Sharing Your Camp Story Helps Document Clearwater’s History
By Liz Webler
For the most part, we are an oral culture. We layer words over activities over gestures over songs over clothing. It’s thick. Every May, the camp engine powers back up after a long winter. In June, returning campers and counselors sleepily step through the minute-by-minute sequence of camp life. By July, we feel fluent again in the habits and traditions. Come August, we imagine new possibilities and set down plans for the coming year. Every September, we forget a little bit. By February, we can’t remember what we forgot.
Many of us don’t live in the summer cycle of camp anymore but our stories and experiences continue to help shape the future of our community. Why let another year go by before we document it all? Or at least try! That’s the idea behind the “Our Stories Live On” project and the chance to kick it off at the 90th reunion .
After dinner on Saturday and again after Sunday Service, the community was invited to share a story. Honestly, that’s how broad the invitation was. We—Adrienne Testa and I—would be in the nurse’s cabin during first and second general. On faith, a few brave souls agreed. Elders in our midst, more attuned to the march of time or the fragility of memory. Or simply a generous spirit towards the younger generation.
Now we have a record of Dan and Midge’s honeymoon summer at Clearwater. And Mary Willerscheidt’s thoughts on Title 9 and pay equity. I did the interviewing for those two interviews and they can attest to my rambling interview style.
“You’re going to edit this, right?” they asked deep in a thicket of reminiscence.
I learned in school that the gold of most documentary interviews is gathered late in the conversation, oftentimes after the recorder runs out of batteries or malfunctions. In order to discover what this project really wants to be, I only had to remember one thing: just keep recording. We can edit later. It’s not so different than: keep paddling. The vistas will appear.
After those first brave souls, it was quiet. Adrienne and I sat around waiting. Adrienne thought to go outside, sit on the steps and shout at passersby, “Want to come in and tell some stories about camp?”
Some dreary weather was a boon for us since we could be available during first and second period. All day, in fact. As our community members relaxed into the idea of a microphone, we listened and recorded.
We learned that in the story of the Blue Glove, an entire cabin “had come off its platform, flew in the air over the house, like Wizard of Oz, and smashed.” Did you know that?! The tellers (Karen Close, Melissa Koengeter and Heidi Pace) titled it the “Blue Glove / Tornado story of Clearwater Camp 1977″—in case you need to reference it at a dinner party.
Many people told us stories of our matriarchs, Halokwe and Sunny. Of notorious trips. Kitchen raids. Tajar mischief. Family lineages. Some sang. We let the recordings pile up.
If you’ve read this far, you have your own stories. And you’re wondering how they might fit into this project. Think on it. We all carry a little flame of camp’s essence. Each one of us is vital to camp—from 10-year-olds to 90-year-olds. From the campers who came once and hated it feverishly to the lifers who can’t seem to find enough ways to weave Clearwater into their lives. From donors to board members to family members to kitchen staff to maintenance staff to first year campers.
Feel free to start a conversation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re organizing other in-person ways to gather stories too. As we begin to digest the first wave of stories, we will have some better prompts for those who want to participate but are drawing a blank. Big thanks to our first entrants to the oral history library:
Laura Sahn Cover
Melissa Moore Koengeter
Kathryn Norris Kirt
Heidi Nickels Pace
Jenny Norris Peterson
Carol Altorfer Vance
Sarah ‘Stocks’ Wagoner
Danielle Vidinich Welch
This is the sixth entry in a series of Reunion Sparks to share memories from our 90th Reunion. Additional sparks are linked below.