A camp story
I climb up onto the big limestone rock that sits under the giant Oak tree by the tennis courts. Like an umbrella, it shields Eric, Sarah DeLong, and I from the early afternoon sun. All of the CILTs are with their adopt-a-cabins which leaves us here to help judge the 4th of July parade.
Every cabin in camp, from eight-year-old Braves to fifteen-year-old Pathfinders has come up with a theme for the procession. Everyone gets to walk the route to show off their creative idea. Everyone's idea stems from American Pride but with over 40 years and years of this tradition you have to be original and creative to stand out.
There are always a few cabins of fireworks--campers dressed in red, white, and blue who are taught to jump and scream in rehearsed choreography with streamers waving from their hands. One year all fifty of the boys that live in Buffalo Lodge went on a mud hike right before the parade. Slathered in mud and smelling like buffalo they stampeded through the route.
Once Lakota cabin brought their giant Lakota flag and made still frames of three iconic scenes in US history: Washington crossing the Delaware, the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the landing on the moon. My cabin pretended we were a 4th of July yard sale two years ago. We held signs advertising the sale and carried bikes, scooters, hula hoops, weird hats, coolers, pool noodles, beach chairs, and a red wagon filled with more stuff. Everyone had giant price tags on it.
Today the CILT counselors enjoy being able to be spectators this year as the cabin groups start to arrive. I don't think there is a strong connection to the theme of the day, but Comanche's is one of my favorites. When they pause in front of the judges the boys act out what happened in their cabin last night. Jacob, their counselor, narrates, "While we were fast asleep in our bunks, a vicious raccoon ripped off our window screen." One of the campers is crawling around like a raccoon at this point, "I was roused from my sleep as the creature began to claw through our box of snacks. I rushed to awake Thomas," one of the campers pretended to wake up," and I said to him, 'Aris my son, we must protect the homeland,' The raccoon heard us and quickly scurried out of the cabin before we could catch him." The boys move on allowing the next group to come up.
We watch Seminole cabin's America's Next Best Dance Crew. Illinois girls come dressed as the first group of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. There is a political rally for Barack Obama. Two counselors hold up a sign that reads "A regular day in Miami cabin" and their eight-year-old Brave boys run around like mad swinging jellyfish yo-yos and jumping on their counselors. Ojibwa girls painted gray portray Mt. Rushmore.
A horse painted like the American flag trots up when we take down the flag before dinner. Everyone hums the Star Spangled Banner in unison and chants, "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" together at the end. One cabin tries to get everyone to belt out "Fifty, Nifty United States," that we learned in elementary school. Then we sing "Going to Kentucky" three times in a row because it's so American. We're going to Kentucky, we're going to the fair, to see a senorita with flowers in her hair, shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it all you can, and if you can not shake it then do the best you can, round and round and round we go until the bell rings releasing us to run in to eat.
We play "Proud to be an American", "Party in the U.S.A" and "Sweet Home Alabama" over the speakers during dinner. Everyone stands on their chairs to sing and uses their spoon or chicken leg as a microphone so they can keep eating during the song. There are mashed potatoes and corn on the cob but we're having so much fun we barely eat.
An unusually large number of people buy bomb pops during Trading Post time because the red, white, and blue popsicle fits with the theme of the day.
The sun begins to drop behind the trees at the lake as everyone approaches. Normally the youngest kids are asleep by now but tonight they come here in pajamas with their hair still wet from showers. The benches at the Lake Village chapel are filled with all of the Pathfinders and Warriors--the oldest kids in camp. They've just finished Songfest, singing chapel songs for the last hour, and are now still shouting the familiar words of "Pharaoh, Pharaoh."
Everyone else finds a seat with their cabin on the grassy hill that faces the lake. We bring beach towels to sit on, the grass already slippery from dew. We're packed together, a scrambled mob of all the Blazers and Braves plus the Day Campers that are old enough to spend the night on this special sleepover. These tiny campers hold hands with their counselors caught in limbo between nervousness about being away from home and excitement over doing something brand new.
Counselors that have the night off returned early for the fireworks show. They gravitate to the suspension bridge and the bench behind the Lookout tower, the best spots to watch. Families of camp staff are here to see the fireworks and all the camp kids are running around the huddle of parents talking. No one wants to miss this.
Speakers set up on our side of the lake blare patriotic music and red digital numbers count down to the start of the show. It's almost dark now and you can just barely see the firetrucks and dozens of men on the beach across the lake from us. They have been setting up the fireworks since this afternoon and are ready to begin.
Everyone counts down together. 10... 9... 8...
The music has paused for dramatic effect. 7... 6... 5... 4...
Hundreds of us yell at once. 3... 2... 1...
On top of the Lookout climbing tower we see a sparkler. Someone jumps from the platform and rides the zip line over the water to the far side leaving a trail of sparks that fall down to the lake. "Whoa, look at that," the little kids say as they point toward the light. Then we hear the first boom and watch the colors explode in the sky.
I sit next to my friend Emily with campers on every side of us and even on our laps. Devon, a red-haired little fireball of a girl, looks up at me, "These are the best fireworks I've ever seen in my whole life." Watching the reactions on all of these kids faces is just as entertaining as watching the kaleidoscope of colors above us.
The show doesn't stop after "The Star Spangled Banner," "This Land Is Your Land," and "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue." We see each flare get lit on the beach before it rockets into the sky. The light explodes in sprays of electric color that we watch in the air and their reflection in the lake. The hill is filled with collective "oohs" and "aahs" and random shrieks or fits of laughter.
We know it is the finale when the fireworks start shooting off like popcorn. We plug our ears because the Pop! Pop! Pop! is deafening. The sky is electrified and each new burst adds smoke to the cloud from the dozens preceding it. After the final explosion everyone joins in the chant we've been echoing all day long, "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!"