Long Ago Lessons Learned

I can’t remember her name, it’s been too many years. She was one of the camp leaders at the Oglebay Park summer day camp that I attended with my siblings.

This particular camp leader was in charge of our group of girls when were pre-teens. We thought she was pretty cool for someone old enough to be in college. She didn’t try to be our friend or big sister. She was our mentor.

She was sneaky, too. When we would start the long walk from the Children’s Center to the swimming pool, she would promise that the train would catch up with us and we could hop a ride. The train never came and we developed strong, lovely legs that served us well running bases during softball games.

We never had official exercise time because we were too busy swimming laps in the pool or walking several miles of wooded trails down to the waterfall. Our arms became stronger each year when we learned to crank out ice cream from some gadget that required manpower – not electricity – to reward us with the frozen, sweet treat.

We ate lunches packed by our moms that morning and we never tired of peanut butter and jelly. It was sitting in the grass at lunchtime that another camper taught me to enjoy pretzels smeared with yellow mustard.

One of our favorite activities was target shooting with BB rifles. I can’t remember even one time when a kid goofed off during target practice. It was a big deal to be offered such a serious adventure. We listened intently to our instructions about handling a gun and we learned quickly that while it a right to own a gun, that right comes with plenty of responsibilities.

On those really sweltering afternoons when even the flies quit buzzing about, our leader sometimes chose a less stressful activity for us. We would climb the steps of the “story tower” which was actually an old silo left over from Oglebay’s early farm days. We would rest within the cool walls as our leader read us stories to fill our imaginations or we swapped ghost stories that gave us shivers.

Sometimes the stories would spur conversations about our own dreams for the future which often included our wild ideas of meeting the Beatles or becoming fashion models.

Nearly 50 years after those summer camp days, I can still hear fellow campers Lynn and Chris reciting Carl Sandburg’s poem we learned one hot summer day: “The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.” We have all moved on, yet the things we learned by playing outside, exploring nature and listening to one another on our journey through childhood remain. The best educators are those who teach us to think and laugh and dance to the beat of our own drums while reciting a gentle poem about fog.

Heather Ziegler can be reached at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.