Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On Summer Camp: Camp Zoe

Gus the Goat Guards the Mess Hall Door

Camp Zoe, nestled in the Ozark Mountain foothills near Round Spring, Mo., was my first summer camp destination. Arriving as a rambunctious 7-year-old and returning a couple years following, I gained an invincibility and youthful independence from enthusiastic participation in traditional summer camp adventures and activities. 
A permissive spirit lingered in the August air at camp, encouraging freedom and creativity. Sinkin’ Creek, the primary swimming hole at Camp Zoe, branched off from the spring-fed Current River. It is memorialized in the official camp anthem, sung to the melody and sway of the “Missouri Waltz.”

“Beautiful Old Sinking Creek
Whose waters lap our shores
Moonlight streaming down
Upon the leafy shadowed floor.
The stars shining o'er us
Forever to guide us
Back to Camp Zoe
The place we adore.”

Counselor Marilyn

The early 1970s counselors clearly leaned to the left. They smoked cigarettes on the sly, told creepy ghost stories, and pulled practical jokes on the campers designed to build character. Horseback riding was the camp’s main draw and here I first learned how to bridle and saddle a horse along with riding techniques: fearless first trots, then canters, and the unexpected gallop. "Hang tight, Annie, hang on for life" pulsated in my head as the horse charged down the trail. Showing alarm or mistrust simply was not an option. Cliff hopping--jumps, dives, and then flips off the tall, jagged bluffs along the Current thrilled me and likely introduced me to the power of adrenaline. At afternoon's end, before I returned to New Cabin for a nap, the Snack Shack seductively appeared at the edge of the woods serving up slushies, candy bars, gum, and ice cream. The only limit to my sugary indulgences was the account set up by my parents, which I usually drained at least a week before camp’s end. 

My first profound political memory happened on August 9, 1974, while at camp. A few campers had scampered ahead of the counselors to climb a very tall fire lookout tower used by the forest rangers. The counselors shuffled behind us, paying more attention to the transistor radio close to ear than the kids under their watch. So when they stormed up the steel stairs shouting with joy “Nixon has resigned, Nixon has resigned” and danced in circles on the top platform pointing their index fingers to the sky, I knew something real had invaded from the outside world.  

With the hindsight of years and summers past, I know my camp experiences not only shaped my childhood but are still strongly woven through my personal fiber and being. 

Counselor Shawn Dressed Up for the Gong Show

The Wheelbarrow Race, Camp Zoe

(To the Tune of "My Favorite Things")

“Horseflies on Princess 
And whiskers on Wombly.
Cold sticky oatmeal and
old rotten lunchmeat.
Wonderful care packages
tied up with strings;
These are a few of my favorite things.
Contest on Ozark Day,
spitting tobacco.
Thinking poor Fozzie Bears
really gone whacko.
Treating the campers like they are the kings;
These are a few of my favorite things.
Waiting for eardrops
To Salem with Cindy.
It sure is hot and
I wish it were windy.
Singing the songs that everyone sings;
These are a few of my favorite things.
When the bugs bite,
when the horse bucks,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember the things at Camp Zoe; 
and then I don't feel so bad.”


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  2. I had one wonderful Camp Zoe summer. My favorite memories are of the day-long trail ride that I worked hard to qualify for, picking slugs off friends after swimming, singing songs in the mess hall (want there one set to the tune of Gilligan's Island?), and slow dancing with a cute counselor at the dance on the tennis course.