Favorite childhood memories

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.


35 Responses to Favorite childhood memories

  1. danablair says:

    My camp days totally resemble yours. Definitely bring back memories. I’ve been reconnecting with old camp friends lately, some I haven’t seen in over ten years! Camp certainly does shape your childhood. Thanks for stirring up some memories!

  2. Margaret says:

    Pauline, when I read your first sentence, I asked myself the question. The first answer that came to mind was Eagle Camp. Then I got to the second paragraph. Ah, of course. I remember Grandpa teaching me how to clean a fish (once he had killed it; I wasn’t going to deal with a live fish). I also remember eating those delicious lake perch. Plus the Salada tea bags with sayings on the tag. I don’t remember looking forward to butterscotch pudding; I think New Meadow School served it when I was there. I remember the fireworks in Plattsburgh across the river, and the sparklers we were allowed to have for the first time in my life. I had forgotten all about cleaning up after your first night; somehow I managed to remember mainly just the positives of camp. I remember climbing up on a big pile of mattresses in storage and feeling like it was an adventure. I loved playing golf croquet, and going to the wigwam, and the library (and the wood carvings with a wooden ball carved inside a frame that trapped it), but not the particular books you mention. I have thought of taking my family to the camp (I believe our cousin who lives in a nearby town now said it’s still there). But I imagine it would be expensive (we had Grandpa paying for us). And I wonder if it would not be so exciting as an adult?

  3. Abondroit says:

    Eagle Camp is indeed still there, I was advised recently by someone who lives nearby. Your recollections all ring true to me, from my family’s stays there during the early 1960’s. And the camp motto, “Where style is dead but comfort is king.”

    • Pam Howland Armstrong says:

      My family camped there for 2 weeks every summer from 1960-1968. I have such wonderful memories; great food, fishing, pingpong, walking to the ferry and just seeing same friends for those years.

  4. Beth says:

    Eagle Camp is still there, and I have been going to nearly 30 years straight. I so look forward to going every year and not a lot has changed from what you describe as your experience. I am a 4th generation camper. My great-grandfather Ben Guernsey helped incorporate it. They don’t serve Tuna Wiggle anymore, but you can still get your fish fried for the morning meal as long as you clean it. Eagle Campers can always come back!!! and it really isn’t all that expensive.

  5. Abondroit says:

    My wife and I walked through the site a few years ago, after season. Strange it was all empty. The Wigwam, the Rec hall, the Dining hall. The library (I swiped a few pages of that distinctive blue writing paper, on which I’d scratched with pen and ink a long lifetime ago. Could I ever go back?

  6. Brian Sykes says:

    What a great blog about Eagle Camp we are three days away to heading up for the July 4th week (2011). I have been going to Eagle Camp for 45 years straight and now my twin boys (13) love it as much as I did. I have so many special memories of Eagle Camp and even had the privilege of working there for four years when I was in high school and college. During my early childhood we stayed at Clover Cottage, then I moved to a tent during my teenage years and now my family stays in Centennial Cottage on the lower line.

    Traditions are important at Eagle Camp and given the technology age we all live it the simplicity of E.C. is a welcome change

    • Deborah (Fortier) Kelley says:

      Omigosh! Brian! I remember you at Eagle Camp when you were just a little tyke!

      I have such great memories of family vacations there- we were left to roam freely all day and just had to show up at mealtimes! Bliss!
      Does anyone remember the muffins- they baked them in these interesting cast iron muffin pans.

  7. Fran Nickerson says:

    Lovely to discover this site! Beth, I remember your great grandfather very well – I can picture him in my mind. Ben Guernsey led walks on the rocks, to “Mt Pisgah” – that was one of the things we could do on Sundays. (And for you “young folk”, back when I started coming up in 1948 there were no games on Sundays. Mr. Guernsey’s walks were fun, and fun was in somewhat short supply on Sundays, though I always loved the hymn sings.) Heading back up to camp in a few weeks, and looking forward to it as I always do. There’s nothing quite so soothing as the sound of the lake lapping at the shore.

    We moved around a lot when our kids were growing up, and Eagle Camp remained the one constant in all our lives. Our children continue to come up, and our grandchildren do as well. If you’ve not been back in a while, do come back! You’ll find camp very little changed from earlier days.

  8. Dana says:

    Two of my brothers, with families, have been back. Their primary gripe: Food pretty, no really, bad, and meals much rushed with little time for civil table talk. They won’t return. And I would rather remember it thru my long-ago child’s eyes. Oh well, it’s still a warm memory to think of my parents when they were young.

  9. Carol Evans McDaniel says:

    I’ve loved reading this and everyone’s memories! I too knew your great grandfather, Beth. He is one of my fond memories of Camp and to this day I can picture him sitting on the porch at the office. And Fran…I knew you too (I’m part of the Massachusetts Evans clan). We too began going to camp in 1948. I was 5. My family continued going for 3 weeks each year and I too looked forward to that as much or more than Christmas. When I was 16 I worked there waiting tables and did tent line as well, later. Loved that place!! My brothers and their families still go to this day, but for the most part, we’ve lived too far to make the trip. We did go with our kids the one year we had been transferred to Boston, and all fell in love with it all over again.

    Someone mentioned the brown bread, and oh my how I LOVED that stuff! It was as good as dessert! I wonder if they still boo if you are late to the dining hall? 🙂 I tripped over this site while googling camp to see if I could find a picture of the old rowboats for my son-in-law. No luck, but as well as this site, I did find a you tube video of Wah-widdie-wah being sung on the camp stage. Even my husband sitting nearby as it played, recognized it as “the good bye song” as he called it, from the one year he was there. It brought tears to my eyes to hear it. And gads how I cried when that song was sung to us. No way I could sing it back! Such nice memories.

    And Fran, one of my very fond memories was of your Dad making his Walrus (seal?) noise every morning when he did his early morning swim. 😀 I tried to learn how then, and today do it to amuse my grandkids. Lou Hamburger…and family…part of the fabric of my fond camp recollections.

    • Rob Bishop says:

      Oh my, how I miss EC! We haven’t gone there for a number of years, but are attempting to go again. Our children are the 5th generation of Bishops to go there.
      Carol, are you the same Evans family as Tommy Evans, from Pittsfield? Was his father Don Evans? I worked with Tommy back in the 60’s at EC. I remember his older brother had a blue Porsche speedster.
      I may have a picture of the old boats if you still need it. Actually I have many old pictures of camp, from my grandfather and father.
      I so remember the walrus noise as well, but had forgotten it till you mentioned it!
      My sister-in-law sent this link to us, and boy am I glad she did. This is great catching up!

      • Carol Evans McDaniel says:

        Yes Rob, Tom is my brother. The Evans family is a confusing as there are two of them and we aren’t related. The other Evans’ are from Montreal. Don, our brother, drove the Porche, but there is also a Don Evans who is patriarch of the Monteal Evans family, not our Dad. Our Dad drove our ’33 Packard to camp in our early camping years,, which is maybe why Don ended up with a Porche. 🙂

        I do remember Tom talking about you when you worked together, and being VERY fond of you, but think I remember you as a camper as well. Do you have another brother, no sisters? We are going back a few years here! :).

        I do recall the Nautilus and birch bark napkin rings. Also recall that eventually they weren’t considered PC–stripping bark off trees.

        I was a table girl at 16, and had a table with a lot of elderly campers. Tonight my husband poured me a very short glass of pre-dinner wine. I was instantly reminded of the elderly camper who beckoned me over at breakfast one morning and angrily and loudly exclaimed, “Do you consider this a full cup of coffee?” I was crushed, but sure do wish we could have that same conversation today! LOL. 53 years later camp experiences are still fresh in my mind and I was reminded to check in here by that memory. For most all of us, there are very few bad memories..and at least I laugh at that one now!

    • Fran Nickerson says:

      Carol, I remember your family well – even your address ( 29 Spadina Parkway as I recall!) Back in the sixties, when we lived in Wilbraham, your brother Don lived in Hampden, and we visited back and forth. My brother Gerry tries to imitate Dad’s seal call, but it’s not the same. I’m an early morning swimmer like my folks, as is Gerry, so the tradition carries on. (Are there still campers out there who remember Mr. Watrous and his early morning swims – and his wonderful bird photos?)

      No matter how far away you live, there’s always someone who has come from farther away. We came from the Chicago area, Milwaukee area, and even Florida. Do you remember the Bauer family? They were up at the time your family and ours came to camp. Now Ron Bauer and family come from California – each summer!

      And perhaps most incredible of all, Eagle Camp was a “destination wedding” in September, with people coming from Europe and South America!

  10. Rick Leibfried says:

    My first time at Eagle camp was back in 1967 when my father,mother and brother started going. I believe it was run by the Browns at the time. I too have the best childhood memories of this place. The Library, the Wigwom and looking for night crawlers in the dark for the next days fishing. There was also a ice cream stand down the street, called Big Daddy’s. This was always a treat after a long day for a 8 and 10 year old. IU wonder if the nautilus shell is still in the stone column at the stage building that held the pinp pong tables. We always stayed in the upper tents bye the food hall. I remember the napkin rings with your name in them. i was always told that in the early years the napkin rings were made od real birtch tree bark. I imagine that they still blow revelry at 7:00.

    Good times, Good times

    • Rob Bishop says:

      Yes, the nautilus shell is still on the left front column. I think there is one inside too. Big Daddy’s. Man that was the best! We would have car caravans go down there with gangs of people. The new one across the street is OK, but just not the same…

  11. Hayden Lutterloh says:

    Love reading some of the remarks by some of the long-term campers at Eagle Camp. We are still very new to Eagle Camp – 3rd year coming up in August. Have had wonderful opportunities to meet Fran and family members during week 9 the past two years. Found EC through other long-term campers. Best thing to come along (come along to us, that is) since aspirin and earplugs. Yes reveille still sounds each morning along with the playing of TAPS at 10:00 PM and mess call three times a day..

    We are looking forward to our week there during 2012 — hope to see all the new friends we have made over the past 2 years.

    So far, it is easy to see why this has become a life-long and generation crossing institution.

    Wah-Widdie until week 9.

  12. Nancy Law says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot of Eagle Camp lately…started going in the 60s after we lost my grandfather, thought I think they went with the Greemores before we attended. Having my Grandmother, Marion Law, around the family was wonderful. Cedar Cottage, the tents, golf croquet, puzzles in the library, cards in the wigwam, shuffle board and ping pong! Ruth the cook…knowing exactly what would be for each meal, because it never changed from year to year! Seeing the same families from year to year…then my nephew Jim Law was a waiter and loved it! Both my folks, Sid and Betty-Jean Law are now gone, but I am thinking we should get the next generation with all their children to go again!

  13. Pam Gockley says:

    One more long-time ECamper here – Pam Gockley. My family started going back in 1953 or so, and so I learned to swim off the dock at the lower beach! Dad went until just a year or so before he died, (we scattered his ashes in the lake, off upper dock) and Mom is too infirm to make it back.

    I can’t make it this year – moving a house and stable in September, and it’s just too much work and scheduling. . . and I’m going to miss it badly. Back next year!

    • Fran Nickerson says:

      Pam, when my mom (Peg Hamburger) died in 1976 ( can’t believe that was 38 years ago!) we also scattered her ashes in the lake. Camp meant a great deal to her, as it does to me and to my family. We’ll be at camp for weeks 5,6 and 9 this summer. It’s lovely having these occasional notes from former (and current) campers!

      • Hayden Lutterloh says:

        Hey Fran — we are looking forward to seeing you in wk 9.

      • Fran Nickerson says:

        Looking forward to seeing you, Hayden. We’re just back from weeks five and six. Alan and Allison are doing a great job – no surprise, considering what a fantastic job Dave and Linda did!

      • Beth Campbell says:

        Hi Fran, I hope you had a good week last week (6), I missed being there. I will be there next year however. Off to Israel & Jordan this year.

    • Rob Bishop says:

      Pam, I remember you! Do you remember me?

  14. I used to be the bugler at Eagle Camp, summer of 1962. My family vacationed there from 1950 to 1963

  15. Dana Pickard says:

    I heard you bugle.

  16. Dana Pickard says:

    The 1000 and One Store, I think it was called. Anyone remember it?

  17. Fran Nickerson says:

    I remember it well! When it burned down it felt like such a disaster – but over the years there have been new stores (never so interesting, and not at the same location.) Those of you who have not been back in years should consider returning – though openings in certain weeks are rare, they are likely to exist in the first or last week of camp. As I look out on snow this morning, it’s always wonderful to picture the lake, tents and friends whom I look forward to seeing next summer. Happy Holidays!

  18. David Ayton says:

    Hi folks my name is David Ayton I was also in Eagle camp July 1966 to be precise.I was on vacation with my mother,father and younger brother Malcolm. We came over from Glasgow Scotland and stayed with our aunt and uncle in Parrsippany N.J before having a great week at Eagle camp.I can only remember about three names from people we met namely Pam Baldwin,Atlant Schimt the third and Pat Phelan.One of the best vacations I have ever had

  19. Hi I am also a long term EC camper. My family, parents Bob and Ida Reed with my brothers Charles and Robert spent ten years during the 60’s attending the camp in August. We were one of the few Canadian family’s who attended EC. We hung around with the following families, Haverstocks, Fleckensteins, Wilson’s. Those were the days. I would love to go back. Lark Reed-Masney

  20. Christine Doheny Hazley says:

    Hi, Rob Bishop, I also worked at Eagle Camp in 1970…the year after you and Ruthie worked/met there. I took over Ruth’s job as the director of the Play House. It was the best experience EVER!! Thank you both for referring me to this place. I was there with Jackie Shepard, Pattie Hirst and Patty, my tent mate. And Charlie Baldwin, the life guard. There are just so many fond memories of that place…I don’t know where to begin. I remember Uncle Bill in the rocking chair on the front porch, and Margret Brown ran the place. I sure hope that I can return there some day with my family!!

    • Mark Roddy says:

      Rob – did you paint the picture of the surfer on the wall of the staff room or am I just cracking up? Mark Roddy – bugler 1973-74

  21. Robert Forney says:

    Thanks for shareing your memory. I’ve never been to Eagle Camp, but your rich descriptions and heartfelt thoughts bring it to life. I’ve no idea how old you were or what years you went to Eagle Camp but I’m guessing it was I the 60’s
    I found your blog while looking for info on Eagle Camp. When I was a boy in the early sixties, my great Aunt Margaret a retired teacher, was in charge of the playhouse. Every summer for about 20 years she would travel from Philadelphia to spend the summer at Eagle Camp. She always told us of stories of “her children” at Camp. Many of them stayed in touch with her for many years after she retired from Camp life. Actually I was jealous of them.

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