A camp story
Our feet pound down the black paved hill. Carrying towels, we wore shorts over our one piece swimsuits and crocs over socks. An early afternoon float trip called us to the river with the 15-year-old men of Arapaho cabin.
Most of the girls were talking about who they wanted to be in a canoe with when Grace spotted something in the grass beside the road. She reached between the weeds and pulled out an old red ball, the size of a tennis ball, scratched, worn, and possibly chewed by the camp dog. Grace carried the ball the rest of the walk and buckled him into her lifejacket, protecting him from drowning in the Tippecanoe River during the float trip.
Around the time we were getting pop stop in River Village Grace decided the ball needed a name. The girls sat on the steps of the porch and threw out ideas, "How 'bout Myrtle?...no, Fred...Edgar?...Maybe Veronica...Petunia!...It should be Pablo..." until Grace decided the ball would henceforth be known as Gerard X the III.
Gerard became the 11th member of Teton that week. The girls rotated custody and Gerard experienced the best of Camp T: a ride on the zipline over the lake, hip-hop clinic, ultimate frisbee clinic, performing in closing campfire, completing the Roger Murphy swim, going on a train ride, yelling cheers at lunch, receiving multiple friendship bracelets, serenading the boys' cabins, and even spending the night in Buffalo when he was kidnapped.
Saturday when the girls packed up their plastic drawers and Vera Bradley duffle bags they left Gerard X behind to meet the next group of Teton campers. For the rest of the summer stay-overs explained Gerard and his history to the new girls who quickly got excited about becoming a part of the game. Week after week Gerard traveled with Teton from clinic to activities, from Lake to River and back again.
The amazing thing was that when the girls went home they didn't forget about Gerard. Only a few days after the first group left they created a Facebook profile for him and started tagging him in pictures from the week. Mary mailed a Brebeuf sweatshirt, originally meant for a Beanie Babie, that he got used to wearing along with a mini towel headband. During the last week of camp Gerard got a package in the mail after lunch. We ripped open the brown paper wrapping to find a shoebox inside from Paige, Page, and Emily-three best friends that had come to camp together the previous week. The outside of the box was a collage of pictures from their week, stickers, quotes, and song lyrics. The inside of the box was a "home" for Gerard. On the walls they had pasted pictures of our cabin and Hannah Montana as framed art. There was even a bean bag and TV for Gerard.
When the summer ended we decided that Gerard should visit as many of Teton girls as possible. Traveling in his shoebox he started from Hope College, traveled to Carmel, multiple Chicago suburbs, Indianapolis, Champaign, and went on Spring Break being mailed from girl to girl. A photo album stayed inside the box and when he came to your address you had to add a photograph of his visit and a note documenting his adventure. By the time the next summer arrived Gerard's box was becoming well worn and the album was almost full.
The girls graduated to the CILT program in the Longhouse that summer and so did Gerard. He spent most of his time inside in the air conditioning that summer until Brave girls moved in the last couple weeks. They loved the story of Gerard and immediately adopted him as their own. Those girls left notes on all of the Lake Village cabins during a LV invasion signed from Gerard. With sidewalk chalk they drew "Gerard Land" in front of the Trading Post with scale drawings of this imaginary world.
The next year Gerard continued to travel but with less urgency. He went back to Chicago and visited a few of the CILT girls that had never been in Teton. More items got added to his box and we started a second photo album.
I'm not sure who has Gerard today but it doesn't really matter anymore. Gerard represents two of things I love most about camp.
Creativity and silliness. Nowhere else could you convince so many 15-year-old girls to care about a red rubber ball not just for a week but for years. Liking Gerard wasn't cool until they decided that this goofiness was what they all wanted to be about. They made a home for him, took him everywhere, and included him in cheers- it was weird but gosh it was so great. I think a good amount of creativity and silliness is always good for the soul no matter where you are or how old you are.
Staying connected. I love that camp brings people together and helps them to stay connected. Grace's idea for Gerard first connected girls during that single week. Then Gerard X became a theme of the summer. After camp ended in August he helped so many of the girls stay in touch that entire next year. Being connected and staying in touch with people takes a lot of effort from everyone involved but having a support system of people you trust and respect is invaluable.