Modeled after Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried", Annie recently wrote this essay about the things we carry at Camp Tecumseh for her AP Lit and Comp class. It's story truth, so some names and events are changed for this writing. I was so impressed that I wanted to share how she captured the essence of camp.
The Things They Carried
Ranger Coordinator, Tripper Carter, carried drawings from a camper named Brock. Everyday Brock came to day camp with a new Crayola masterpiece for his favorite counselor. As the head of the seven and eight year old unit, Tripper happily accepted his hand made gifts and put each one into his overstuffed binder to be hung up in his cabin later that night. Some days Brock drew tall trees like the evergreens in the back of the day camp lunch site. Other days Tripper received a picture of the blue beluga whales the seven year old imagined lived in the bottom of Richard G Marsh Lake. Brock’s favorite thing to draw, however, was a brightly colored mix of scribbles- but Tripper Carter loved these drawings just as much.
The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. They carried backpacks, clipboards, colored Camelback water bottles, pens and pencils, scissors, tape, rubber bands, cartoon themed Band-Aids, Neosporin, small tubes of Germ-X hand sanitizer, walkie talkies, LED flashlights, and two or three yards of rope. Courtney Calligan, who suffered from severe allergies, carried a box of Kleenex, anti-itch cream, ibuprofen and an EpiPen that came in a purple fanny pack. Shannon Evoy, the assistant day camp director, carried keys: keys to the golf cart, keys to the black hole, keys to the pool house and the back office. The small silver ring that held the keys, hung from her back pocket, clinking as she walked to open the shed. By necessity, and because 5-year-olds never remembered who was their counselor, they carried wooden nametags. On their feet they carried Chacos. For the days when their trail group rode horses, they also carried gym shoes crusted with dry mud and horse shit.
Almost everyone carried means of entertainment for their campers. This included, but was not limited to, jellyfish yo-yos, Frisbees, Jolly Rancher candies, and freeze pops. Mike Sale carried a ring of small laminated note cards, filled with songs and games that he couldn’t remember. Matt Johnson carried sweet pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. Maggie Shadid carried a warped book of “kid friendly jokes,” that she read to her campers at lunchtime.
They all carried one or two bubble wands.
Tripper Carter remembered watching Brock play with those bubble wands. You see, bubble wands at camp are a precious gem. They keep kids entertained for hours, and little Mr. Brock LOVED them. He would laugh and jump and try to pop every bubble he could reach. As soon as the last soapy drip fell from the wand, Brock would yell, “More please!” Tripper would blow the bubbles low and his seven year-old camper almost always burst them all before they floated above his fingertips. Brock didn’t like to lose any of them to the wind. Tripper Carter remembered the day the bubbles won. It was a windy day and Brock had more energy than ever. Tripper blew a huge bubble that Brock just barely missed. Instead of giving up, the tiny Ranger climbed up on the picnic table and leapt towards the ever-raising bubble. Brock fell. He fell hard, and his tiny arm crunched beneath him. Tripper Carter saw the tears well up in his little camper’s eyes, but the boy never cried. Tripper Carter looked at the little boy’s twisted arm as he picked him up to rush him to the camp nurse. Expecting Brock to shriek in pain, it came as a surprise to the counselor that he was so silent. As he hustled away with Brock in his arms, the only thing that could be heard was a muffled “more please,” and Brock’s good arm reached out over Tripper Carter’s shoulder to pop the last bubble.
What they carried partly depended on what age unit they worked in.
Molly Henry, a blazer counselor for the littlest kids, carried stickers, a box of worn down crayons, wet wipes and red swim bands. She carried extra things. Extra swim trunks for the forgetful five-year-olds, extra snacks, and extra towels. She carried extra Band-Aids, sunscreen, M&Ms, and kids. Extra kids that got lost from their trail group because they weren’t paying attention one of the seven times their counselor said meet at the big brown stump before we head to the pool.
As camp counselors, they carried a plethora of Nike running shorts and white V-neck t-shirts. They carried small colored beads looped between the laces of their tennis shoes, to remind them of the camp creed. They carried beaded animal key chains- all of which were made by campers who would do anything to make their counselor smile- and waterproof watches. They carried sunglasses, Laffy Taffy wrappers, bobby pins, Chapstick, cameras, and minglets. They carried the responsibility for ten little heads of hair each week- twenty hands and twenty feet to watch over. On their wrists they carried friendship bracelets, brightly woven threads of string worth more than any jewel. On their heads they carried bandannas, or potholder headbands, depending on their connections to Sarah Wright. And in their hearts they carried love.
On Wednesdays they carried wolf shirts.
On Friday’s they carried tired children back from closing campfire and a bittersweet sadness that another week was done.
There were some things they never stopped carrying. It seemed they always carried bug bites, and sweaty faces. They carried the weight of tired eyes from early mornings and lactic acid in their sore muscles at the end of the day. They carried stories. They carried words. Words that would never leave them, even long after the hot days of summer. Words of encouragement. Whispers of prayers and whispers of love. They carried God’s word and their own. Together, they carried a community. They carried a light. They carried friendships that would last forever and a passion rooted deep within them to love and be loved. But most of all, they carried each other.