquitoes. They were worst down at the beach, which was too bad as I loved going down there to look for shells or interesting stones or pieces of driftwood, or just to walk by myself. We would rub our arms and legs with 6-12 (for those of you who are too young to remember, or just don’t, this was an insect repellant that came in a small metal tin and you rolled it on, much like stick deodorant), which smelled and felt yucky but was better than getting too many bites.
I also got homesick the first night we were there on years when our parents didn’t go with us. I loved going, and had looked forward to it even more than Christmas, but that first night away from home – even with my sister sleeping in the same tent (a nice large canvas structure with a raised wooden floor, cots to sleep in and wooden dressers for our clothes, and a kerosene lantern for light at night) – I would start feeling sick. I’d try to get to the bathhouse but I’d never make it that far before throwing up. I’m sure helping me clean up is far from my sister’s favorite memory.
And of course there was one other very unhappy aspect of camp – leaving at the end of the week, knowing we wouldn’t be back for another whole year.