I came home last night to a Facebook alert that an old friend had tagged me in a post. Curious, I proceeded.
"At the end of this summer, a very important place will be closing
permanently. This place played a huge role in my life as I was growing
up, and did the same for many of my friends. Friends I wouldn't have
even met without this place."
I didn't even have to click the link she provided or look at the other people she tagged. I knew who they were. I knew where she meant. The place we met many years ago: Camp Ocala, our 4-H summer camp.
From ages 8 to 18, I spent a week every summer swimming in the lake, sleeping in the cabins, playing games around the campfire, and singing the silly songs engraved on the heart of every child who attended. I learned tennis, archery, line dancing, and arts and crafts. I was hurt, humiliated, loved, lost, respected, and educated at that camp. I caught every bug possible from six- and eight-legged (Bug Camp, fun) to parasitic and viral (chiggers, lice, colds, and flu, not as fun). I made some of the greatest friends I've ever known in the dining hall, and strengthened relationships with the ones I already had over candy bars at the canteen. Two of them were guests of honor at my wedding.
And at the end of summer, it'll be all gone, for everyone, forever. No more kids cannonballing off the floating dock. No more whistles lost to the lake's depths. No more singing for our supper (and breakfast and lunch) at the top of our lungs in front of the dining hall to be granted the privilege of eating first. No more first loves on the dance floor for Wednesday night's dance. No more Thursday night shaving cream fights in the cabins while the counselors were out having theirs, even when we weren't supposed to (everyone knew the good counselors-in-training smuggled in their own shaving cream.)
I remember the layout of that camp better than I remember some of my own houses or apartments. Many of the people and the places have inspired my own writing. I wouldn't trade a single memory for anything, not even the bad ones. I sincerely hope the 4-H can find another place for a camp so other children can experience what so many of us did, feel the same love and inspiration I did for many years to come, but wherever they go, it won't be Camp Ocala. It's closing its doors, and it's taking a part of my heart with it.