I found my aunt’s name one time. I think it was my third year. It was etched into one of the old metal beds with a blue marker: “Christine Yelverton. Start-Ups of ‘86. Go Blue!”
I remember looking down at my cousin smiling as she was finally distracted. I had been crying all morning because I didn’t want to leave her alone to wait for her mom. I had to leave and I didn’t want her to watch it happen. I quietly snuck out of the canvas tent trudging my way down to the apple tree to wait for the Alexandria bus to be called to bring me home, exactly where I didn’t want to be.
My face was stained with tears and lack of sleep. I was leaving again. Three weeks of summer camp and sun were gone just like that — soon to become a memory and no longer a routine.
Kicking and screaming…and crying!
I was extremely hesitant to travel to White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, as a ten-year-old. In fact, my Mom signed me up for camp without me knowing.
The June air, hot and heavy, was seeping into our dining room. It was light enough to still play outside at 7:30 and I could see Maren and Declan on their blue and purple razor scooters through the window. I didn’t want to leave that familiar evening. I wasn’t ready to dive into an environment without my family, let alone for three weeks.
Even so, I put on a brave face. I hid my insecurities and acted indifferent to the idea of leaving. Until I was actually alone.
Within ten minutes of my mom leaving, I was a complete mess, sobbing uncontrollably, regretting even stepping on that barge to bring me over that godforsaken river.
Lauren had no idea what to do with me. She had bangs with dark brown hair, piercingly blue eyes, and a British accent. To this day I feel bad for her.
I must have cried for an hour, managing to freak out all of my tent mates enough to force them awkwardly out of the tent. I soon found myself completely alone.
I wrote a letter home as quickly as I could.
Mom, I hate it here. I miss you guys so much. Please come get me. I can’t be here anymore. Please come get me. I love you.
I guess I subconsciously knew and hoped that it would get better and that’s why I didn’t put a stamp on it. I never sent it. Somehow I knew that I would have the time of my life and would regret sending that letter. To this day, I am thankful I didn’t.
It took five years for me to get to the place where I was truly thankful for not sending it, but last summer was when I finally realized it.
Happy hopping camper
My camping days were slowly dwindling down to a mere few. My fifth summer as a camper and my first year with my sister there was how I spent last year at camp. Tons of new responsibilities but also new freedoms made it my favorite one yet.
I had classes every other day at 3:10 by the camp store, which sometimes even included soda. I waitressed — or hopped as we call it — every single day, waking up much earlier than the rest of camp.
I got assigned a Junior Counselor’s tent to watch when she had time off, and I really enjoyed learning about my campers’ celebrity crushes as the wind blew through the tent late at night. I was able to form relationships with people that I know I will maintain for a really long time, hopefully for my entire life.
Wearing four layers, and two pairs of sweatpants that last morning I hauled my way up 55 stairs, counting each one to ensure that I had the number right. The cold morning air mixed with my dazed exhaustion ensured that I had to catch my breath every single morning, and that morning was no different.
Drinking watered down hot chocolate under the assortment of different light fixtures had become a ritual. The hum from the fluorescent lights had slowly become unheard. Looking over all 35 of us I saw an assortment of different flannel shirts and messy buns.
The morning rush to set all of the tables consisted of red aprons and lots and lots of John Mayer. Whenever I hear his song “Daughters” my mind flashes back to cereal box towers and plastic green plates. It’s funny how listening to a song can make me remember frozen moments in time that are etched in my brain. I quite like that they’re stuck there.
Later that same day, I promptly made my way up those 55 stairs at 5:15 for dinner. I went extra slow, looking at all of the chipped green paint, but also because my body still wasn’t used to the climb. Maybe it was also because it was the last time I’d be up there. The last supper. The last time I would put on a red apron. The last time I would go to Ms. Becky’s room to get extra dessert after everyone else had left. The last time “Good Morning Baltimore” would come on and I would belt the lyrics surrounded by girls that I called sisters for three weeks. I love that song.
Everything was happy that night. I forgot that I wouldn’t be in blue shorts and a white t-shirt the next night.
It was so hot and the sweat was glistening off of her face as the sun was setting behind her. Being on that hill allowed us to see over the tops of mountains breaking our standard view of tent row. I could see beyond this place. The sun rays hit the clouds and then were almost refracted through them touching the river making it look a sheet of dark green glass. Emily stood up, pulled up her jeans, looked up and began to read.
Dear camper of 2014, I’m glad you decided to read my letter. This place is really special. I think what’s so important about this place is that it slows everything down. At home the days move too fast. Days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. Next year my brother will be driving, my baby sister will be almost two.
And that’s when I knew.
My head shot up staring at her as I couldn’t believe she had chosen my letter to read. I could see her looking down at me through the blurry mess that had become my eyes with this face of understanding. I was openly crying in front of the entirety of the camp and it didn’t even phase me.
Emily became a silhouette in the setting sun as her hand gripped my year-old letter, as she tried to keep her own tears from slipping out of her eyes. As hard as she tried, the tears came. Her hands, now shaking, had a death hold on the letter as if it were the only thing keeping her fully together. I didn’t think she was going to make it all the way through my letter. Surprising me yet again, she continued.
If there’s one thing to take away from this place, it is to be completely and one hundred percent yourself. Appreciate this place and appreciate these people. They will love you for exactly who you are. Thanks again for reading my letter. I hope you like it. I love you ‘Ghany.
As the word ‘Ghany flew effortlessly off of her lips her voice became shaky and her eyes now completely glossed over.
“I can’t believe that’s going to be me next year,” I subconsciously thought. Before she even could sit I was pulling her into a massive hug.
“I love you” I whispered. “thanks for reading my letter”.
That same night my four other tent mates and I had decided we would go stargazing. In some bizarre way the cold hard tennis courts looked appealing. Maybe we were trying to avoid the inevitable. Maybe if we stayed up really late, we wouldn’t reach the next morning and we wouldn’t have to say goodbye.
I brought my t-shirt quilt that I’d sewn myself and gently placed it over the cracked asphalt to only be joined by my lanky best friend. I had never met Isabel before this year because she always goes second term and I always go first. Even so, it took about two days to become friends and all of the awkwardness was left behind. Isabel is super tall, really skinny, and just like me. We love the same music, obsess over the same boy bands, share the same social views, and love the same food.
I don’t remember the specifics of our conversation, but I realize I don’t entirely care. All I know is that by the end of the night my sides ached from laughing too hard, my eyes were focused on the little dipper straight above us, and I wasn’t worrying about leaving Camp Alleghany. I guess I think some part of me will always be across the Greenbrier river. At least, I seriously hope so.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. I didn’t want to wake up. Despite my best efforts, the sun rose over the mountains and that day came. The blaring music from the center of senior camp was all too familiar.
As I was walking up those stairs I didn’t even turn around to look at my tent. Why would I? It had been stripped of our memories. The metal beds no longer had character, the towels weren’t hanging over the swinging shelf, and my shoes weren’t in disarray across the tent. My home for the last three weeks was no longer homey. It was an empty shell.
I don’t like to think about that morning, mostly because it is surrounded by the idea of leaving. In some ways though, I think I should. That morning I hugged my friends as if I would never see them again. I cried harder than I ever have. I guess what I can take away from my years at camp is just how much the relationships I have been able to form mean to me. I can’t fully comprehend just how much they do still, but that’s okay.
I still have one summer left.
— Grace Stroup, Camper (16s), Camp Alleghany for Girls