Oh, I was born one night, one morn
When the whistle went toot toot — toot toot!
You can bake a steak or fry a cake
When the mud pies are in bloom.
Does six times six make nine?
Does ice grow on a vine?
And so goes the silly nonsense song that we Rockbrook campers sung with glee each summer up in the mountains of Brevard, North Carolina. The month of July, for many of us, is the time of year that conjures up dearly cherished memories of those wonderful camp days. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the cut grass on a cool morning as the bell for the Rockbrook assembly rings after breakfast.
My first camp experience was a week-long Girl Scout session not far from my home. That was simply not long enough nor far enough away in my estimation of what camp should be. The next year, at the advanced age of 10, I boarded the second plane in my life to head to a month-long session at Rockbrook.
Camp exceeded all my expectations … except for my counselor who was in her late 40s, which is old to a camper; was exceedingly strict; and required that we attend swimming in that freezing lake every day since she was head of the swimming program. When the session was over, I tried to muster excitement when my parents came to pick me up. As I smiled and hugged my mom, she said, “Emily, um, your teeth. Did you brush them?” I shook my head as I explained, “I tried to find my toothbrush a couple of times and then just figured you forgot to pack it.” I smiled again. Her eyes widened as she said, “But you’ve been here a month.”
The next year, one of my first activities was riflery, which I had fallen in love with the previous summer. As before, the counselors recited all the safety rules, and I found myself once again intrigued with rule number four: alcohol and ammunition don’t mix. I could only imagine what fabulous reaction might occur! With my curiosity bubbling over, I convinced fellow mischief makers Lisa Holt and Bobo Caldwell to copy me in slipping some .22 rifle bullets in our pockets.
We scurried back to our cabin and tore through our trunks looking for the bottle of rubbing alcohol each of our dutiful mothers packed for scratches and such. After we pooled all three bottles into a bowl, we took it outside. Lisa donated her mattress that we propped up about 5 feet from the alcohol for our protection. After pitching the bullets one at a time into the bowl, we cowered behind the mattress waiting for some fantastic explosion. Our disappointment when nothing happened was only eclipsed by the arguing that followed over who was going to retrieve the bullets from the alcohol bowl as we were secretly afraid there still might be an explosion.
Year after year, I awaited camp to hang out with Lisa and Bobo. After a few years, I starting meeting friends who were from my future hometown, Columbia! Frances Kitchens Mills and Lucy Barr James were welcome additions to our bandits of badness. The first year Frances came to Rockbrook, our counselor was Frannie Barr, another Columbian. My shared passion with Frances was canoeing. Daily, we ran down the rocky roads at breakneck speeds after breakfast to be the first in line to claim our favorite canoe. Our greatest claim to fame was being selected to canoe the Nantahala, the end-of-session prized trip, as the only campers without a counselor in our canoe. My, we were proud!
Then there was the blessed occasion when Rockbrook invited Camp Carolina for the end-of-session dance. Even our little gang abandoned all mischievous thoughts as we immersed ourselves in every aspect of girliness we could muster. The scent of Halston perfume wafting down the cabin lines was probably strong enough to turn our hair green, yet we felt quite beautiful as we exuberantly traipsed down to the dining hall that had been transformed with balloons and crepe paper streamers.
When the bus of boys pulled up, high-pitched squeals lasting minutes emanated from the dining hall, no doubt terrifying those poor guys. For the girls who were brave at heart, the night ended with a future treasury of candy as the favorite game was to bribe friends with the next day’s sweet snack to ask a boy to dance. Ah, the reward for such courage!
For my fellow Rockbrook campers, you might have different memories. Like eating eight servings of ice cream when the Biltmore Train made its surprise visit. For those of you whose children might be at camp right now, go ahead, break the rules, and sneak a pack of spearmint gum in your next package — or fill a puzzle box with candy. And as the nonsense song concludes, Patterisky, blow your horn, toot toot!