A Family Legacy: 113 Years of Summer Camp in Maine
November 26, 2019, by Jake
A Family Legacy: 113 Years of Summer Camp in Maine
November 26, 2019, by Jake

By Liz N, MCE Alumna and Current Camp Parent

As I have evolved from a daughter into a mother and experienced the loss of my grandparents and my own mother, I have thought increasingly about individual and family legacies – the values, traditions and even objects that become akin to a family’s DNA.  I am extremely grateful to the 3 generations of women before me who firmly established summer camp in Maine as a part of childhood in my family.  And I am so grateful that next summer, both my son and daughter will continue that legacy and be the fifth generation, representing 113 years, of Maine campers in my family.

I knew the songs and stories of camp long before I ever set foot on the actual grounds.  I am told that as a baby I was rocked to sleep to the songs that years later I would sing by a lakeside bonfire at sunset.  And I knew the story of my mother’s “Great Aunt Lucy” who founded my camp just after the turn of the 20th century in an effort to provide girls with the same summer opportunities as boys.  My Nana, Mother and Aunt all attended what I now think of as “our camp” and my Mom literally was giddy with excitement at the prospect of me, and then eventually my daughter, sharing in what she considered one of the highlights of her childhood.  Lucy surely was not thinking of me or my daughter specifically when she founded the special place that became our camp, but she nevertheless gave us one of the greatest gifts imaginable.

I attended our Maine Camp Experience camp between the ages of nine and fourteen.  My memories of camp include the voices and laughs of friends, the feel of the bottom of a sailboat on my bare feet, Congo bars, free swim in the lake, clay tennis courts, hot chocolate on cool mornings, blue/white wars, learning to pitch a softball, the smell of the riflery range, planning late-night raids, the Top Gun era Tom Cruise poster that hung beside my bed, and watching thunder storms roll across the lake from the safety of the boathouse.  In addition to these memories, a few of my most vivid experiential memories are of times when I was pushed out of my comfort zone.  I remember summiting Mt. Katahdin in a rain storm – the slippery rocks, the rain sharply pelting my face, my cold hands, and the realization that I actually could get hurt if I did not focus and push on.  I also remember portaging a white-water canoe, which in my memory weighed several tons, and all of our gear over nearly a mile of uneven terrain as part of a 3-day white water canoeing trip.  I remember the ache in my shoulder from the weight of the canoe and the feeling of utter exhaustion throughout my body as I counted my steps to distract myself.  These “uncomfortable” memories undoubtedly are imprinted in my mind because I persevered.  I summited Katahdin; I reached our campsite.  I was developing Maine grit and I was wicked proud!

The legacy of summer camp in Maine is about friendship, the beauty of the Maine outdoors, the delicious taste of well-earned food, the excitement of waking up to each new day full of favorite activities and friends,  and it is about experiences and lessons that build grit, self-esteem and  lasting character.  In anticipation of attending her second year of camp last summer, my daughter was somewhat fixated on her one concern that she would again be in a bottom bunk next to a window, because the noises of the outside often startled her awake.  I made the mistake of telling her that while there were no guarantees, the odds were relatively low that she would have the exact same placement as the previous summer.  But, sure enough, we arrived in her cabin and there was her assigned bunk – bottom, next to a window.  My stomach clenched with a bit of “I can’t fix this!” anxiety but then I looked at her, being greeted by all of her friends from the previous summer as though no time at all had passed, and I thought “this is camp, where kids learn the life lessons of independently navigating both joys and disappointments.”  I caught her eye and made a motion to the bed and she just shrugged her shoulders and continued chatting happily and loudly with her friends.  Her first letter home detailed why the bed wasn’t so bad after all because “I’m so tired at night I really don’t wake up this year and I have more space for my shoes because I probably brought too many.”  In a soft and gentle way, camp was teaching her the great life lesson that disappointments are inevitable, it’s how you respond to them that makes all the difference.

Both Maine and camp are a part of my heart and soul.  It is perhaps no coincidence that I ended up failing in love with and marrying a man from Maine, thereby further solidifying the great state as a place we consider home.  My daughter will attend her third year of our camp next summer and my 8-year-old son will attend his first year of a wonderful Maine boys’ camp and begin his own version of the family legacy.  I don’t know what exactly my kids’ most salient memories of their time at their respective Maine camps will be.  But I would be willing to bet that my memories and theirs will share more similarities than differences, and that the life lessons we take away will be pretty much the same.   And for this, I am eternally grateful.

Maine Camp Experience Resources & Tools

You can share your own Maine camps memories & expressions of gratitudeon our Memories of Camp section of our website.

Looking for the perfect Maine camp for your child?  Try out our helpful tool where you can select a camp by choosing: type of camp (girls, boys or coed) and session length (1-8 weeks).  It helps to narrow down a few camps to a manageable list that includes rates.  Then you can research these camps in more depth.  

Next, be sure to contact our Maine Camp Guide, Laurie to discuss these camps as well as for free, year-round advice and assistance on choosing a great Maine summer camp for your child.

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“I greatly enjoyed speaking with Laurie (Guide at Maine Camp Experience). Thanks to her guidance, ideas and suggestions we truly feel that our ultimate choice is the right one for us. We can trust that our seven year old daughter will have a wonderful summer!”

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