Camp Ataloa: I was 12, soon to be 13, and going in to 8th grade the first year I went to Camp Ataloa, a Baptist camp in Ocean Park, Maine. Campers were required to wear uniforms – white middy blouses with green ties and green shorts. I suppose we wore sneakers, but I don’t remember that for sure. I loved the anticipation and preparation: shopping for the uniforms, having my Aunt Dot sew labels in all my clothes, knowing it was a big deal to be going away from home (Aunt Florine’s didn’t really count.) for the first time.
The setting was perfect: canvas-sided tents on wood platforms in a clearing surrounded by pine trees, the ocean just blocks away. There were eight of us to a cabin, sleeping in four bunks. I chose a lower one. I really liked my counselor , and got along well with my cabin-mates. I knew two other girls from church, but they were in different cabins.
What I have remembered most through the years are all the camp songs which I enjoyed. I’ve taught them to pupils, sung them to myself when trying to stay awake on a long drive. I loved Bible study and also the evening campfires. Probably there were crafts, but I don’t remember them or sports. I didn’t mind the pool swimming lessons until the day I couldn’t make myself take the jump that would lead to my intermediate certificate. We went to swim in the ocean several afternoons, which was a real treat, and one evening we sat on the beach and witnessed Aurora Borealis.
Being an only child, I wasn’t all that comfortable about dressing and undressing around the other seven girls in my tent. But I think all of us kept our backs turned and maneuvered modestly. It’s where I learned to slip off a bra while still wearing my blouse. Unfortunately peer suggestion got me to shave my legs for the first time which I probably could have put off for years, having blond hair. I don’t remember taking showers, though I must have, and I can only think that I disliked them because we always took baths at home.
As I recall, we came to the dining hall as a cabin, and if a group came late to a meal, the rest of us would sing , “You’re always behind, just like an old cow’s tale. When Gabriel calls on judgment day, you’ll be the one to hear him say, “You’re always behind just like an old cow’s tale.” We sang grace as a round: “For health and strength and daily food, we give Thee thanks, O Lord.” Sometime during the meal, one group would start, “We are table number one, where is number two…” And so on. As you can tell, if there was singing I loved it. As a picky eater, though, I didn’t really like the food, but fortunately there was always white bread and peanut butter available on the table. Strange to say, I never had peanut butter at home. And how about the time the whole camp got sick from the Sunday turkey dinner which followed a church service in a wonderful tabernacle in the pines?
But I was homesick, a feeling whichhas plagued me through life. I looked forward to mail, and my family and friends were good about writing letters, but I still wondered what was going on at home. What was happening in the neighborhood? Were my parents okay? I had the mistaken feeling that if I were there, everything would be all right. If I were not there, maybe something bad would happen. I missed my cat. Actually, I missed my Teddy bear even more.
But looking back through the years, I can honestly say that camp was a huge learning experience and mostly a pleasant memory.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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