The Lasting Magic of Girl Scout Camp

SallyCampBy: Sally Roesch Wagner, Founding Director, The Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation

What is it about that summer at Girl Scout camp that consumes a piece of my memory larger than the one week one summer it occupied in my life?

I pull out the smell of Earth freshly washed, clean leaves pouring out pure oxygen from their pores intoxicating.

It was dramatic – the weeping girl from another school, in the country, perhaps, a farm girl, surrounded by a sympathetic sisterhood as she sobbed out over and over how she saw Mary in the cumulus clouds accumulating before a storm , the Virgin Mary perched atop one. The girl must have been Catholic.

The terrible, passionate 10-year-old crushes on the older women counselors who were all of 16 probably – the first of their arrogant, wordly age group to look us in the eye with interest and remember our names.

The mad juggling for position: who would sit beside you, who would you jockey to get to the side of. Pairing off, shunning in a merciless pee-wee version of Survivor.

It was a lifetime of pre-teen childhood lived in a week.

And there were things I made. This may not have been such a big thing with kids whose parents made things with them, but we were not a making family. Something woodburned, I remember, even the smell of the burning electrical stick forcing its way into the wood and the miracle of seeing my name engraved like my father burned our brand HHH into his cattle.

I still have the perfect knife, fork and spoon I carved out of light wood – a creation I still marvel that these hands were capable of making.

It wasn’t like the summers at our lake cottage. There were parents at the lake, the same ones we had during the school year minus the fathers, who came out only on weekends. Their absence loosened the mothers who became giddy and playful – like kids when the teacher leaves the room.

The thread of time sagged at the lake from the end of school to the beginning , yawning lazily in the buzzing bug-laden sun.

Camp was tense with the tight time.

Camp was new kids. And different foods. Catching a glimpse of the world outside what was known.

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