Besides my parents, there is one person in this whole world who had as much impact on the development of my values and on the choices I made as an adult. His name is Skip. Well, his real name is Bruce, but I've never been able to call him that. It would be too uncomfortable! He's Skip. Always and forever. Just like I am Muskie always and forever.
I'm not alone. I daresay there are quite a few people out there in "summer camp land" who wouldn't hesitate if they were asked to identify the person who impacted them the most when they were growing up besides family members. The first name to come to mind for many is Skip. After they declared that, out would tumble a whole canoe full of stories that revolve around a place that remains sacred in our hearts and memories. Alive and well these stories are! All you have to do is tickle a Kawabi kindred just the chin and BING! Out shines a story about Skip.
Some of them would begin by focusing on that sense of childhood fear of this man who generated an untouchable admiration and desire to please in many! Two thumbs up from Skip and your feet didn't touch the ground. However, the underbelly of this are the stories of when at age 13 you got caught in the middle of the night performing crazy antics when you were supposed to be sound asleep in your own bunkbed! I get shivers just remembering how it felt when 12 of us campers who had reunited after a long winter of wishing for camp again, were in the middle of taking photos of all of us on one bed........ with every single flashlight on and a loud cacophony of laughter peeling through the tent walls!
Through the sound of 12 girls humming like a crowd at a bottom of the ninth world series game 7 with the score tied and the heavy hitter up to bat...... a seriously sharp baritone would cut the air and slice through the loud din! Silence ensued immediately. For out in the dark on the path you had to take to get back to your own tent was a man who walked those same paths without a flashlight EVER in glow in the dark white tennis shoes. That's all you could see! The shoes! It was probably best not to see the stern brow on his face. You knew it was there anyways.
I've never even attempted to write a piece on this blog about Skip because I find it daunting. Not that I don't want to..... its just that so many conversations, activities, campfires, games, and interactions come to mind all at once. What underlies all of the stories I share with him are the values he lived and taught daily. Compassion, love and belonging were expressed through his actions. Like tasty sweets, they were shared with everyone who had the bloody luck to be under his wing for even one summer. Me? I had 12 joyful summers.
As a camper, I found my sense of belonging and a mentor who cared deeply for every single kid that got off that bus on the first day of camp. It was his goal always to know the names of every one of us by dinner that first day. It was his expectation of his whole staff too. If he was stumped............ he bought you a bag of "tuck."
Skip led us in song, taught us new games that opened up the whole camp property into a place of adventure. He handpicked his staff and gave them his blessing and complete trust to lead their little packs of campers through a memorable time learning how to swim, how to sail......... how to canoe....... how to shoot an arrow..... how to sing a round of Fire's burning....... how to make new friends and work as a group.
On the first night of my second year on staff, Skip wanted to talk to me. He had brought along the two female senior staff with him, so I knew right away it was serious. Much to my genuine surprise, he wanted to talk to me about my contribution as an Assistant Counsellor the summer before. Not that I had screwed up completely........ With an assertiveness but also with compassion, he told me that he was disappointed in me as he had expected more from me. He saw me as a more proactive leader than what I was showing.
I was pretty stunned by the whole encounter and couldn't understand why he had to have these two staffers with him. Until he explained that he wanted them to take me under their wing. He wanted to make sure I had the best guidance that summer so I would be ready to take on the role of Counsellor the following year. He wanted me to succeed as the Leader he believed I could be.
Needless to say, I worked my ass off that summer. If Skip thought I had it in me, and he wanted to see it shine, well dammit I was going to prove to him he was right! Though my confidence took an initial knocking, by the end of the summer I was 16 years old, I felt an even greater sense of belonging and a good feeling that I too had left an impression on the lives of my "campers."
One of the most important aspects of that "SKIP TALK" night was how it opened up our relationship to a place where he and I could talk more about so many other topics. True, there was still a sense of reverence one has for their mentor, but there was also an levelling of our interactions. Adult to adult. He put his trust me. I put my trust in him. He gave me responsibilities and guidance, and I fulfilled them as I tapped into my gifts. We learned the human side of one another. We worked together. I thrived being on his "team."
A couple of years later, Skip approached me one evening during pre-camp. He asked me if I would join him in talking to an Assistant Counsellor who needed some guidance. All of a sudden the big staff girl shoes were on my feet. It was my turn. I was the one who would follow through with this staff person and help her process the message from Skip, but also be by her side that summer. It certainly surprised me, but I was honoured to play this role. Passing on the values.......... passing on the compassion, love and belonging. Developing trust. Developing deeper interactions with one another by sharing. Growing in leaps.
Along the way, this staffer and I became lifelong friends. :) Oh, and let me add too that one of the big girl staffers who was with me the night I got my talking to? She's very much in my life still....... We all may live in different provinces, but we are in touch almost weekly. Thank you facebook! :)
Years later, after many accumulative moments of shared feelings........ I returned to camp for a 40th anniversary reunion. It had been 15 years since I had walked up the camp road towards the Lodge. This time, I was accompanied by my own family. For the first time, I was introducing them to my home away from home. A place they had heard so much about had finally become the real thing........ the sweet scent of pine needles scattered on the soft ground in the woods, the tall trees that allowed only slivers of sunlight to pierce through, the sounds of laughter, boat motors, water play........ the cool breezes.... it was all there as we got out of the car and walked up towards the buzzing of the people there for the same purpose as I was. To relive, reunite, rekindle, relight once again.
As we ambled up to the top of the small hill on the road, I saw in the distance this man whose blonde hair had a little more grey in it, wearing a golf shirt, shorts and those glow in the dark tennis shoes. He stood there waiting to greet us and I realized that I hadn't seen him since the night of my wedding reception where we danced together, Muskie and Skip.... mentee and mentor. It took every single muscle in my body not to go right into a sprint towards him. It felt like I had just completed the Amazing Race and he was standing by the finish line!
I held my composure right up until I stood in front of him. His arms went right around me like a big bear as I proclaimed..... "I'm home!"
"Good to see you again Muskie..."
Tears? Oh yeah! Both of us.... Then Skip turned his focus on my daughter whom he had never met in person before.
"You must be Martha. Welcome to Camp Kawabi. I hope you will call it home too just like your Mom does because you belong here too."