Sunday, February 27, 2011

Michael Pitcher remembers Wawayanda in the early 60s

Memories of Camp in the USA

I’m the little boy from Canada in Homer McLemore’s Summer of ’63 Totem group. I follow Al Filreis's blog closely these days because it reconnects me with very fond memories of a very special time.

I lived in the middle north of the province of Quebec in the early 60’s, a town then called Chibougamau….I could spell it long before the nuns at the town’s French School taught me how to read write and such. My Dad and his close friends were young men in a frontier mining town, full of family commitment and small town spirit. They loved to fish and their stories left you rolling on the floor…..sunken canoes, lost paddles, fish that jumped back out of their boats and such. They met Jim Wilkes and the Trailblazers in the summer of ’62 I think. They were awesome…they had this 3-ton Dark Blue Ford Stake truck and trailer full of 8 shiny aluminum canoes….they were like a busload of big brothers and they were full of great adventure…..that summer flew by. We waved goodbye to them in late summer….to the truck and guys that is. I remember they left the trailer full of canoes… I was proud of it. And they were from “way down south”. I didn’t know that Canada and the US were really separate countries, I remember feeling more like they were great folks from another part of the same country and we all loved adventure, the outdoors and having a good time. This was the early sixties and we lived outside of town on a small lake at the base of a big hill on top of which was located a brand new Dew Line Radar Station and its Observatory like Radar Dish Building….I had no idea what the Cold War was….I did listen to John Glenn on the radio as he orbited the earth and often saw the multiple contrails of the B-52’s going north “on manoeveurs”. I felt a part of the same world these Trailblazers lived in.

The next summer came all too slow but boy when they rolled back into town I was thrilled….we hung out by the campfire each night they were there and when they went off into the woods on their “trailblazing” trip I waited eagerly for their return…course I missed my dad too.

Then something magical happened…..I got to leave with them when the first group went “home” . Somehow I remember sitting in a school bus learning to sing, “If I had a hammer…” “Runnin through a swamp….” ( it had sound effects), and most of all “This Land is Your Land”……man it’s great to listen to Woody Guthrie singing this on “YouTube” these days….I remember staying at the bus drivers house one night in Liberty, N.Y. and I remember a lot of neat things about my first summer at camp. I’ve got the original picture that Homer McLemore sent to my mother in 2003. It’s the one in Al Filreis’ blog with Homer leading Totem on a hike…likely to the Neversink River or some other really great place. I’m the little guy second in line behind Homer. By the way I also remember the wild “ghost stories” the cabin leaders used to tell us around the campfires in the “sleepy hollows” around Wawayanda.

I got to go to “W” two summers in a row ( I got two “W” patches!) and the second time got to stay in the Castle when I was picked up at the end of the summer. I think it was 1963. That October we moved out of the north and into the Ottawa, Canada’s Capital City and way south of a land I’d lived in for 11 years… I was in public school in November 1963 and I remember President Kennedy.

I remember the morning flag raising at Camp Wawayanda, pledging allegiance to the Flag of the USA and signing the Star Spangled Banner. Most especially I am deeply touched and very grateful for the incredible experiences I enjoyed those summers in the Catskills with other kids who got together to have fun, shoot arrows, eat Fudgsicles from the canteen, watch 50’s sci-fi movies in the “barn” [the “Rec Hall” – now Margetts], be an Olympian from Siam….etc, etc.

Today I live on the West Coast. Actually “off” the West Coast on Vancouver Island. My wife, Bernadette and I own a busy bakery in the Comox Valley…just north of the middle of the island; 2,445 (Google) miles across North America from Frost Valley. We’ve moved in and out of corporate careers, travelled half-way round the world to work as short term missionaries in England, Turkey and Uzbekistan and returned home to live in our busy valley.

I love the Seattle Mariners, The Montreal Canadiens and pretty much everything in between about both countries.

I’ve had a tremendous number of great experiences these past 56 years. Who I am and what I’ve done has a lot to do with the lessons learned when I got to go to camp. I’m sure anyone reading this has similar tales to tell….I know I’ve enjoyed reading the many that are on Al’s Blog . New or old the tales tell the timeless truth…our great adventures start early in life and leave the most meaningful lessons.

I still feel a small part of a big family full of great spirit.

In a few words with much meaning …..thank-you.

Michael Pitcher
The little boy from Canada. 1963

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wednesday nights in the old days

My journey.
Camp Wawayanda, Catskill Mountains, 1967.
Geoff Hazel

Wednesday nights at camp were “cabin night”. It was the cooks’ night off, and the drill was that the CIT’s (counselors in training) would drive around to each village of 5 cabins, and drop of a big can of ‘bug juice’ (aka Kool Aid) along with a box of hamburger patties or hot dogs and buns and a #10 can of beans. Cabins would make a fire and cook their dinner outdoors. After dinner was the time for a cabin activity. One of the activities was the “overnight” where a cabin or cabins would travel a short distance and camp outdoors just for the night. You’d leave before dinner, cook your hamburgers there, and be back early the next day. One of the places we would go was just a couple miles (if that) from camp. It was next to a small, deep swimming hole. I was a Junior Counselor, taking charge of cabins when the regular counselor was on his days off. One Wednesday, while in charge of a cabin of 8 and 9 year olds, one of the other village cabins was off on an overnight to the swimming hole site. We set off after dinner, and walked to the site to pay them a visit. I and a few others went swimming in the small, deep swimming hole. One of the fellows had a waterproof flashlight and a mask, so you could actually dive down and see what was down there! Imagine, diving down into the dark with an underwater flashlight, and seeing the sides of the swimming hole. It was nearly like scuba diving, and in 1967 was very cool.

To cap a perfect evening, as we headed back, it started to rain. It wasn’t a cold rain -- this was good, summer East Coast rain: you get wet but you don’t get cold. As we walked along the quiet, narrow road, the campers (and I) all took great pleasure in jumping, kicking and splashing in every puddle that we could find. We did everything your Mom told you NOT to do, but that night, it was OK, and we celebrated our freedom from the normal rules.

When we got back to the cabin, everyone took a shower, and I fired up the little tin stove. It got so hot, the sides glowed orange, and by morning, all the clothes hanging from the rafters were dry. There was no issue getting anyone to sleep THAT night!

It was the kind of evening that summer camps were made for -- making memories that last a lifetime.

17 years of former EE staff helping out

Last weekend was the 17th Annual Frost Valley Alumni Winter Volunteering Reunion Weekend. As always, we had a terrific time. We had 9 adults, 5 teens, and 4 little ones push tubes, lead hikes, amuse guests, re-live fond memories, and celebrate the spirit.
For me, the best part was that 7 Frost Valley instructors were able to attend the Winter Educator's Conference at the nearby Ashokan Campus for some training, networking, professional development, and fun. (Well, maybe the best part was the food, beauty, skiing, comraderie, broomball, and late-night visiting.) Perhaps you'll be able to join in the fray in 2012. Stay in touch! - Kenis Sweet

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Homer McLemore remembers the early 60s

Homer McLemore remembers:

In the summer of 1961, my family members took me by automobile from northeast Miss. to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for an overnight train ride to NYC followed by a bus ride, via the Big Apple on Highway 17, to Liberty. In those days, Liberty was the abuzz with tourist and summer Catskill visitors. Arriving Saturday night about 10:00 p.m., Ralph Holt and Bill Starmer met me at bus station. Although I did not know the two, I felt as if we had been friends for life. We made the rounds of local clubs, hotels, and sidewalk café tables where we met with other counselors on that mid-summer week-end break.

The following morning, I was greeted at breakfast by Richard “Digger” Short, Mike Devita, Dave and Shirley King, Jerry Lester, and a number of others. It was a great summer with Mike Devita as Lenape Village Chief. I returned for two more summers as Archery Director and Family Camp Staff.

In the Spring 1964, I decided that summer employment within the area of my college studies was more responsible than returning as a camp counselor. The decision was difficult because of the memories of Wawayanda friends and things like the cool Neversink waters, the surrounding terrain, and hikes to the top of Slide Mountain. Other memories include flaming sneaker toes as I sat by a camp fire with cold wet feet and playing broom polo using the stable horses - seems we broke a number of broom handles. Other polo players included Bruce Whyte.

In those days, campers and counselors did not routinely cross the bridge on the road leading to the Castle. Staying at the Castle for a night was a special event. In 1962, Castle guests were served three meals including a semi-formal dinner serve by the staff who were more formally attired in their black dresses with white aprons and caps. In August 1972, my wife and I spent a honeymoon night at the Castle. What a ten year letdown! Alas, only one piece of fine china remaining in the cupboards. In the summer of 1995-ish, we ventured to Liberty on Highway 17. At one highway exit, a small bear greet us by sitting unnerved as we slowed for pictures. The town, Grossingers, the Concord, and many other summer resorts were sad reminders of the past. But (old English for something like: Behold the Undeniable Truth), the warm memories of Frost Valley have not faded in the past 48 years.

More on Homer here.