Final Night at the Soda Shop!

Illahee campers pause to reflect on the session and their friendship
Mmm mm I want to linger here…

For some reason, two week final night is more dramatic than other sessions. By dramatic, I don’t mean dramatic in a derogatory sense. It is real. Maybe it’s that my gauge is Pineview…and right after a pretty sentimental closing campfire. It sounds like a “turkey farm” outside my window…girls arm and arm, some crying softly, some sobbing…all sad to see this session come to a close.We work really hard year-round to make the details of camp disappear into the background so that the focus can be where it should be…on relationships. We had our final leadership team meeting yesterday with our summer leaders and year-round staff. This was a team that started in February with a Summit at camp where we brainstormed, got excited, and vowed to make this the best summer ever. For the record, we did. 🙂 This final meeting yesterday was bittersweet for me, and I loved spending time hearing others talk about what they admired in each other. There is a lot to admire in all Illahee girls, but this is the cream of the cream of the crop…girls willing to put everyone else’s needs above their own, and cheerfully. The discussion evolved as we reminisced about the summer, and I admitted that the day before, I had moments when I was ready to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You may remember, I wrote about that day…the power went out, and then everything seemed to groan and whine getting started again, from networks to refrigeration, to water systems. I wanted to say, “come on! Just one more week!”

But this story is about the surprise on the face of one of our summer leaders…it almost fell. Really? I could hear her think. End the summer? This of all summers?! It made me think about the value of experience…experience yes, but also desire…our desire to be the very best…our desire to take care of our counselors so that they can take care of your girls. Her comment made me smile because I realized that our efforts are not fruitless…so much so that what we do behind the scenes is often invisible and is taken for granted. Then I explained that I had spent an hour in the kitchen with my head in the oven grinding a squirrel cage fan off of the convection oven so that it could be replaced…before a thousand pizzas had to be baked for lunch the next day, and after restarting the network, and after troubleshooting a power surge from the refrigeration, and after reprogramming the water system :-)….ah, the life of a camp director. She seemed relieved that it wasn’t because I was tired of camp (never!).

I like to write, but often what I have to say is not that remarkable…but if asked (and I realize I wasn’t…but if I was), my greatest single piece of advice to anyone would be…”love the God who made you.” Shortly thereafter would be “a good night’s sleep will solve almost all of your problems, perceived or otherwise. By the time I announced my struggles of the previous day, I had a great night’s sleep under my belt, and I was ready to greet the new camp day with my usual excitement and wonder at what it would hold. A good life lesson.

Tonight’s final night theme was genius. Really. Of the thirty final night banquets I have been a part of in my ten years at Illahee, none has been orchestrated outside. There have been some pretty elaborate schemes, but they have all involved lots of painted banners stapled, lots of accessories, and lots of production. In our longer sessions, the Sparks, our oldest campers conceive our final night theme. In the August two-week session, the JCs are in charge. Tonight, they had one or two signs announcing that the theme was Rocky’s Soda Shop…a Brevard institution downtown. We had hamburgers and hotdogs outside, with Smiley fries, lemonade, and ice cream sundaes delivered by the JCs, dressed as soda jerks. It was really a pleasant evening to be outside with everyone dressed in whites for final campfire.

Our final campfire is held under the giant white pine at Dohivi Noche (final night in Italian). The campfire is kindled after the ceremony of lights by representatives chosen by their respective hills, the JCs and staff. On a personal note, it was quite special tonight that our daughter Gardner, on staff in cabin 11 for the first time after her freshman year at Wofford, was chosen by the staff to represent them. The JCs are recognized for their hard work and presented with Bibles. There are songs, the presentation of first year felt Illahee banners to serve as a keepsake over the years and to commemorate achievements, and the presentation of 10 year Illahee gold signet rings to Bess Butler from Charlottesville and Stuart Grubb from Raleigh. A representative of each hill and the staff leads each group along a winding trail through the forest, lit by luminaries to the canoe lake…where wish boats are lit and floated in a sight that is awe inspiring.

Thank you for your trust in us. It is a privilege to add your campers to our Illahee family. We hope that she returns home a little taller, a little more confident, ready to tackle the school year ahead. We look forward to the time when we can all gather again in our Heavenly World.