Lizzie roused from a deep sleep to realize she was not at home. The voice calling her name was her cabin counselor, shaking her awake for an early-morning bird walk. It was only then that Lizzie remembered where she was.
She pinched herself again as a reminder that she was actually there at 4-H Camp Clifton. In the spring of her fifth-grade year, one of her heart’s desires had come true: after years of impatient waiting, she had finally been old enough to join a 4-H club. Her red felt pincushion was finished as was the handsewn hem on her tea towel. After she made her apron, she would display all three projects at the county fair.
However, Lizzie was totally surprised when her mother wrote a check for $12 to send with the reservation for 4-H camp in mid-June. There were shorts and shirts, new pajamas, and a pair of canvas shoes to be bought, all according to the letter from the 4-H office.
And suddenly, there Lizzie stood in a cabin full of bunkbeds, her mother’s suitcase in her hand. She had never spent five whole days and nights anywhere but at home, where she and her sister slept in a double bed. She was nervous and excited – all at the same time.
None of her cabinmates, from lots of different schools, was in high school yet; they were, after all, at Junior Camp. Jane, her cabin counselor from Mechanicsburg, seemed friendly and helpful.
Lizzie quickly became accustomed to the camp routine. Campers had chores or activities scheduled for each hour of every day. Some chores took place in the dining hall, where everyone worked together to make mealtime run smoothly by setting the table, bringing food from the kitchen, or cleaning up afterwards.
The dining hall reminded Lizzie of the school cafeteria: long tables and benches along with clinking and clacking noises from the kitchen. Campers sat with their counselor at the same table for each meal. Like several of the other girls, Lizzie had a secret crush on their counselor, a cute boy with dark hair. Lizzie almost passed out the day she sat right next to him.
Lizzie especially loved the group singing at the end of each meal. She learned lots of songs: funny ones, like “On Top of Spaghetti”; and old ones, like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Her favorites were “We’re Ohio’s Sons and Daughters” and “White Coral Bells.”
Whenever Lizzie left the dining hall, she walked past a shelf of alphabetized slots holding letters and cards from home for the campers. Lizzie never received any mail; she was pretty sure her mother didn’t know she could send letters to camp. She checked every day, though – just to make sure.
Campers also cleaned their cabins for daily inspection: making their beds, sweeping the floor, stowing their belongings out of sight. Lizzie and her cabinmates cheered the day the honor plaque hung on their door. Another day two cabins were so equally clean, they had to be checked several times. The winning – or losing – difference: one potato chip discovered on a ledge!
Lizzie’s favorite activity was crafts. Most everyone made lanyards similar to the ones the counselors wore around their necks. Lizzie considered braiding the colorful plastic cord but immediately changed her mind when she realized she could create a mosaic tile trivet. She worked on her project every day, arranging the small tiles into an original pink-white-black pattern to which she applied grout. She was extremely proud of the finished product.
Although she did not exactly enjoy all the activities, she tried everything – including swimming for the first time in her life. After a scary walk on a narrow trail through the gorge on the way to the pool at John Bryan State Park, she absolutely despised putting her face into the water. She did not go back.
Evening activities were fun: tribe calls and line dances and races, until she fell on the blacktop the very first night, after which she had to make daily visits to the nurse’s cabin for dressing changes. But the nurse was young and gentle with her ouchy knee – and the two of them shared the name Elizabeth!
Although the campfire programs made her laugh, the nightly walk to Vesper Hill and the devotions there were her favorite part of every day. Sitting quietly surrounded by nature’s beauty made Lizzie feel more at peace than even in her church back home.
She was also very moved by the last night’s candlelight ceremony at the white rocks. She wondered if she could ever be an outstanding camper and also thought it would be fun to be a counselor. And then camp ended.
Lizzie was glad and sad when Saturday morning dawned. It would be good to go home, but she would never forget all that she had experienced in just five days.
And Lizzie could not know that summer, or for many summers to follow, that her time at camp had been but the first of many “firsts” in her life. Years later, as she grew into Elizabeth, there would be the first year of college, the first trip to Germany, the first year in her own classroom – with all the excitement and nervousness, the good and the disappointing, the glad and the sad she had first encountered during a long-ago week at camp.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.