Tag: Camp

Memories from Mom

“Grandma, were there any camp traditions that you loved that have been discontinued?”

Sarah was interviewing my mom again last night.  This time she was recording it for a retrospective that the camp is doing.  They’re trying to get oldtimers to share memories.

“Well, that’s an interesting question.  And you’re probably going to be surprised by my answer.  One thing I really liked at camp that I know they don’t do anymore is hold chapel services on Sundays.  You know, I was raised in a pretty secular household.  We didn’t really go to any kind of services, but at camp, I really liked “Chapel.”  

“We would sit outside at the boys’ camp and we always sang really pretty hymns.  I don’t really remember the words, but I always thought they sounded beautiful…of course not because of yours truly.  I never could carry a tune.”

“That sounds nice, Grandma.  Was there anything else you remember about it?”

“Well, I remember that it was a beautiful spot.  We sat in a small clearing in the shade of giant pine trees.  It was really very peaceful. I do remember one sermon.  Actually, it’s funny, I saw my friend Carol a few years back…well, a few years, it was probably 15 years ago, and we both remembered that same sermon.”

“Do you remember what they said?”

“Well, it was fifty, no sixty, no seventy-five years ago, so I don’t really remember all the words, but I do remember the idea.  It was a young counselor from the boys’ camp who gave the sermon.  He told the story of one of the boys at camp when he was a camper, and the boy had a uhh, what do you call it… a cloth thing…a sampler, that’s it.  He had a sampler that he hung over his bunk.  The boy was very well-liked.  He always treated everyone well.  He was very kind and courteous.  Anyway, he had this sampler, and it said, “I am third.”  That’s all it said. The other boys in the cabin had no idea what it meant, but this counselor who was telling the story says that at the end of their summer together, when they were packing up, he asked the boy what that sampler meant when it said, “I am third.”  Now this very kind and considerate boy said that it was something he always wanted to remember.  He said it meant this, ‘God is first, the other guy is second, and I am third.’  

“I was only 15 years old, and, as I said, I was not really religious, but I’ve always remembered that chapel service.”


I’ve been watching other slicers experiment with golden shovel poems, where they take a line of text from a story or poem and use those words as the first words or last words of each of the new poem’s lines.  I decided to give it a try.  It was going to be a separate exercise, but when I noticed that the line I’d pulled had the word “third” in it, it seemed to connect well with story the above. Thanks to fellow slicer, Fran for encouraging me to try this form.

I Am Third 

A golden shovel poem inspired by a line from Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

The boy’s motto, “I am

Third,” the 

Key to his kindness.

She stowed away what the counselor

Said as he shared

A sermon in nature’s chapel, a

Sip of sublime in a grove

Of pines.  Wise words outlasting

Old traditions, echo forward from a bygone


Note:  The service my mom recalled took place in 1945, when my mom was 15 years old.  She’s nearing 91, now.  I am quite certain that in the 1970s when football star, Gale Sayers made “I am Third” more famous as the title of his autobiography, my mom was not aware.


Last night we had a conversation with my mom on the Portal.  

We talked for about half an hour, about vaccines and doctor bills and people who act like things are back to normal.  You know, the typical pandemic banter.  It was only after we seemed to have exhausted the usuals that my mom pulled out the sheet and said she was ready. 

Ready?  For what?

Ohhhh.  It turns out Sarah had sent my mom a list of questions that she was going to use for an interview with her grandma.  You see, my mom had gone to a camp for two summers when she was a teenager.  It was run by some teachers from the school she attended in New York.  Many years later, I had gone to the same camp for five summers. And many years after that, Sarah had gone to the same camp and then worked there as a counselor.  

The camp has just turned 100, and some of the recent staffers wanted to do some historic interviews with old timers.  Mom was ready.  Sarah was not.  She had hoped to set up a split screen Zoom production that she could record…but her grandma was ready now.

Mom:  Well, one thing you asked was whether there were any contributions that I was proud of.  There was one in particular.  My friend and I wrote a song my first year.  It was a take-off of a Gilbert and Sullivan song from Pinafore.  We called it “It was a dark cold night at Whippoorwill.”

Sarah:  Yes! I know that song.

Mom:  Right.  Well, when I went back to camp for one of those reunions, I mentioned that song that we wrote, and I was told that they still sing that song at camp.  That’s really something that surprised me. 

Sarah:  Yes!  We do sing it.  In fact, when I found out that you wrote that, I told EVERYONE that my grandmother wrote that song.  After that, every time we sang the song the entire camp turned and stared at me.

Mom:  Well, I’m sure you could sing it better than I did.

Me:  I’d pay big money to see you two sing a duet.

Mom:  Well, I can’t carry a tune, but I could play it on my little keyboard.

Mom shuffles around the dining room table and stands over the piano.  She already has the music out.  In our conversation last week, she had told us that she was going to give the keyboard away.  She really couldn’t play for fun anymore.  Her fingers didn’t move easily and she was so out of practice that nothing sounded right.  It felt more like work.

Now, standing at the keyboard, one hand supporting her weight, she tried to pick out the tune.  

In my dream, she would start slowly and then gradually get the feel for the tune.  She’d get on a roll, like I remember when I was little,  and then Sarah, who has sung in choirs all her life and all the way through college, would join in.  Soon the whole room would spin, the 300 miles and 75 years would disappear, and we’d suddenly find ourselves in the camp’s old red barn.  The crowd would cheer as the lights came up. The stage would be set just like it had been in 1945. 

The upright piano rolls across and stop at center stage.  Mom, now a 15-year old camper,  trots in from the left and seats herself at the keyboard.  Sarah, also somehow 15,  strolls in from the right.  The crowd roars, as if, like me, they know both of them.  Mom taps the first note, which the crowd immediately recognizes.   Sarah, resting an elbow on the back of the piano looks toward Mom and smiles.  Their eyes  meet as they count the beats. Then, Sarah’s voice, clear and sweet, cuts through the noise, and a hush blankets the crowd.  Now Mom joins in.  It turns out she can carry a tune.  As they come to the end of the first verse, Sarah waves for the camp to join in.  Soon the entire barn is belting out “It Was A Dark Cold Night at Whippoorwill.” The roof gradually melts away, and all we see above us is the dark star-filled Adirondack sky.

But that’s not exactly what happened.

Mom: Sorry, that’s not right.  Plink…plinky-plink.  Plink, plink.  It’s a strange tune and rhythm.  Plink.  I can’t really get this.  Plunk.  Sorry.

And Sarah, who has never relished solos, declined the invitation. I wondered, maybe if I hadn’t been there…

Sarah:  Grandma, I wasn’t quite ready for this tonight.  Can we set this up for next weekend?

Mom:  Oh, sure.

Stay tuned.