THE REAL CAMP RITHUBUKKEE
July 25, 2013
My third CJJ adventure, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO SUMMER VACATION, takes place at a summer camp called Camp Rithubukkee. It’s a gorgeous place, with a crystal-blue lake and rolling green hills and tennis courts and cabins in the woods – although because it’s an academic summer camp, Charlie Joe believes that all the beauty is wasted, in support of a bad cause. At least at first. But slowly, over the course of approximately 216 pages, Charlie Joe realizes that the camp has a lot to offer, even to a slacker like him.
Which brings us back to 1972.
That was the first year I attended New England Music Camp, outside of Waterville, Maine. I was a ten-year-old pint-sized wise-ass who definitely thought I was being deposited among a bunch of orchestra nerds. Well, as it turned out, I spend five amazing summers at that nerd-filled camp, growing up, having unforgettable experiences (most of which I forget), and making friends for life. But when I walked out the gates of the camp in August 1976, that was it. I never went back.
Last weekend, for the first time in 37 years, I went back to camp. New England Music Camp. NEMC!
Driving up, my saintly wife Cathy said that she hadn’t seen me so excited since Haagen Daaz opened a store in Westport. (Which has since closed. Damn you, Westport retail real estate prices!)
Turning into the grounds was a surreal experience. When you see something that you last saw 37 years ago, it’s weird. No two ways about it. But it’s also re-assuring. Because everything was there. Everything was exactly as I remembered it. The place was unchanged.
Until I looked closer. Which is when I noticed that the place was completely re-done, modernized and different.
Ultimately, I decided it was both unchanged and completely different. The best of both worlds.
That makes sense, right?
I spent the entire weekend physically reminiscing. I visited my old cabins. I went to a recital. I saw some old friends. I canoed on the lake. There was a blackout (their first in ten years) after an intense Maine thunderstorm. I went to the mid-season banquet.
I wanted to make out with Cathy at the place I used to make out with this girl named Carolyn, but Cathy vetoed that.
On Sunday, I went to a concert at the camp’s famed Bowl-In-The-Pines, an enormous outdoor structure that’s the largest of its kind in the U.S. The musicianship was amazing. (One thing that kept running through my head was, there’s no way I was that good when I was that age.) Before the concert, they had a craft fair, where I signed some books for people who were intrigued that I’d written a story about a camp a lot like NEMC.
“Did you love the camp?” one woman asked me.
“I sure did,” I answered.
“Then how come you haven’t been back in 37 years?”
That’s a good question. Life, I guess. Life is the only answer.
But I’ll tell you one thing. It won’t be 37 more years before I go back.
The canoes are a little cramped for an 88-year-old.
NEW ENGLAND MUSIC CAMP SONG:
By the shores of Messalonskee
Queen of Belgrade’s chain
Reigns New England’s Camp of Music
Bringing fame to Maine
Stand we here, hearts o’erflowing
Full of hope for you
May we rise each day to greet you
Loyal Strong and True
CAMP RITHUBUKKEE SONG:
We gather together on the lake’s mighty shores
To make brand-new friendships, and open new doors
The summer is here now and yes, so are we
Let camp fill our hearts for all eternity.
Ah, the flagpole.
In front of the bowl with old friend Kim Wiggin, former rascally camper, now camp director!
Look closely… fourth name from bottom… Honor Musician 1975, people!
Tommy Greenwald was here! In 1972.
Another NEMC alum here, Tommy. I had the same experience you did – camper in the early 80’s, and went back last year for the first time in almost 30 years. It was a wonderful and surreal experience. I felt like I was a 12 year old and a 43 year old simultaneously. Although unlike you, I did convince my wife to give me a kiss at the “Y”.
Tommy…Evan, Lissy and I all have to go back to my parents house next summer…not sure when yet…but probably in June. We should all meet you up there!!
What a coincidence!
I had two sons who went to NEMC right around the same time you did, Tommy! Amazing.
Impossible for me to read this without a tear in my eye. Anyone who ever went to camp and loved it as much as you did, and anyone who ever sent a child to camp as I did two to NEMC, can identify with your evocation of this small slice of heaven.
My dad taught percussion at music camp from 1952 to the early 1980’s (I believe). Having grown up spending my summers there, I didn’t realize what a gift my parents gave me. I wish I had told them. I am hoping to visit soon. Smiling whenever I think of NEMC!
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