Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I hope and trust you all had a festive and patriotic Fourth, and that you didn’t have to pay for it too badly when you woke up yesterday morning.

For myself, Ol’ Robbo had to roll out of bed at Oh-dark-thirty in order to get on the road first thing to fetch Youngest Gel from Summah Camp. (It’s about a three hour drive from Port Swiller Manor and I have always had a morbid fear and hatred of possibly being late for all the closing awards ceremonies and whatnot.  Punctuality is one of my neurotic obsessions.)  What with very light traffic yesterday, however, I wound up getting there wicked early, but there’s no harm in that.

As regular friends of the decanter know, this camp has been an annual ritual for the Family Robbo for quite a long time.  This was Youngest’s tenth year as a camper and our twelfth year there overall.  It occurred to me that for all I’ve talked about it here, I don’t believe I’ve ever employed visual aids before.  Since I happened to have my phone with me, a couple of illustrations.

First the lake.  (Clicky to enlarge.)

This is Lake Quemahoning (sensibly shortened to “the Que”)  up in the Laurel Highlands of Southwest Pennsylvania. The camp is on a little promontory on the northwest side, and the lake curves on out of view to the right.  Back to the left, it goes on for quite a way.  

Then the cabins.

Two-story wooden affairs with indoor plumbing and electricity but only screen windows.  (Frankly, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in one of those things when one of the many, many thunderstorms that seem to cook up right over the lake itself strikes.)  This is the girls’ side.  The boys’ cabins are on the other side of camp and don’t have as nice a view of the lake, I believe.

For the rest of it, there’s a big, screened dining hall, a covered basketball court cum assembly area with rafters full of barn swallows, a few admin buildings, and a campus covered with sports fields, a pool, zip-lines and ropes courses, and such.  The lake is heavily employed for various water sports, and the kids also do field trips out into the surrounding countryside for rock-climbing, caving, white-water rafting, and the like.

Three things about the place make it almost unique these days.  First, it is unabashedly Christian in every single aspect of its program. Second, no electronics – the only communication with the outside world is through cards and letters.  Third, it takes campers all the way up through the summer after their high school graduation.

As a rising senior, Youngest technically could camp for one more year.  But as we drove away yesterday, she said, “I’m done.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because we had such a good time this term and so many of my cabin mates aren’t coming back that I don’t want to ruin the memory.  I’d feel too old and out of place if I got put in a cabin with younger girls next year.  It just wouldn’t be the same.”

I had sensed something like this was coming.  It had been pretty obvious to me, when we went to their final cabin meeting, that a lot of the girls (including the two counselors) had been crying, and the whole atmosphere was heavy with a distinct end-of-an-era feel.  It’s terribly bittersweet, and given the intimacy of the group (a dozen gels who’d all been together last year and most of whom had been there for many years previously as well), as intense or even more so in its way than, say, leaving high school.  Ol’ Robbo found himself getting a bit misty-eyed in sympathy.

For all that, I’m pretty sure she made the right call.

The good news is that we may not be campers there anymore, we haven’t yet severed our connections with the place.  Ol’ Robbo will be driving Youngest back in August when she will be doing a term on the kitchen crew.  (No way am I going to let her drive up into the Alleghanies all by herself.  No. Way.)  Further, she and some of her cabin mates are talking about coordinating a term on the crew next summah.  Indeed, she’s even begun talking again about possibly returning as a counselor (as has Middle Gel).

So I certainly haven’t seen the last of the place yet, which is fine by me since, despite my gentle ragging over the years, I really, really like it.  And is it too early to start daydreaming about some day down the road maybe seeing grandchildren there?