Camp Tockwogh


I was recently asked to describe in one word a place that has been a big part of my life for more than 30 years. I didn’t have to think too hard before answering, “Friends.” But now that I’ve had more time to think, I realize there are so many excellent words to describe Camp Tockwogh. I know—it may sound silly to have such a connection to a summer camp but I’m guessing you are thinking about your own camping experience as a kid and saying, yeah, I remember how fun that was.

Last weekend I attended a 75th anniversary alumni weekend at Camp Tockwogh. It’s a beautiful 309-acre YMCA camp on the Northeastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I saw some old friends, counselors, and campers I haven’t seen in awhile. The age differences between some of us may have meant a lot back in the day, but the wrinkles and grey hair were spread pretty evenly among most of the group of alumni staff at the reunion.

One of our group members is a professional cameraman and brought his equipment to film our stories. It  got pretty emotional for many of us—tears from good memories and thoughts of friends who aren’t with us anymore flowed as much as the laughter. It got me to thinking…

Tockwogh is quite a magical place. It’s beautiful and the activities are fun, but there’s more to it than the physical space. There is a special bond formed between the people who have experienced camp. Regardless of when you worked there or even if you went there as a camper, you can count on being part of a wonderful, talented, kind and fun group of people for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen your friends for days, months, or many years, you pick up right where you left off.  You see, the songs may change, new buildings go up, new boats replace the old, activities change, and new staff come on board, but the essence of camp remains.

Everyone who goes to camp, young or old, can expect to find acceptance, kindness, encouragement, and support from the people there. And they can build new skills, grow their self esteem, and make life-long friends like mine.

There are a few things I think camp could improve—the beds are a bit hard on my back and the food is okay but I miss the old chicken slop and grilled cheese the way Rosalie made it—but here are a few things I’m glad have lasted and are perfect the way they are:

  • My first roommate Wendy. When I was a Junior Counselor I asked my village chief if I could live with Wendy for the summer because she was so fun and easy going. I am blessed to have Wendy as one of my best friends because every single time I see her she never fails to make me laugh. There’s a lot of other stuff too…
  • My first boss (my village chief), Amy, is also still one of my BFFs. With all due respect to his holiness, Amy is more popular than the Pope and looks better in a dress. I am amazed at her unlimited energy and glad she’s a fighter so we can have her around for many, many more years.
  • My first (one of) counselor, Kathy. Kathy has become one of my best friends and we still laugh at the fact that I was her camper and we used to sing Michael Jackson songs loud and without embarrassment. Kathy knows everyone in Delaware and if she ran for governor today, would win in a landslide.
  • All the other wonderful women I have become close with—some were adopted into the clan and others had my back when I needed to relieve myself in a cornfield—are amazing in their own rights. I am blessed to call them my friends and my sisters.
  • As for the men, sometimes I call them my boys but they are true men. I have always had a tiny crush on each one of them and have also considered them my brothers. These men were exceptional role models for the kids they guided, taught, played with, and protected. I saw them in roles of big brothers and dads before they were mature enough to think that way, and always knew they would be great fathers one day. Some days they teased me and brought me to tears but most days they protected and supported me, accepted me as their friend, and helped me become a better woman. I will always love them and each time they found love, became a parent, accomplished a milestone, or were rewarded for something great, I was overjoyed.

One word? I don’t think so. Here are some other descriptors I heard friends say in their interviews:

Family
Friendship
Love
Priceless

Tockwogh.

Before I leave you with this  poem that one of our alumni read at the campfire to honor our lost friends, I want to say that I’m going to write a book and include the stories I heard this weekend. Some of what was overheard included,

  • “And his hand was in a cast after he punched the horse the second time.”
  • “I had to think for a second, what do you wear to a fire?”

Oh yea, best seller for sure.

“So many things have happened
Since they were called away.
So many things to share with them
Had they been left to stay.
And now on this reunion day,
Memories do come our way.
Though absent, they are ever near,
Still missed, remembered, always dear.”
—Author unknown

This is a song that one of our alumni sang at the campfire. It was a beautiful honor to our friends.

And on to the evidence! Beautiful people, wonderful friends…

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In a previous post I mentioned my friend Fast Ed and his sense of humor. Well I just got a note from my friend Amy–the cancer survivor who was part of that story. Amy relayed a comment Ed said to her regarding an upcoming trip he’s taking with his wife. Here it goes.

” We are leaving for Botswana the day before Thanksgiving. Really excited about it.  We are limited to around 20 pounds of luggage since we will be flying in small planes to the camps.  So I have packed 19 pounds of bug spray, and 1 pound of other things like clean clothes.”

Fast.  

Having met Ed at Camp Tockwogh, it’s hard to say why he’s so averse to nature. But that’s Ed and we love him. I’m really excited about this weekend because the gang is getting together for a party. So many bright, fun, wonderful friends I have and I love these opportunities to hang out. Many of us live in different states so we don’t get to see each other all the time.

This weekend we are celebrating life. And giving thanks. Our friend Kim just finished chemo and is cancer free. Praise God! We are so happy she is healthy and can live a full life as a wife to our dear friend Rick and as a mother to two beautiful children.

So we’ll miss Ed for sure, but we’ll light a bug candle in his honor and give thanks for our many blessings.

Did you know that the titles of the episodes of the TV show, Friends were all some variation on “The one with…?” The title of the last episode was aptly named, “The last one.” So this is the last post of a year that I’m not sorry is ending. I know I have many things to be thankful for and if my wine glass was half full at the moment I’d say what a great year it was because I got a new job, have a healthy and wonderful family, have loyal and loving friends, and was able to survive the worst recession of my lifetime. But I haven’t started in on the wine yet so my bright side is to say I can’t wait for a new year to begin! 

And just to be trendy (or not, really), I’ll do a little year in review and then put the past in the past and hang out with Ryan Seacrest while I sip hot-chocolate in my warm PJs. 

Highlights of 2009 (for me that is, and if you can stay awake for this riveting home-movie version of a blog post, then you can be my new BFF). 

January  

Had fun watching a million people freeze their butts off on the Mall witnessing our new president get sworn in while I sat in the comfort of my house. Thought it was funny that he messed up the oath and had to perform a do-over the next day. Hoped that Obama would do something to help the 7.6% unemployment rate that was interfering with my raise and bonus. Later in the month, went skiing/snowboarding with my nieces. Aside from falling in a ditch almost breaking my leg, my niece, Julia, ended up fracturing her wrist. I loved being with the girls and they were super fun but that was one day that had more things go wrong then if we turned Grendel loose in a grocery store. My nieces still laugh about it and now I’m wondering if they are laughing with me or at me for that experience. 

Zenia and Julia practice falling.

 

February  

Times are getting tight and stressful so I took my usual mid-winter siesta in Florida to visit the folks and the sun took away all the bad thoughts. 

March  

Came in like a lion and went out like a pink slip. 

April–November   

Sucked. 

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC

Okay, not everything sucked but it pretty much did. I’m usually an optimist and I have a strong faith in God and those two things plus some medication got me through the year. I wonder at the audacity of some people who spend beyond their means, get bonuses for being failures, and who think that money is the thing that will actually make them happy. 

One thing that was nice about April was seeing the Cherry Blossoms in bloom down in Washington, DC. 

May  

Fixed beach house to get it ready to rent. Had to meet with umpteen (not sure what number that represents but let’s say it was a lot) contractors and fix-it type folks. It’s looking pretty good now and available for rent next year. Check it out—it’s right on the beach! 

June  

More visits to the beach. Some of it good, some of it work. Continued to hang out with neighbors and bug them to come out and play. 

July  

This was actually a great month. I had some very soul-refreshing times with wonderful people in beautiful places. I went to Camp Tockwogh to visit my friend Wendy who was volunteering there. Met with some old friends and had a wonderful and unexpected fun time over the 4th of July. 

Had lots of fun at my friend’s (Steve and Sandy’s) wedding. Loads of laughs, love, and good times were had. 

Then went to the OBX with Wendy. Again, very relaxing and super fun. 

Went to Walloon Lake. Stayed for longer than I planned which was great because my Aunt Sandy is fun and it was the most peaceful time I can remember. A much needed break from stress. It’s got me thinking that I need to live in a cabin in the woods. Grendel loved it, too. My parents and I also took a few days and went to Canada. Very nice. 

Wendy blends a yummy concoction in the Outer Banks.

 August

Unemployment numbers hit 9.7%. Yikes! Job search at a standstill. But, I did get to go to family camp at Camp Tockwogh to visit Amy and Jack and all the friends. Had a really fun time but can’t stand the beds. While there I took advantage of grabbing a big ol’ pizza from the best pizza place on the  east coast, Procolino’s. If you’re ever in Chestertown, MD, stop in and say hi to the boys behind the counter. They’ll remember you for the next 20 years. And my friends Ed and Tamara secretly got hitched out in Colorado. And while it would have been awesome to witness that and to make fun of Fast Ed I can’t help but be grateful I didn’ t need to by another kitchen appliance while funds were low.

Playing rainy day games at camp.

September   

Beach with family was great. For the two months after I got back from the beach I was harassed by crazy neighbors about where to put the trash. My friend Marti moved in for a few months and I had a nice time getting to know her better.

 October

Unemployment reaches an all-time high. A whopping 10.2%. I hate the reckless and irresponsible government spending but am grateful for extended unemployment benefits. I ended up applying for a job with an awesome company. Then on Halloween went trick-or-treating with the kids.

The loot.

 November

Got a job! Yippee! Had a great time over Thanksgiving with my family. Was thankful for many things including four different friends’ having healthy babies, two couples getting married, support and love from friends and family and my friend Amy’s new job.

 December

 Started job. Yippee! Had a great Christmas, had nice parties with friends, got to play in two feet of wonderful snow, and wrote the last blog of the year.

Snowing in VA for Christmas.

 

Well thanks for reading everyone. Tonight I’m going to relax, be thankful, toast some friends, and then maybe start on a marathon viewing of last year’s “Lost” episodes so I can refresh my memory before the final season starts. Got to go, the pizza has just arrived… 

HAPPY NEW YEAR! GOD BLESS! 

When I was a kid, the last day of camp was filled with tears and smiles. My Mom would pick me up and I would not stop talking the entire way home. When I was in college, the tears and smiles were still there, but I drove myself home in a daze. I was exhausted, dirty, excited for another school year, depressed at having to leave my camp friends, and happy about the memories all at the same time.

Yesterday, while waiting outside the arts and crafts building at camp for the tie-dye t-shirts to dry, I was having a conversation with some friends about their kids and how it was so cute that the kids were in tears at the end of their summer camp session and how they had to be dragged away to go home. We then realized that we used to do the same thing. Even as adults, heading out the gates of Camp Tockwogh on the Chesapeake Bay was a difficult thing to do.

I’ve been home a few hours now after spending just a long weekend there and I can’t stop thinking about how much I miss my friends and how much fun it was. It really doesn’t matter how old you are, those feelings never go away. It’s family camp now at Tockwogh. The group I stayed with was quite eclectic. Some of us are single, others married, some have kids, and some don’t. It doesn’t matter though. Family is what you make of it. And we are a family. That cabin was full because we have such a strong bond that we have to see each other and spend time together whenever we can. (The sailing, tether ball, and archery may have something to do with it but I’m pretty sure we could get by with just conversation, Amy’s battery powered blender, and Jack’s light display.)

I keep wondering what is it about that place called Tockwogh. Is there some kind of weird drug that grows in the grass and trees that infects anyone who spends time there? It could be something in the grilled cheeses—a famous meal that we all make our plans around for some reason. Seriously, who else but Tockwogh folks would change dinner plans, a day off, or the time they come home to collect the dog (my bad), just because it’s the “grilled cheese” lunch?

I was there for four days and spent time with friends I’ve known for 20 years and with others I just met this weekend. In both cases, I can say I’ve strained several ligaments and muscles in my abdominal wall with all the laughing. (The Kiwi “ringleader” story was particularly funny and should you ever wish to become part of the Tockwogh Giggle Loop, we’ll tell it to you.) It really is hard to explain the bonds and the strength of the friendships that are made there. I know some people who have attended other camps get it and I hope that some of you reading this will visit Tockwogh and become part of our family.

Thanks to Amy, Jack, Wendy and kids, Liz and Regan, Abby, Andy, Steve, Mike and Mathew, the “urban sprawl crowd”, the “girls village crowd”, Jen and Bill, Michelle and Dan, Beth and Eric, Nadine, and the staff. I didn’t cry this time—but only because I know from experience that we’ll see each other again soon. Okay, maybe just a few tears of thanks for having such great friends. And I’d like to give a shout out to the next door neighbors in Hopi cabin who I did not meet but had to live with us crazy people and did so in tolerant silence.

I’m off to wash off the dirt that has permeated every pore, bandage the wounds, and sleep in a bed that can actually fit me, and enjoy the fact that I have a bathroom close by that does not threaten to host a snake in its rafters. But before I go I just want to say thanks to the staff. Especially those boys from down under who have those great accents. And the way they talked was nice, too. May you have great wind for sailing, smooth glass for water skiing, sun for warmth, and ice to keep the beer cold.