Meredith “Mocha” Monke is a senior at Westmont College and a three-year veteran GAC counselor. Because her parents (Audrey “Sunshine” and Steve “Monkey” Monke) are the camp owners/directors, Meredith spent all of her childhood summers as a camper. She wrote about her own “grit growing” experiences as a child for a recent creative writing assignment.
By Meredith Monke
I think if I hadn’t grown up at camp I wouldn’t be an outdoorsy person. But camp is where I feel free—breathing fresh air, being myself. There was this little nook between a big rock and a Jeffrey Pine tree on the hill beside the Dining Porch where my sisters and I would play after dinner. Little bark flakes would scatter on the dirt and if you cut one in half, it made a sort of auburn chalk which we’d use to scribble on the rock. Sometimes we’d sit on the rock and just watch the people go by, pretending that they couldn’t see us up on the hill, hiding amongst the trees.
One day my older sister, Gretchen, asked me if I wanted to go sailing with her out on the lake. During camp season, activities run all the time, and sometimes we’d just pop by and join. I wanted to be like her, and I wanted her to think I was cool and adventurous and brave, so I agreed, even though my stomach was flip-flopping just thinking about setting foot in a tippy boat with no one but my sister.
There were a few different kinds of boats, bigger ones in which to fit lots of littler campers and smaller ones for campers to ride in on their own. One time I had gone in the bigger boat with all the “scared” campers and the boat had capsized. A great way to thoroughly convince a bunch of scared kids to be even more scared of sailing! But Gretchen and I were just extra tagalong people that day, and the sailing staff was busy, and Gretchen was confident. I begged to take a bathtub boat and Gretchen looked at me, seeming to say, Seriously? We called them “bathtub boats” because they resembled bathtubs, deep and exactly opposite of what one would call “sleek.” But my favorite thing about these blessed boats was their smooth, slow and steady speed and their unwillingness to capsize, even with the most inept driver. I thought they were a beautiful invention, but my sister wondered what the point of sailing was if all I did was venture in a bathtub boat.
Despite her desire to sail in a faster boat, she accommodated me. Mixed in with jabs about my love of slow speeds were giggles, moments of pretending to be mermaids, and hair blowing in the wind. We hardly made it anywhere in that boat. She steered, and I pulled in (to speed up) and let out (to slow down) the sail. Of course, I was more focused on letting out the sail.
A few years later I was back at the sailing dock with my cabin mates—my peers. They were pairing everyone off to go in smaller boats, but this time, the faster ones. We hopped in a boat, and unlike past sailing experiences, I was put in charge of steering. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, accustomed to my brave big sister taking charge. I squinted my eyes to focus on a rock across the lake, finding a spot at which to aim the boat. We swerved, the waves rocked the boat, and my heart dropped like I was on a roller coaster. I pushed the tiller one way, and the boat would swerve the other way. Then the boat would be straight until some waves decided to angle us in a different direction.
We sailed farther out into the lake than I’d been before, and I saw the sun’s white reflection on the blue lake. I felt the breeze on my sunburnt face. My toes rested in the pile of water in the base of our boat. I chatted and laughed with my friend in the boat. I was free. That’s when I realized that things become less scary once I take the time to figure them out. When I calmed my nerves long enough to look beyond my tunnel vision of the rock across the lake, I experienced the joy of whooshing and splashing across crystal blue water.
My sister, though she teased me at the time, met me where I was in my level of comfort and sailed with me anyway in the slow bathtub boat. Now my sister and I sail together whenever we get the chance, and we cherish those moments flying across the lake. Countless other family memories have emerged over the years because of camp, and now I know to be grateful and to cherish them. They have shaped me to be who I am today.