1968 not only brought us to America, Bayridge, Brooklyn and a new church with so many new friends, but now my Dad had another new responsibility, maintaining our church camp, called Camp Challenge. Camp Challenge had been a part of Salem as the mother church and all the sister churches along the way, either in Long Island or Staten Island. Salem took a piece of land in Greenville, NY and made it a memory and a legacy for years of family’s to remember. Camp began every year after school was out in NY. It had 3 parts, teen camp, for everyone over 13, camp challenge for every kid who needed somewhere to go in the summer, and family camp, for every kid and their parents, I hated that one. In family camp you couldn’t get away with anything. The rules were your parents rules. There were activities for us, but you knew your dad was just around the bend, and if you got in trouble the entire camp would know it first. As a pastors daughter I couldn’t sneak around and it’s probably why I rebelled at an older age because my life was so enclosed at such a young age.
Since we had just moved to Brooklyn and it was a new beginning, we didn’t spend the entire summer at Camp Challenge in 1968. My very first memory was driving that long distance from Brooklyn, to Greenville, NY. Greenville was considered upstate New York but not upstate enough. It was a long drive, but not hours. As we were driving that first year I got extremely sick, I had a fever and remembering lying in my mums lap feeling like if we don’t stop driving and get me to a bad I’m going to puke. We finally made it and I clearly remember one elder and his family all meeting us at the door of their cabin, my dad carrying me in the door and every gaze was upon me, I looked at everyone and thought, “am I dying?” No I was just sick and everybody wanted to make sure the new pastors daughter was going to be comfortable. That was my first memory.
At this point we were being introduced to family camp, the kids with their parents, and every teen avoided this one. After camp and teen camp, the teens would stay and work, whether the kitchen or counseling. I lived and breathed wanting to be a teen in 1968. I followed Ronnie, Joan, and Sandy everywhere. That was the year of rebellion in the world but every teen that worked and attended camp was perfect to me, I was in awe wanting to be one of them. Wanting their clothing, beads, fringed vests, striped bell bottoms, their sense of being, I stared at them as if I was watching movie stars, it was a girls dream. I remember going to the girls teen cabin every day and I made sure I would visit when they were getting ready for the guys. They would be washing their hair with baby shampoo, putting V05 gel in it before the curlers were attached, after the curlers came off the teasing started to begin with the comb and up came the hair looking like a bee hive. Not every teen had a bee hive, in 1968 the hair was more free and long, but a few stragglers still wanted a lot of hair high. I remember just walking in as an 8-year-old and not thinking to ask if I could come in, just walked in, made myself comfortable on the floor, listen to all the conversations, watch the excitement and listen to the music. One year later, 1969, our camp was the gossip to listen to. Supposedly all teens in teams were going to escape for a 3 Day Festival which was now considered a “free festival” in Woodstock, NY. The cow pasture was only an hour or so away and from all the secretive talk it became a serious consideration. Remember that this was a Christian church camp. The pros and cons were all whispered loudly, especially when “little” ears were listening. As good Christian teens that they were, they decided against it, probably because they would have gotten caught, expelled from Camp altogether, their parents would have cried for days, and worst but not least, my Dad would of found out before it was attempted, no one wants to be made an example in front of a Norwegian/Scandinavian congregation. The plans were just something they could tell their grand kids years later.
Every morning at 7 am Eric, our crazed leader for the girls and boys barracks, would wake us up by banging on an aged, well dented garbage can lid. I think it was pulled out of the garbage heap years ago, the stories behind it were probably priceless. Yet Eric could wake the dead with that top, using a heavy ladle he hit the boys bunks first then the girls. “BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG” Eric then spoke loudly, “OUT OF BED, calisthenics in 5 min on the front lawn; COME ON LORI, BARB, GET THE COVERS OFF YOUR HEADS NOW! BANG, BANG, BANG. Come on NOW!” We all whined and complained, yet every time that happened Eric just banged that garbage top louder and didn’t budge until we did. “Okay Eric, we’re up, can we use the bathroom?!” the brazen girls would ask, I would just shut up so I wouldn’t be written up. “You can shower later pee now, LETS GO!” he would say louder. All the time Eric was getting us up, that wonderful man never lost his smile, sense of humor, because he was doing was his job, keeping us “Tweens” in line.
The things I never experienced while traveling in our Dodge Van and living in England, was not only Camp Challenge, but 1968 gave me my first love, Bobby..yummy, it was love at first sight for an 8 and 9 year old. At 7 am while Eric was drilling us during calisthenics, is when Bobby and our eyes met. It wasn’t like he didn’t know who I was, everyone knew that Salem had a new Pastor and 3 young girls, yet it was infatuation at first sight.
Whether you were a teen, tween or somewhere inbetween, no boy or girl could be alone with each other. So after calisthenics, making our beds, our morning devotions, having breakfast, and many other things crammed into each morning and early afternoon, we had free time. Most of us would swim, or just goof around, we goofed around behind the “barn”. Now mind you, the barn was always used for arts and crafts inside and at night we would have our camp meetings, but it was somewhat “hallowed ground”. Now what things could an 8 and 9 year old do behind the red barn? Pure innocent, nothing…well little kid kissing, hugging, holding hands, cute kid stuff, but I was thought this was love. We would go behind the barn every day for a whole 2 weeks, until..we were found out by “little rats that tattle tailed”. I was in tears, I’m not sure if it was because I was going to be sat down by my dad and be given a lecture, or if I was scared that everyone would be talking about us. All I remember was that Bobby was never the same after that. Was it because our parents were notified of our inappropriate behavior or being made fun of by the whole camp, I’d say the camp.
I was devastated, I lost my first love, the kind of love you can still remember over 40 years later. In my own way I got over it but I still remember crying my heart out sitting behind the red barn by myself.
Today Camp Challenge brings back more memories than my mind can retain. It was my life for more than a month every year until I was 14. The friends there are forever. I guess you can say I was a camp geek, like all of us. The cool geeks, the nerd geeks, and then me, the inbetween geek. I’ll never forget my days, nights, art & crafts, taking bus trips to the caverns in upstate NY, everything. Camp Challenge is forever…