Campfire Notes

The Gift of Handwritten Letters

The Gift of Handwritten Letters

by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

Recently, I’ve been going through the many boxes of letters, photos, and memorabilia which I have collected over my first five decades. It’s been a time-consuming task, but I’m trying to organize into a smaller number of boxes what has been accumulated over the first half of my life.  What has struck me most is the huge number of letters I amassed from my childhood, high school, and college friends. Until this week, I didn’t remember how much we corresponded, but I just finished going through hundreds of letters.  I now have proof of the many friendships that were solidified over hours of writing to one another.

I mostly have the ones written to me, but I can assume from the “Thanks for your letter”s that I was writing at the same rate as my friends were. Maybe some of my letters are in a box out there somewhere?

Not only was there a huge volume of letters (see picture), some of the letters were ten pages long, with tiny writing. Others were short notes or fun greeting cards. Most of them were in beautiful, cursive writing, even some from boys!  What an amazing thing to think about. Back then, without the distractions we all have today, we had TIME to write letters like that!  Plus, we enjoyed it and were good at it!  We wrote letters, because often long distance phone calls were too expensive.  Many of us traveled and studied overseas, so the letters chronicle our trips.

The process of trying to get rid of most of this paper required that I at least skim through each one. I pulled out many that I simply can’t bear to throw away.  I found letters from my late grandparents, with their words of wisdom. I found letters my parents had written to me over the years.  I also found letters from friends showing major teen angst, which is a good reminder now that I have teens of my own. We weren’t that different back then after all! It’s just that we didn’t splash our anger and sadness at each other on Facebook. We wrote each other heartfelt notes.

One thing I realized is that my kids will not have a big box of letters like mine. They don’t write letters like we did in the pre-computer, pre-email, pre-social networking, pre-cell phone era.  But then I had a revelation! They DO still get to send and receive letters.  It’s when they’re at camp!  I have told parents how much campers enjoy getting “real” mail while at camp (the kind with a stamp), but now I have realized another benefit – they will have these letters as keepsakes and memories of their childhood. And you, as parents, most definitely should save all of the letters you get from your camper!

Among my box, I came across a postcard I sent to my parents in 1977, when I was a camper at Gold Arrow Camp. This is what it said:


My postcard home from camp, 1977.


“Dear Mommy,

I think it’s mean that you have to write a letter to get into dinner, but I’m glad to write a letter to you because I love you. It’s been raining since we got here. But we still went horseback riding. I wrote a letter to daddy this morning and sent it. Camp is so fun. I can’t wait to tell you. My counslers name is Liz. She’s nice.

Love, Audrey”

Let me tell you, we have gotten some good laughs in our house over this postcard. Not just about how I spelled “counselor,” but about my comment about the “Mail Meal” (dinners on Wednesday and Sunday that you need to have a letter or postcard home as your ticket in). The dreaded “Mail Meal” has been a camp tradition for as long as anyone can remember, but I didn’t even remember thinking it was a bad thing.  My adult view is much different than my ten-year-old one! I now understand how much parents need those letters.  I hope most kids get beyond the “I have to write this letter” part, and share some of their feelings and memories of camp. The resulting memorabilia will be priceless.

So, here’s to another benefit of camp I’ve only this week realized. We have the chance for our kids to experience the (almost) lost art of writing and receiving handwritten letters. And you, as a parent, have a chance to write down words that your child will be able to read and keep long beyond any email you’ve sent them!

P.S.  Did you see this hilarious book?  P.S. I Hate it Here: Letters from Camp  It is full of some really funny, real letters kids wrote to their parents from camps.

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A Graduating Camper’s Story

A Graduating Camper’s Story

Gold Arrow campers who have completed the 9th grade take part in a special celebration at the end of their camp session.  These campers and their counselor gather around a magical campfire created just for them when the rest of camp is settling into their sleeping bags.  This is a milestone and tradition that campers both look forward to and have feelings of trepidation about because it signals the beginning of something new and the end of their time as a carefree camper. Each camper receives a paddle inscribed with their name and a special word selected by their counselor.  Notches on the wood represent the years spent at GAC.  For our graduating campers, this paddle is more than wood and inscriptions, it’s the hope of what lies ahead after the many lessons learned as a camper.

Rachel Huntley, a long-time GAC camper, had this very experience last summer.  Here’s what she shared about camp and the graduating camper experience…

It was the night of the paddle ceremony, session 2. I didn’t really know what to expect, besides me getting my paddle that night. Walking to the waterfront from the dance with my cabin and seeing Soy with a burning fire already had my eyes watery. As everyone took a seat I calmed myself down and told myself, “you’ll be ok, just hold yourself together.”

As soon as Soy started talking about why they use a paddle and not an anchor had me bawling my eyes out. It really showed me how throughout these past 7 years at camp I’ve used my paddle that didn’t even exist. When the counselors were calling campers up to get their paddles, it was such an amazing moment, because every counselor said things about their camper and who they are as a person and everything that’s beautiful about them. As soon as my name was called I completely lost it. I was in tears crying and trying to control myself. My counselor told me all the things that were great about my personality and what they hope I wish to peruse in the future.

At the end of the ceremony, Soy gave the star speech. I will never forget that speech. Every summer for the rest of my life when I’m not at camp I will think about how I’m still looking at the same sky that camp’s looking at. I already knew from the moment I walked into GAC in 2012 I was apart of the GAC family, but from that moment on I knew that I had made my mark there and I was/am never going to leave my home away from home. I cannot wait for my adventures that hold in these next years!

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