Recall now the I Like Ike era that was a backdrop for our youngest years at camp. Set the stage with camp directors, senior.
In the foreground, picture Wonder Bread-eating boys and girls—first generation Americans in many cases, pre-Beatles and a good dozen years before acid rock, the military draft, napalm raids, bodybag airlifts and Power to the People.
So it was with sincerity, pride and a sense of duty that we sang about purple mountain majesties and other symbols of America particularly in that safe and secure summer home, where the adults seemed to enrich our morning anthem with postwar-decade emotions and energy we didn’t yet fully appreciate or understand.
But we sure couldn’t miss noticing them. When director Gerry Bucky squeezed his accordion vigorously and belted out God Bless America energetically, the oceans weren’t the only places white with foam.
This wasn’t a rushed recitation in the style of “Happy Birthday.” This was a strong, colorful thread in a patriotic tapestry we wove all season. Our vacation brought a break from weekday Pledge of Allegiance routines, but not from lessons about liberty and flag-waving.
It was an honor, not a chore, to stand alongside the main flagpole—rope in hand—and hoist or lower the red, white and blue. In an example of the inclusiveness that let youngsters of every age share a role in all activities, that task was rotated among campers. “Don’t let it touch the ground,” short-legged flag handlers were reminded. The day-ending ceremony included a military-style folding of the flag into a tight triangle.
This was part of a summer-long pageant, one of many regular gatherings that included Friday night services, socials, campfires, musical theater rehearsals and productions. Looking back, a larger purpose, a more serious motivation can be seen behind the flagpole ceremonies.
Some of our community’s oldest members, as we understood better in later years, had deep and dark reasons to embrace each sunrise with a patriotic song. This was an adopted land that they loved, having fled a country where they had been targets of hatred and worse as was true of many campers’ European-born parents.
So July Fourth wasn’t just another day of softball and swimming, at least not until we heard a poignant pre-breakfast “sermon” giving thanks for the blessings of democracy that were won in 1776 and that attracted a good number of our families to sail past the Statue of Liberty—not necessarily on a ferry.
Even the youngest first-time campers could tell something different was up when “Uncle” Gerry would pause at the flag-raising, look up and begin speaking about what Independence Day meant. We heard about freedoms, about voting and about immigration. He stood alongside one of the smallest boys, costumed by head counselor director Lilo Hanauer as an undersized Uncle Sam—complete with cotton beard and a tall hat in red, white and blue.
Hokey? You bet. But also heartfelt.
The fact that I can picture those mornings now, more vividly than those daily stand-and-deliver classroom pledges, speaks to the solid foundation they built for appreciating this land that’s our land.
Love of family, love of religious culture, love of country. Hey kid, what’d you learn at computer camp last summer?