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After a nine month drought the skies opened up at precisely 1:00 pm, the exact moment the campers started to arrive. I was standing at the gate, with no shelter, the list of who was supposed to go where dissolved. So I just asked how old they were and assigned them to the units by age. After everyone was in, all hell broke loose at the office. We had asked the girls if they wanted to be with a buddy and in my random assignments I was clueless about who was buddies with whom. Angry parents, weeping children, confused staff and me just about on my last nerve. 

But, we got everything straightened out and the parents left and the girls stopped crying. A Girl Scout Council Board member was one of the parents dropping off her daughter. She was the last parent to leave and as she drove past in the parking lot on her way out she held out a brown paper bag to me.

“I think you probably need this.” She said and drove off.

Inside the bag was a can of maitais.

Just prior to opening the camp, I took a tour of the pool area to make sure it was secure and all the equipment we had been using for counselor training had been put away. My little dog, Caleb was with me. He was a “champagne colored miniature poodle and the dumbest dog I had ever met. He was gift from a friend who, I have no idea why, thought I needed a dog.

Caleb was across the pool from me when I called to him to leave. He ran in a straight line right into the pool. I was astonished! Astonishment quickly gave way to panic as I realized that he was not able to keep his nose above water let alone make his way to the side to get out. This damn dog is going to drown I said to myself and jumped in to save him. We made it safely to the side. I was dressed in my very best camp director outfit, starched white shirt, lanyard with name tag, green Bermuda shorts, leather belt with roadrunner buckle, long green socks with red flashers and sensible oxford shoes. I now had about two and one half minutes to change before the campers arrived at the gate. And you know how that went.

This was my first summer directing camp. I had never been to overnight camp as a child. I had been a naval officer for the previous two years and the powers that be at the Council office thought this is some way prepared for this job. I had majored in Physical Education in college. Not that I had any great love of teaching sports, I didn’t. It was just that as it got to the middle of my junior year I had not declared a major and I like taking PE and was a good athlete and my advisor suggested going with the flow. I got a D in Teaching Team Sports, a D in Teaching Individual Sports and a D in Ballroom Dance but that is another story altogether. In my defense I got an A in Kinesiology, an A in Physiology of Exercise, and an A in Anatomy and Physiology. I ran afoul of the leadership in the department and they refused to admit me to the School of Education where I could get a teaching certificate. I didn’t want a teaching certificate and luckily a cute Navy recruiter came to my rescue. I would have followed her anywhere.

So I joined the Navy and got out two years later and went to work for the Suncoast Girl Scout Council in Tampa, Florida. Two years in the Navy did not prepare me well for recruiting and training Girl Scout leaders either but I did all right.

I loved being at camp. We were our own universe, a miniature community out in the woods. The girls had fun and the adults had fun. We had two international counselors, one from France and one from the Netherlands. It was a great introduction to cultural stereotypes, the French woman was arrogant and aloof and the Dutch woman was like a large dog, always friendly and sloppily affectionate. I fell madly in love with the French woman, needless to say.

This was 1970 in the south. We had been ordered to integrate by the American Camping Association and had done so. I hired and trained black staff and recruited black campers from the City of Tampa Social Services.  I was sitting in my office one day preparing for a visit from the Board of Directors that evening when I say one of our black campers walking toward the front gate. She had her little sister in tow. I asked them where they were going. Home, was the answer. The older girl had had enough of sleeping out in the woods, using a pit latrine and eating weird food and she was going home.

“It’s a long walk, about 50 miles to Tampa.” I said. “You might need some food and water for the trip.” As luck would have it, the cook was baking cookies and the smell permeated the area. We went to see the cook about getting some cookies for the trip. We sat in hallowed ground on the cook’s porch, no one, not even the Director was allowed to sit there without an invitation. The cook has been at this camp for years. As the girls sat there eating their cookies and having a glass of milk the cook said to us,

“Director, we do not have enough fish for tonight’s dinner and someone has to go fishing.” Well, we both knew that fishing was the favorite activity of the black girls of all the dozens of activities we offered.

“I can’t go,” I said, “the Board is due here any minute.”

Both of the little girls hands were waving in the air. “We’ll do it, we’ll do it!” they said together.

So, there I was sitting on the dock with these two when the Board started arrive. I explained and they were quite sympathetic.

The black children did not like being in the woods. The cabins were made of wood, resting about three feet off the ground. There were large screened windows and shutters that lowered to keep out the rain. The first night they were there I did a walking tour to make sure they were OK. There were four girls to a cabin and eight cabins near one another in the unit. The counselor’s had their own cabin in the unit. The first cabin  I came to was shuttered up tight even though it was about 95 degrees. I tried to open the door and found it blocked by four beds and the girls huddled together all in one bed scared to death. The next day I moved all the black girls into a brick building we usually did not use in the summer and kept for the Brownies during the year. It had a cement floor, electric lights and flush toilets. All very OK with the girls. After that they got used to being at camp and I think finally enjoyed themselves as did most of the white girls.

One morning while I was eating breakfast one of the campers came up to me with a bowl of granola in her hands and tears in her eyes. Cook made the best granola in the world and I could not imagine what the problem was.

“I can’t eat this” she said tearfully.

“Why not? I asked

“Because my mother doesn’t want me to eat hippy food.” She replied.

Trying very hard not to laugh, I assured her she could have peanut butter and jelly that was always kept on the sideboard if someone didn’t like the meal. Hippy food! Can you believe it?