One of the many reasons I fell in love with Camp Alleghany is its simplicity.
I still revel in the small things at camp, particularly the sounds. I just love the Katydids at night, and that big bull frog down in the river who ribbits most of the night. I relish the lonely train whistle as the train crosses the bridge downriver pulling the coal cars up from Southern West Virginia. And I always enjoy the gentle rain on the tents, the barge hitting the concrete and the chain being dragged up to its hook, and all the pleasures of a crackling fire.
I could go on and on.
A place in the sun
To me, its imperative that we get kids outdoors and away from distracting gadgets to let them breathe fresh air and fuel their bodies with Ms. Hazel’s food. It’s a joy today to share with campers the old school manners long practiced at camp, and to practice cultivating respect for others, the importance of self-reliance, keeping your belongings neat and tidy, sportsmanship and courtesy.
All of those things — and many more — I learned as a camper at Alleghany, and I’ve carried them forward into my adulthood.
I’m not a parent, so in some ways it may not seem like my place to comment.
But as a long-time Mini Camp Counselor, I take my job as a role model for ‘Ghany girls seriously. In too many ways our society has veered off track in the area of civility and it’s important to redevelop the kinds of manners we want to see in the world. I know that many parents today are grateful for a place that makes life simple again for their kids, and teaches the basics. It’s my aim to support that in every way.
A different kind of phone tag, a different kind of text
I fondly remember the days of no technology at camp and what a thrill a phone call could be.
Two pay phones (sometimes only one worked) at the counselor lodge connected us to the outside world. During the day, calls would come in and the chain of yelling for the recipient would start. The person who answered the call would yell down towards camp and somebody walking up to the showers would yell towards camp and somebody hitting tennis balls would yell to Unit 1 and then a counselor would come shooting out of their tent running for the CL. All the while the phone dangles on its cord and the person on the other end patiently awaits for his or her party to arrive, usually breathless from sprinting to the lodge.
Of course, this was also a pre-Internet world.
Campers filled out paper applications to come to camp, counselors signed paper contracts with Cooper, usually with some whiteout here and there, or things just crossed out and re-written in the margins in Cooper’s spidery handwriting.
There weren’t even any walkie talkies at camp then. If Cooper wanted a staff member he called him or her up to the cottage on the PA system (and you’d better get your butt up there quickly!) As you high-stepped it up there your mind raced with what he may want to see you about and you hoped he was in a good mood. There was no instant communication — everything took time.
The great wall
In 1983, I was a sixteen at camp and had come full-term. After years of sending me off to different kinds of camps, my parents were thrilled that I’d found someplace that I loved and had practically keeled over when I told them I wanted to go full-term. However, this allowed them to indulge in one of their favorite pastimes — travel. They quickly planned a three and a half week trip to China. I was deposited at camp and they jetted off to the Orient.
There was no way for us to communicate, no website to look at photos, no cell phones, no texting, no email, and of course, campers can’t use the phones anyway. It didn’t bother me at all, but I think my parents were a bit apprehensive about being so far away and not being able to talk to me.
I’m not sure how she did it, but when they returned, somehow my mom must’ve sweet talked Cooper into breaking his rule of allowing campers to use the phone to talk to parents while at camp. He called me over at dinner and said he had somebody who wanted to talk to me and I was to meet him in his office after dinner. Yikes!! I wasn’t sure what was going on and headed down to the cottage with a great deal of trepidation.
He set me up at his desk and explained that my mom had called, they were back from their trip and they just wanted to know I was doing okay. He let me call home (collect, I think) for a brief chat with my parents, who just wanted to make sure I was fine and having fun, which of course, I was. I’m not sure why he allowed it, perhaps he sensed the need of a mom and dad who just wanted to connect with their daughter for a few minutes.
Everybody fondly remembers Cooper’s gruffness and that bark of his that made you jump out of your skin. But that evening I remember a kind, gentle man who patiently explained that he didn’t allow this very often, but it was okay with him for me to talk to my mom and dad for a few minutes.
He tilted back in his chair and crossed his hands over his chest while I talked to mom and dad. I like to think it did his heart good to hear a young girl, who had struggled at other camps, talk about what a wonderful time she was having, how much I loved it, and the great friends I’d made. That short phone call immensely pleased my parents, allayed their fears about whether I was alright, and Cooper was able to hear about what a positive influence Alleghany was having on my life.
I’m incredibly grateful for my years at camp and I look forward to returning every summer as a Mini Camp staffer. As much as the world changes and moves on, its so nice to be a part of a place that puts an emphasis on things that never go out of style.
I’ll see you in June!
Laura “Weave” Weaver, Alum, Mini Camp Counselor, Camp Alleghany for Girls