I’ve been wrestling with what to say about this. How to put the swirling emotions that reside in my chest down on paper. How do I say goodbye to a cornerstone of my identity? A place I have held so close to my heart for 21 years?
Honestly, as I sit here and write this I find it hard to not transcribe the lyrics to the multitude of songs that came with closing circle and saying goodbye to camp each summer. I have a newfound understanding of the campers I stood beside during the numbers burning - an understanding of the weight of that goodbye which I never truly felt before.
Southwoods was my second home in every sense of the word. There was no world where that moment would signify my last time on the baseball field.
Part of me is in denial. That come June I will still pack my car up, shuttle all my Southwoods shirts, my crazycreek, and my blue blanket that must be under the comforter up to paradox lake for two months of the Southwoods way.
But the other part of me knows it's time. This other part of me lived last summer and talked with my mother where we both said the same thing repeatedly. It's time. I’m tired.
I find myself so confused at how time has progressed so quickly. How I became one of those counselors or group leaders I Idolized as a child. I have the privilege of having some of these people in my life still - getting glimpses of their lives through social media or reunions that remind me how lucky I am to know them and how much they taught me.
And I find myself wondering, is that the impact I left on the children who were under me. I marvel at how much those little squirts impacted as well as how much they taught me. Often I laugh (and sometimes roll my eyes) over stories of them and remember how while it was never easy they, just like the remodels from my day, made me who I am.
Camp made me who I am.
Some people won’t understand this, but it almost feels like I’m losing a sibling. Mom and Dad created Southwoods years before I was born, reshaping that once girl scout camp into a haven for children and young adults from all over the world. There has never been a time in my life where I wasn’t “the owner’s/director’s daughter.” Which is a title that has rotated in and out of favor.
But more than anything, one of the reasons my cheeks can’t seem to stay dry any time I attempt to write this is because it is the final nail in the metaphorical coffin. It almost feels as though my final tie to my father’s legacy is being cut.
My father is Southwoods. He was everywhere I looked when I was there. His memory clung to every court, cabin, and smile that was shared. It is in part why camp was so hard but so rewarding last summer – and knowing it is no longer mine anymore almost feels as though I am losing him all over again.
Maybe it is a little dramatic – but it’s true. There were times in my life when it felt like being a parent to Southwoods trumped being a parent to me. Now as an adult I know that wasn’t the case, but as a child it was hard not to feel that way when camp would steal away my father for five months out of the year.
There were moments I knew he wished he could have been around for, to see in person– like moving me into college my freshman year – that he had to miss because of camp. Being totally transparent I resented the profession for it. Never him, but the fact that this career stood in the place of memories we should have gotten to share together. Stolen moments that were promised to come later in life that we will never get because instead of Southwoods taking his time from me, cancer did.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful or diminish the intense love I have for the oasis on Paradox Lake. There has never been a place I felt like I could be myself more than Southwoods. Where I was allowed to pursue my passions and make friends and just be silly. Tell me somewhere else I would be encouraged to lead dance parties while waiting for meals and sing about tiny salmon and burritos? Tell me in what other setting a child will write you a three-page letter at the end of your time together about how much you meant to them and how much you made them feel safe and cared for.
The answer is you can’t. Southwoods is one of a kind.
I have complete faith in the individuals at the helm to pioneer this new age of Southwoods experiences. While it isn’t my Southwoods anymore, I know it will continue to be a summer camp for other little boys and girls for years to come. I may no longer be the owners/directors daughter, but that doesn't mean the memories I have from this place have to go away.
I don’t know exactly what my future holds. Where I will end up and go from here – but i know I will have the lessons and memories from my summer camp days in mind and arsenal to use for success. At the end of the day, Southwoods will always feel like home to me.