For ten weeks during the summer of 1989, I lived and breathed 4-H Camp as a staff member. The summer ended abruptly with the news of my mother’s fatal car accident. I was coming home the next day. I was in shock, and I left my fellow staffers and my summer home a different person.
Today, I traveled back to Millstone 4-H Camp for a staff reunion. Uncertain of what I would find, I drove over 2 hours to arrive in the Sandhills of North Carolina. Stepping out of the car, the smell of fallen pine needles and the sound of the wind blowing through the pine trees, transported me back 27 years.
Weather-worn buildings appeared exactly the same, except for the addition of air conditioning in the cabins, staff house and dining hall kitchen. No longer do the cooks have to fight squirrels and possums through the screened windows that have have been replaced with energy -efficient double panes.
In the oldest running camp of North Carolina, an interactive history of 4-H is memorialized in the new learning center and museum. Complete with auditorium and a 6 foot tall stained-glass window, I silently padded through the space which represents my three generations of pledging “My head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living”..
As I walked through the sandy camp, I reflected on how would my life be different if…and then I saw the barn where I kept a sheep and a goat that summer so that I could teach campers about farm animals. I thought, “did I feed them everyday?” Well, I must have because they were healthy when Daddy and Mama came to pick them up the week prior to my departure at the end of camp.
Most of my memories from that summer are of the barn area and less of the lake. My photo album from that summer is filled with pictures of my fellow staffers in the Recreation Hall, of skits and singing silly camp songs.
And then I saw it, a wooden “Millstone 89” sign and our names. I didn’t cry, but I gingerly touched the board and my own name.
Seeing the names of those whom I called my family for that summer, I could hear their laughter in the silent hallway. I walked to my old room, empty, yet the same.
After stopping for a quick potty break, I headed back to the lake where children of former staffers splashed in the lake, paddled canoes and boards. The old path to the dam is not accessible, and the rifle range is now a public range managed by the wildlife commission. The swinging bridge was removed a few years ago after it was deemed unsafe. The lake seems smaller now or maybe I’m just older.
Time marches on, and for a moment I was a teenager again. As I dangled my feet in the water, a former staffer’s daughter lost her paddle board. So, I donned a life jacket and paddled a canoe to help retrieve it. Just like riding a bike, some skills come back quickly. As I stepped into that warm lake water, the icky-muck of the lake bottom squished on my toes. But a few minutes later, I glided easily through the water and retrieved a wayward board. I marveled at the water and at how I’ve turned out ok.
Mr. L.R. Harrill was right, we do leave Millstone 4-H Camp different people. I am better for the experiences. Even though I only saw two people who vaguely remembered me, those ten weeks from 1989 are forever part of who I am today.