Remembering Summer Camp: Sing, Memory

Something wonderful has happened; on Facebook and Skype, at lunch in Boston, over drinks in D.C. and dinner in St. Louis and New York. After nearly 35 years, I have reconnected with my friends from Camp Wicosuta.

It may have taken me 35 years to find my friends, but I never lost my connection to Wico. The memories kept Camp alive for me, and the songs fueled the memories. I often can’t recall where the Sprint bill is, but I can still remember nearly every word of every song from Camp. When things were getting serious between us in the mid-1980s, I told my husband I wouldn’t marry him until he could sing every song from every bunk at Camp. What a wonderful sport he was, sitting around my New York City studio apartment singing:

“We are from Totem, oh what a bunk! We got the spirit- we got the spunk. We don’t cooperate, that’s how we operate, we are from Totem bu-nnnnk!”

At Camp we sang constantly. At meals in the dining hall, around the Old Pine at campfire, and in the van on the way to the Dairy Barn for ice cream. Songs were part of the fabric of summer, like Saturday night socials with the boys from Tomahawk, our brother camp, Parents’ Visiting Day, or Color War.

There were serious songs, like:

“Peace will come in a circular motion uniting all the countries as we did today…” which we sang at our Olympics. Battle songs of the Go! Fight! Win! variety, and silly, affectionate “Kings and Queens and Bishops too, wanna wish the best to you, so wish day, wash day, whaddya say birthday, Happy Birthday, to you!”

Every evening we sang “Taps” before retiring to our cabins; every camper and every counselor, standing in one giant circle, arms crossed, holding the hands of the girl next to her swaying, and singing, “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes from the hills from the stars…”

Every bunk had its own song. Zuni, the second oldest bunk, celebrated its zany personality with a song I can still recite 35 years after my last summer at Wicosuta:

“We are from the looney Zuni zoo, all joined together campers old and new. We’ll be friends, everlasting true. Everlasting friendships Zuni zoo!””

Who wrote these songs? When were they written? Anna Rothman founded Wicosuta, a Native American word meaning strength of mind and body in 1920, with the goal of getting girls away from their studies and out into the summer air of the country.

Did she write these songs? Was she the one who established the practice of singing the song, not just of your current bunk, but that of every bunk you had ever been in, and yelling, Yea 1972! at the end of it, honoring the year you were in that bunk, as I did every time the Casco song was sung?

While most Camp songs were traditional, Color War presented the opportunity to write lyrics for our own songs. The entire Camp was divided into two teams, Tashmoo and Mohawk. The final Color War competition on the last night of camp was the frosting on our cupcake; The Sing.

With the exception of the traditional team creeds, we created all of the songs, which were written by the oldest girls and set to music from popular pop and Broadway tunes. I was captain of The Tashmoo Team my senior Totem year. I loved writing the songs almost as much as I enjoyed singing them. The evening of The Sing, the entire team, half the camp, lined up nervously in rows in front of the judges. Leslie, who had the best voice, gave us our key. Then we sang. Our Farewell song was written to the tune of Rita Coolidge’s “We’re All Alone”:

“Summer’s coming to an end, and we have learned thus far, that time cannot stand still. Look around, live it now, for soon, it all will be the past.”

Last May, when my husband and I were in New York, Leslie, Donna, Abby and I met for dinner. We enjoyed a leisurely meal catching up on one another’s lives; Leslie is now a music executive, Donna, an art director, and Abby a trial lawyer. It was all very sophisticated, until the singing started. There we were, four fancy ladies in our late 40s, transformed back into 15-year-old Wico girls contemplating our final summer at Camp:”…as our last year, as campers fade away, deep in our memories you will stay. Wico we pledge thee we’ll ne’er forget thee to eternity!”

An artist who specializes in the portraiture of teddy bears, Beth Herman is the author and illustrator of two children’s books: You, Me, and Mr. Moopoo Makes Three and Mr. Moopoo in the Kitchen. Both are available on Amazon.

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