December 15, 2022
A case could be made that the waters of Lake Winnipesaukee are a little higher near the shores of Camp Winaukee from the thousands of tears that have been shed by campers and counselors alike at the end of each summer. For more than one hundred summers, Winaukee campers, and the amazing staff entrusted with their care, have experienced a distinct commonality that transcends time: “Camp Tears.”
Camp tears are as pure a variety that exist on the planet. Unlike tears of pain, tears of sadness, loss and grief, and tears of happiness and love, camp tears fit into their own unique category. I have always found that camp tears come from a place that is a beautiful and singular amalgam of all the aforementioned reasons.
This was illustrated this past week during our latest episode of “Hold the Fort.” Our guest on the podcast was a Winaukee Island counselor from the 1960s and 70s, Ed “Catman” Belding. My special guest-co-host was AC Vitter who worked at Camp Winaukee for 48 summers starting in 1967. At the end of the show, both Ed and AC were overcome with emotion as they reflected upon their relationship, their shared love for Winaukee, and remembering what Winaukee meant and means to them. It was a touching and poignant moment, as two men reminisced about memories from more than a half-century ago.
During my twenty-five summers at Winaukee, I’ve witnessed countless campers and counselors empty their eyes as the summer came to an end. Whether it was at Songfest, Banquet, or on the dreaded final boat ride to the mainland to board the buses home, even the steeliest and most reserved of campers and counselors struggled to avoid welled-up eyes and a quivering lip. It is at these moments when the impetus for the tears comes into focus: gratitude. I truly believe that gratitude is the aquifer for all of these camp tears.
Gratitude is simply defined as, “the quality of being thankful.” When I find myself overcome with emotion at camp and I endeavor to distill it down to uncover the underlying driving force, it always comes back to being thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to spend so many weeks at such a special, beautiful place with amazing people. Thankful for a new group of campers who get to experience the magic that is summer camp. Thankful for counselors who exemplify selflessness and enthusiasm for weeks on end. Thankful for the ability to continue traditions and teach the century-long history of Camp Winaukee. Thankful for the relationships and memories that will last not just until the end of August or until the end of the year, but until the end of time, as evidenced by Ed and AC picking up like they never left off.
The beautiful through line among generations of Winaukee campers and counselors is a palpable understanding of this phenomenon. I can guarantee that many campers felt a profound sadness that their time at Winaukee had reached a natural conclusion. However, this sadness was only made possible by the immense gratitude that they either knowingly or unwittingly had for everyone and everything that made their time at Winaukee so special and memorable.
Invariably, as it happens with me and countless others, the final tears soak into the ground and then a feeling of happiness permeates the environment. The flood of gratitude has naturally abated and although always omnipresent, fades off into the recesses of memory. At those moments, laughter and joy return to center stage. To take some artistic liberty in paraphrasing the great Dr. Seuss, during those times, “Don’t just cry because it’s over, also smile because it happened.”