Camp Onanda Memories
by June Cuthbert (1966-1968 camper; 1969 CIT; 1970 Counselor)
1) Fulton Chain Lakes three-day canoe trip.
In July 1968, I was fortunate enough to be chosen to participate in the three-day canoe trip on the Fulton Chain Lakes in the Adirondacks. We camped in a lean-to on Alger Island on Fourth Lake. On the day we were paddling back to the campsite after a daytrip to the town of Inlet, we were caught in a nasty thunderstorm. A lake resident offered us shelter in her private lean-to until the storm passed. Lightning struck on the opposite shore and temporarily took out the electricity. After the storm, the lake was as smooth as glass as we paddled to the island. This canoe trip was a fantastic opportunity for me to experience the Adirondacks.
A church group was staying at another lean-to and invited us to their campfire program. I remember one of their members climbing onto the roof of their lean-to and crowing like a rooster. The other church members rolled their eyes as if to say, “This guy is a clown.”
2) CIT Sunday evening vesper service.
It was the CITs job to plan and run the Sunday evening vesper service. Our group did not like the word “sermon”, so we chose to prepare a “message”. We drew straws to determine who would read this “message”. I drew the short straw. My fellow CITs assured me that we would all write this document together and I would just read it on Sunday evening. My heart was not really into this task, but I knew I could read it if I had to do it. So I practiced reading it through twice before “show time”.
After Sunday dinner, the entire camp lined up to walk into the chapel (a really beautiful spot surrounded by trees). We were then informed that the camp director had not yet returned to camp from her day off and we could not begin without her. We CITs began to worry because the sun was setting and we had not brought flashlights (and I had not memorized the “message”). The campers did not have flashlights either.
We were finally able to begin the vesper service. We were hurrying through the program before it got completely dark. It was my turn to read the “message” and the only light I had was from the candles around the altar. I was reading, but not listening to what I was saying, when I noticed a tiny blue flame burning across the top of my paper. I was obviously leaning too close to the candle. I chuckled under my breath as I continued to read the words that had no meaning to me while I extinguished the “fire” with my fingertips. As I read, I wondered if anyone else had seen the flames, and if this evening could get any worse than it already was. Then it occurred to me that the “message” was written on both sides of the paper and the flame may have destroyed the words on the other side. I got to the bottom of the first page and noticed the sentence continued on the back. “Oh, no!”, I thought. “I don’t know what I’m talking about, so I can’t fake it. I can’t just stop in the middle of the sentence and then look for a new sentence. Or would anyone notice if I did?” Luckily, the words were still there at the top of the next page and I could mindlessly continue. I was very glad when that vesper service was finished!
Forty-six years later, while anticipating the 2015 Onanda Reunion, I found the “message”, with burn marks on the top of the paper. Even today, I do not have any idea what I had been reading!
3) After-dinner sailing lesson.
Anyone who took sailing lessons during fourth period after dinner will remember spending more time tied to the buoy, and not sailing, because there was no evening wind. On one such evening, we rowed to the sailboat and I, being in the bow of the rowboat, tied us to the buoy. As we sat in the sailboat, I noticed the rowboat drifting away from us. My knot had slipped. Without missing a beat, our sailing counselor Truesie jumped into the water and “rescued” the rowboat. She then climbed back into the sailboat and continued teaching the lesson. After class, everyone on Teen Hill probably heard her squishy footsteps as she walked to the evening campfire program.
4) Bubble party in the lake, using Ivory soap (“It floats!”).
The fun part of attending a camp with a waterfront was taking a Saturday night bath, the Bubble Party, in the lake. It was the 1960s and we were just beginning to become environmentally aware. With that in mind, we were only allowed to use Ivory soap for our Bubble Party. It was a lot of fun!
It was an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to shoot a rifle, and Onanda made it possible by offering riflery class. The counselor was certified by the N.R.A., and safety was the number one priority. I was disappointed to learn years later that the Y.W.C.A. discontinued riflery. I heard that they thought it promoted violence. To the contrary, I believe it promoted firearm safety; something that is desperately needed in today’s society.
6) Camp Food: Zebra cake; Prunes & Oatmeal for breakfast.
No memory of Onanda is complete without mentioning Zebra Cake. It was so fantastic that when my mother picked me up at the end of the camp session, I sent her to get the recipe from the cook. In the end, my mother's zebra cake did not come close to Onanda's version.
I wasn’t a fan of prunes, and they were always combined with oatmeal. A way to avoid this breakfast was to find out when prunes would be served and then plan a cabin overnight and cook our own breakfast.
7) Glen sliding at 1 a.m.
I had a memorable two weeks at camp in 1967. One night we went glen sliding at 1:00 a.m.--after night patrol went off duty! We left our cabin (Oawensa) and silently crept down the hill behind the cabin in order to reach the creek. We pointed our flashlights at the glen and had a wonderful, one-of-a-kind camp experience glen sliding in the middle of the night. We were sworn to two-months' secrecy before we could tell ANYONE about it. I think the camp director found out about it before the end of summer and said she had wished she had been invited to come along.
8) Floating snack during canoeing class.
I loved working as a counselor on the waterfront, teaching swimming, rowing, and canoeing. My favorite boating lesson was to requisition Bug Juice and cookies and treat my students to a floating snack. We would paddle onto the lake, group the boats together, and pass our treats from boat to boat, while discussing boating safety. I always wondered if someone on shore used binoculars to check on us. I hope this lesson was as magical for my campers as it was for me.
9) Weigh-ins; thinner thighs from climbing Teen Hill.
I remember camp sessions starting and ending with each of us campers being weighed by the camp nurse. I always gained a few pounds over the two weeks. I think it was because I liked camp toast for breakfast, and bread for lunch and dinner. I decided to cut out bread during my final year as a camper. I was never starving, but was happy to see that I lost a few pounds that summer rather than gaining them. I also was happy to see that the benefit of climbing Teen Hill was to sculpt my thighs. These skinny thighs didn’t last for long once I returned home.
10) Beach sleep-overs.
Cabin overnight trips off the property were not allowed during the first two days of each camp session. However, we were allowed to sleep on the beach. It was hard to get a good night’s sleep while lying on tiny stones, but it was a pleasant opportunity to watch the meteor showers and to listen to the waves lapping on the shoreline.
Memories tend to fade some as the distance from the experience lengthens. Still, it seems that memories of Camp Onanda are seared strongly in our hearts and are easily retrieved. That is the impact of Onanda.
Here you will find some of those fond and fun memories that simply can not be forgotten. It is hoped that this page will grow longer and longer as more Onandians send in a wee piece of their heart's memory.
The friendships I enjoyed with those I worked and played with through the years on staff were wonderful - keeping me buoyed and strong in what I was about. Somehow, these magical people at camp coupled with the starry nights, lapping of water, laughter of children, goofy jokes and endless music surrounded me with such loving support. It's like they reached down inside of me and found a hiding Sarah. I don't know how else to put it. And I'm quite sure they had no idea what they did for me. People understood me. They valued me.
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