The Power of the Camp Song

My mother's camp songs were my lullabies. I could sing about the green and white teams and the canoes on Lake Thompson before I even knew the words to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."
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My mother's camp songs were my lullabies. I could sing about the green and white teams and the canoes on Lake Thompson before I even knew the words to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." When I was a young teenager and it seemed that my mother and I couldn't talk about anything without ending up in an argument we could walk around the block together holding hands while singing a camp song. Although we went to different all girls camps in Maine some 25 years apart, each of our camps had so many of the same songs. We each had our own camp lyrics to the tunes of the University of Michigan fight song and The University of Colorado Team Song. I guess some long ago white team captain (in her case) or perhaps gray team song leader (in my case) had a connection to those schools.

Years later, when my mother became sick too soon, she used to sing camp songs to herself to help her get through the long and sometimes painful cancer treatments. At her funeral, the pallbearers carried out her casket as the organ played the tune of her "Becky Queen of the White Team" song, which was actually the show tune "Hello My Baby." That may sound bizarre to some but that is what she had requested. She knew that even on that saddest of days that a camp song would lift the spirits of everyone present. In some strange way, it did.

I've carried on the tradition of singing camps songs in my own little family having rocked my own daughter to sleep when she was a baby to some of my own favorite camp songs set to the tune of "The House at Pooh Corner" and "The Circle Game." To alleviate her fears during her 5-year-old booster shots at the pediatrician's office, we sang the funny camp song together - the one about "tall girls and short girls" and packing your bags to go away to "where the breezes blow" and so to "where you swim and row." The nurse must have thought we were nuts, but my daughter felt better, and so did I.

For my daughter and me, the right camp song has always helped to pass the time during a long car ride, to calm our nerves when the plane ride is too bumpy for our liking or to just lift our spirits when we are sad.

We were both beyond excited this past spring when the CD arrived from my now 9-year-old daughter's all girls camp in New England with recordings of what seemed to be her own camp's "Greatest Hits." It reminded me of my camp's song meet cassette tape which came to my childhood mailbox every holiday season without fail. My daughter popped the CD into my computer listening intently and studying the words to her own camp songs with such pride. She was amazed that her camp also had a song set to the tune of Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game." She quickly recognized the "We Welcome You" song from my many years of camp song tutelage and so too "Taps" (which they played and apparently still do every night before bed) and "Father Abraham" (which we used to sing while hiking on a long trail.)

In the months leading up to my daughter's departure for camp, we've been singing - a lot. I tried to explain to her how at camp you really sing about everything, whether in the dining hall, by the campfire or during color war. Singing those camp songs is such a big part of the camp experience, and I assured her that if she were ever homesick during her first summer away, singing songs with the other girls would surely lift her spirits.

Then just last week, the night before she left for her first summer away we sang a couple of her favorite tunes together as I kissed her goodnight and felt her nervous and excited energy. The next morning she gave me a big tight hug and hopped on the camp bus looking so grown up and remarkably like a seasoned camper. I cried behind my oversized sunglasses.

I cried for the obvious reasons: I would miss my daughter a lot, and I was nervous for her and her first summer away from home. But I also cried for the not so obvious reasons - or at least not so obvious to the other parents in the parking lot. I cried for the passage of time, for this little girl, now camper that my mother would never know.

Later that afternoon, I went for a long run to clear my head. I left my iPod back at home choosing instead to create my own soundtrack. I kept my run in stride by singing my most favorite camp songs to myself. I thought of my mother and how proud she would have been of this new little camper in our family. And of course I thought of that little camper. I imagined her meeting new friends, adjusting to camp life, and of course singing camp songs. I felt better.

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