How vividly I remember those mornings when we were all crammed around the barge, clutching our pillows and waiting for buses to be called to return home to our parents, our boyfriends, our siblings.
While I loved my parents and siblings deeply and sometimes I even thought I loved a boyfriend, the truth was that the two words, “Baltimore Bus” were the worst two words of the summer. They represented the end of my summers, the end of my suspended reality and worst of all, the end of spending time with some of the most important and meaningful friends in my life for what seemed like eternity…11 long months.
I remember sitting on that bus, gripping my pillow, tears streaming down my face as I read train letter after train letter. (I wonder if they still do those?) The first hour of that long seven hour trip was silent and it’s not often that 40 plus teenage girls are silent all at once.
I still have those letters and I find myself stumbling upon them every year or so. Immediately, I’m immersed in them and thrown back to my childhood summers spent on the Greenbrier River.
Perhaps it was one of those times sitting on the floor of my bedroom that I realized as an adult how painfully I missed camp. I knew then that I missed those summers of not worrying about how I looked, what I was wearing, or which party I had that evening. I missed the rifle range and the smell of gunfire, the Play Hall and its wobbly benches, sleeping in a tent under the crystal clear stars of West Virginia and having friends right next door all the time — to talk, to cry, to vent…to understand.
It was then I realized Alleghany has a gift for those of us who miss camp as adults, for those of us who really are looking to suspend reality, even if it is only for a short time.
Alleghany has Family Camp.
Family Camp has been a touchstone for me for the past seven years, to use the words of a dear friend. It “resets” me and reminds me what is really important. It gives me the opportunity to wear silly rain boots decorated with paint pen, to shoot a gun (albeit not as well as when I was 13), to see old friends and make cherished new friends.
However, most importantly, it’s given my family a touchstone. It allows my husband to unplug for a few short days and to really spend time with his kids without worrying about the next deal he’s working on. It allows my oldest son to find himself and be accepted for who he is — my competitive, shy red-head. It allows my middle son to harness his endless energy in the great outdoors and not be forced to fit into a box. Trust me, there’s no box big enough.
And now, it gives my daughter the chance to begin her endlessly passionate love affair with the camp I know she will love late into her life.
Make new friends but keep the old
Not only does Family Camp provide us with the opportunity to relive our own camp experiences and share them with our children, but Alleghany continues to demonstrate that it is the breeding ground for lasting friendships. Each summer I return with a new level of friendship with an old friend or a new friendship altogether — with returning alumnae, but also with some first time families.
True to Alleghany form, we all shed our ages, our hometown baggage and our electronic devices (for the most part), on the other side of the river. This leaves us unencumbered to forge new, true, lasting friendships with others, our families and, most importantly, ourselves.
No, unfortunately, I’m not there for eight weeks anymore and the demands of “real life” are more pressing then they were when I was a teenager. But for one short week every summer, I get to return to the only summer home I’ve ever had. And, as always, I dread the final day at the barge when I have to say goodbye again for 11 long months.
–Natalie Litz Bissonnette, Alum, Co-Director of Family Camp, Camp Alleghany for Girls