Day Camp and Counselors

Day Camp
From Sue’s Reminisces:

Day Camp, aside from the food, was probably the biggest selling point of any Catskill resort. Families shared one room, but, included in the price of the room, parents had most of the day free from their own children. Day Camp ran from eight o’clock in the morning, when kids would usually arrive on their own for breakfast, until eleven am. It would start up again for lunch at noon until four, and end the day with dinner at six until whenever the main dining room finished serving dinner, usually about nine pm. Parents were free to eat, play cards or mah jong, relax, schmooze or kibbutz with their friends uninterrupted.

When I was little, I remember one summer when it seemed the overwhelming camp activity was preparing the weekly talent shows. I have an early memory of playing the part of the “wetback” in Flower Drum Song. I think the major qualification I had, aside from being the owner’s daughter, was that I had a long ponytail I wore braided down my back. That, and the fact that I could actually carry a tune, seemed to get me the gig.

My memory of how long the rehearsal schedule actually was is fuzzy, since I was only five or six at the time. It may have been only a week, but for me, Flower Drum Song seemed to take over that entire summer, and became the only thing I remember doing in day camp. I can still sing most of the Lyrics to I Enjoy Being a Girl, One hundred Million Miracles, and Sunday, Sweet Sunday. Probably every kid in the day camp that summer also knows that score. I don’t really remember much of the performance, other than the fact I was really embarrassed to be wearing my pajamas as a costume, but I imagine it was a big hit.

The camp directors usually came back for several seasons before moving on to some other bigger hotel, and seasons came and went until I became one of the camp counselors, along with some of my best friends who had been coming to the hotel since they were small. We carried on the same traditions, including the weekly talent shows. Stars were born, and I learned that aside from keeping the kids occupied, enhancing the tips was the goal.

Day Camp was much more than just the shows. Arts and crafts were a major activity. There were one hundred and one ways to use popsicle sticks. For the beginner, there was the raft, but once you got the general design concept of globs of glue and the correct placement of the supporting popsicle stick, the sky was the limit. Single jewelry boxes, double jewelry boxes, covered jewelry boxes, shallow or deep jewelry boxes, all depending on the availability of sticks and patience. Shells and glitter were a must. I wonder if any survive today?

I also remember “Plaster of Paris” ceramics. You really had to commit to the project, since it took some real time and patience. One day was devoted to just stirring the plaster and pouring it into the mold. If the weather was dry and sunny, you might luck out and get to paint the next day. Then the paint had to dry. If you could control your enthusiasm running toward your parents to deliver the object d’art without dropping it, your project was a success.

Lanyards were for the older groups. Creating the whistle and key chains required some dexterity, and could take most of the week to complete, if the counselors were lucky. I remember the diamond stitch, spiral, box, and if you were really good, the barrel. We had nails sticking our of the side of the camp house that you could hang your hook on to provide the required tension, or sometimes you’d just hook them onto a chair, or railing and happily weave those individual plastic strings into a long, unified, colorful cord. Finishing them off required special skill, and usually had to be done by one of the counselors. It was a rite of passage to get to “finish off” someone else’s lanyard.

Copper crafts would probably require a special permit from DEC today. I’m not sure what chemicals were used to “antique” the copper after you spent an hour or so rubbing it over a mold with a stick, but they were probably toxic. The solution certainly stank to high heaven, and brought tears to your eyes. There was also a great risk of slicing your finger open on the sharp edges of the copper square when you were attempting to fit the burnished relief into the white, cardboard frame. All part of the camp experience.

Now if you were more into active play, by the time I was a counselor, we had a full fledged playground, outfitted with swings, monkey bars, and the all-time favorite, the merry-go-round! I remember when that steel and wood structure was planted within the playground fence. It had to be low enough so the little kids could climb on, but at that height it became quite a hazard to anyone who may have been too slow to board, or late to commit to jumping on. If you got too close, either someone’s foot or the spinning seats would take you out! We also called it the “vomit machine.” At least once a week an overzealous pre-teen would run the merry-go-round so fast and for so long, some kid would “loose” their dinner. That would scrap the ride for the rest of the evening, which could actually be a relief for the counselors, not having to worry about further injuries for the day.

Hikes were another regularly scheduled event. We usually took one in the morning after breakfast, up the hill, past Sam’s Place. (our neighbor’s farm) The kids would complain all the way up the hill, but we’d keep them singing and at the top stop at “Rest Rock” for a story. Depending on the age of the camper we would return to the hotel, or continue up the road to the cemetery which really creeped the kids out! More stories, and by the time we got back to the hotel, it was time to deliver the exhausted tykes to their parents.

The favorite after lunch hiking destination was “Flat Rocks”. I think every kid and teen who was ever at the Brookside, must have taken the walk to “Flat Rocks.” The name was a description of the place. You had to cross the road, walk through a field and bear right toward the brook. You crossed through a thicket of brush and trees, and then emerged onto a gravel path that opened to an immense span of flat granite where the stream had etched various paths and small falls to a shallow swimming hole before it continued further down the creek bed to a giant swimming hole referred to as “32”. You would occasionally see snakes and salamanders, but they only added to the feeling that you were entering into a secreted hideaway that was full of legend and lore.

I remember a huge, red boulder that we called “Indian Rock,” and stories were told of the Indians that had lived there hundreds of years before, with one being crushed by that boulder as it rolled down the mountain. Day Campers spent a lot of time trying to spy his skeleton, and were certain they had indeed seen it on several occasions. A bit further down toward the wading area there was another boulder covered with imprints of shells which we aptly named “fossil rock.” If you crossed to the other side of the stream on the stepping stones and walked a few feet along the shore, there was a huge grapevine that had formed a natural swing. It was really scary when I was small, but we used to dare each other to swing out over the water, and it was thrilling trying to get back to shore without getting soaked.

One really hot day, I remember sliding down the rocks in the mossy paths the water cut through the rock as though it was a slip and slide, with one of my friends. It wasn’t until after the fun we realized we were covered with tiny leeches that we had to pick off one another. We limited ourselves to wading in the water after that.

I remember many visits to Flat Rocks, and even an occasional barbeque which necessitated a safari-like expedition in order to feed and supply the entire day camp. I don’t think that was repeated too often because of the Herculean effort it required. But it was enough to be in that unique paradise and simply wade in the stream. Teen guests and the staff also loved the place for make-out sessions and secret conversations. Even the adults were enchanted by the natural serenity Flat Rocks provided and would sometimes risk the poison ivy and visit the spot.

I think the property across the street was eventually sold to someone new who didn’t appreciate the foot traffic across their property and Flat Rocks was no longer a regular Brookside Camp destination. I’m sure lots of people kept sneaking there anyway.

7 Responses to “Day Camp and Counselors”

  1. Sandy (Kunkes) McGill says:

    Thanks for the memories.
    My father was a camp director around 1960, give or take a year. I remember Flat Rock well. It was one of my favorite places. I also fondly remember the hikes to the Sugar Bowl.

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