Camp Memories from Generation to Generation

There’s a summer place
Where it may rain or storm
Yet I’m safe and warm
For within that summer place
Your arms reach out to me
And my heart is free from all care
For it knows

There are no gloomy skies
When seen through the eyes
Of those who are blessed with love

(Theme from “Summer Place” – Mom’s favorite camp song)

This past weekend was very emotional. I traveled with my family to Maine for my daughter’s camp visiting day.   Maine has always held a very special place in my heart.  From a waify 6-year old old to a sassy 15-year old, I spent 8 weeks of every summer at camp, living in cabins on the side of the Saco River amongst the tall pines (and pine needles) of Maine.  Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that I affectionately rank summers at camp over college as some of the most memorable experiences of my life (I joke with my husband that perhaps “I peaked” at camp).

2008 --25 years later I'm still looking for the plaques with my name on them! Tan Team Captain!

I was unusually lucky too. I had the benefit of having my parents at camp for two weeks each summer.  I vividly remember the day when they’d pull up to camp in their green station wagon.  Like prayer time at mecca, I’d get the sound call over the loud speaker that my parents had arrived. I’d race to greet them with all of my bunk mates in tow.  My heart was immediately warmed as I saw the familiar faces of my parents unloading a car full of baubles Mom had packed (and cooked) for everyone (yum Banana Chocolate Chip loaf). While my dad was busy being the beloved, silly camp doctor, dealing out jokes while inspecting the usual scrapes and bruises, Mom graced the arts and crafts room and the kitchen to help teach classes. They lived in a bunk not far from mine and I’d get to see them at every meal and at any other time.  They became a fixture at camp for me and all the other girls (and boys). They quickly became party of everyone’s family.

I remember my last visit to Maine, 3 years ago, to celebrate the 85th anniversary of my camp.  And like anything related to camp, everyone in my family traveled  north to celebrate the anniversary of the summer place that touched us all.   Mom insisted that she join the trip, even though her health was severely declining.  She wanted to be part of the celebrations, to visit with the random assortment of friends she had made over the summers.  Outwardly she celebrated, regardless of how she felt inside.  She walked around all day long to the activities, carefully holding on to my sister’s arm as she tried to dodge the dangerous tree roots that jut up from the ground,  hindering her already labored gait.  She sang “Summer Place” with camper’s chorus, ate the lobster dinner and truly tried to recoup all of her fond memories too. She died only 12 weeks later.  And, completely unexpected,  many of her camp friends  who hadn’t seen her in over 25 years, made their trek to her funeral – they simply refused to miss the opportunity to honor Mom’s life.

My mom and my daugther, Maine camp visit 2008.

With my daughter now at camp, I can’t help but think of how proud my mom was when we were campers.  Living on our own, at such a young age, forced us to mature in ways previously unimaginable to a parent.   We had to navigate our way through everything without that familial safety net.   Whether it was wardrobe selection or friendship squabbles or simply picking out our schedules, we had to fend for ourselves.   Last week I felt complete admiration for my 9-year old daughter (first-time camper) when I received a letter in which she calmly stated she had quit the play because she would “have to miss too many of her activities and camp (for my daughter) is about taking activities and not sitting in a dark theater.” “Aren’t you proud of me?” she later asked.  Yes I am!

As I’m desperately missing Mom as well as my daughter, I decided to bring some comfort to the kitchen and recreate Mom’s famous Chex Mix recipe she often used in her camp cooking class.   I remember she always asked everyone to go on a “mission” and bring Chex Mix cereal back from the dining hall.   Once assembled, we’d mix all the boxes together and dump them into the skillet over the stove and stir them until all the pieces were coated.  This project was a hit due to its instant gratification.  With all the other recipes we’d have to come back during a different elective to pick up our finished product.  Mom’s Chex Patio Mix only took 15 minutes and we could eat it immediately and even in our bunks.

It’s so hard retracing many of the “steps” that were created with Mom; everything about Maine is reminiscent of our beloved summers along the Saco River.  It’s lonely being in this state, without  her around to live through these new experiences for me and her grand daughter.  I wish she could have witnessed the sheer delight in my daughter’s sun-freckled face the minute she found us in the sea of parents searching for their daughters on visiting day.  The same delight she witnessed on my face every time I met her at the entrance to camp.

I only hope my daughter knows how proud I am of her accomplishments, and how utterly impressed her grand mother would-have-been too.

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go

(Excerpt from John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane…our farewell camp song)

Pretzels and Nuts and Chex, oh my!

What are your stand out summer camp memories?  Were there any memories that impacted your life in later years?  Share them with us, we want to know.



  1. I think anyone who love camp the way you did (or I did) was flooded with memories when visiting their kids this weekend. The lake, the cubbies, the faux-neatness of the kids trying their best for things to look good for parents. I adored camp, my best friend from camp was my college room mate. You traumatized me a little with the tree root mention. My parents noticed ones sticking out from the ground on visiting day. Less than a week later they got the call I have tripped (yep) over that one going to my bunk and needed stitches. Where was your dad?

  2. Oh my. @beccasara forwarded this post to me and I’m reading it at a road side stop back from 5 days spent in Northern Ontario. And I’m reading this post to my DH with tears running down my face. What an incredible memory and so happy your mom ‘lived til the end’. Thanks for sharing your memories…and the patio chex mix recipe!

    • elissa » thanks for this! Everyday I am flooded with the most positive memories of my mom. she was, and continues to be, a huge inspiration to me as a mom…

  3. Margarita says:

    This article made me cry, it was very touching!

  4. Andrea (Andy Hardy) Lovett says:

    I can clearly picture your mom, laughing with Peggy, and your dad persuading us to run a “swim across Lovewell Pond”. I think you were in my first or maybe my second cabin. Thank you for such a touching blog. If I get to guest chef for cooking, I am going to have the girls make Chex Patio Mix and think of you and your family! (singing) “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind Hey Mickey!”

  5. so nice to hear that these memories have been etched in your mind too! I hope you are doing well and glad you enjoyed the post. Come back and follow and help my spread my mom’s legacy.
    FA will always hold the most special place in my heart!

  6. Great story Shari …and a great website. Hope you’re well!


  1. […] weeks ago at her sleep away camp in Maine certainly took me down memory lane since I went away to camp for 9 summers in a row.  Of our two day trip, one full day was open-ended so I decided to take my son and husband to one […]

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