With summer looming and warm weather here (for now), many Mainers will pack up a pile of grub (don’t forget the marshmallows), a few changes of clothes and a fishing rod or five and head to camp.
On a pond, lake or stream, these seasonal retreats are special places where we can relax, unwind and enjoy some time time with friends and family.
And whenever families go to the same special place year after year, memories are made and traditions built.
A couple weeks back, we asked you for your camp traditions. Today, we’ll share the first of those stories.
But first, I’ve got a short story to tell — since I was the one asking for your tales, it didn’t seem right to not add one of my own.
A game for the tough-footed
At our family camp on Beech Hill Pond, we have some traditions enjoyed by adults and kids alike. One is called “ball chase.” The game is simple, and is essentially what we used to call “ball tag” back in elementary school.
One person is “it.” They have a baseball-size, air-filled ball. The others are not “it.” They run around the camp like a pack of wild dogs, while the “it” guy stalks them, scares them and eventually wings the ball at them. Get hit, and you’re “it.”
Simple. The most complicated part: I’m not sure whether the game is called “ball chase” because the person with the ball chases the others or because none of our players is ever a particularly accurate thrower, and often ends up having to chase the ball into the woods, into the lake or underneath a lawn chair.
Another game is much more complicated. We call it “cross-country croquet,” which my nephew Kyle has insisted that we pronounce “crow-kett.”
It’s like the traditional game of croquet in that all players are armed with mallets and their goal is to hit their ball through a series of wickets. There, the similarity ends.
I’ve heard that other families have their own version of the game, which isn’t surprising: Toss a bunch of hammers and wooden balls in front of a pack of bored teens, hand them a pile of wire wickets and let their imaginations take over, and you’ll likely find that the resulting croquet “course” doesn’t look much like the conventional, by-the-rules setup.
Wickets will end up on side hills. They’ll end up on tree stumps. They’ll end up breathtakingly close to the edge of the pond. And after that, the carnage will begin.
Some of us play well — like my brother. Some of us don’t — like me. And those of us who don’t play well spend much of our time attacking the other players, hitting their balls with ours, then launching their wooden spheres into the woods as part of a maneuver we have come to call “sending him.”
“Sending him” (or her) is pretty fun, most of the time. You put your ball next to your opponent’s, plant a steady foot on top of your own ball (so that yours doesn’t end up in the woods, beside theirs), and swing as hard as you dare.
Until a few summers ago, my main claim to cross-country croquet fame was that I dared much more than others. I was — or so I thought — the “sending him” king. I never won a game. I never contended for victory. But I wielded a killer mallet, and when it came time to “send,” I swung that hammer viciously.
Then, one afternoon, I missed my ball, hit my sandal-covered foot and, well, became a lot less daring.
All of us grow up eventually, I’ve been told. The fact that I was 44 or 45 years old when I finally stopped trying to inflict my croquet wrath on teenage nephews and their pals, I figure, was a good thing. For awhile.
Now, though, my foot has healed. Summer approaches. And as visitors begin showing up for our regular cross-country croquet games, I’m feeling a bit anxious. Perhaps this is the year I regain my confidence. Perhaps this is the year I start wielding my mallet with authority again.
Perhaps this is the year when I begin my second (or third, or fourth) childhood, and abandon the whole “growing up” thing.
Let the games begin. That is, after all, our tradition.
Flipping for summer
From rock or dock or the deck of a boat, many Mainers celebrate summer by plunging into the cool waters of their favorite lakes and ponds.
Reader Patti Brissette of Holden checked in with an email and photo that was a real eye-opener.
Age, they say, is just a number.
And Patti’s father, Jack Williams of Camden, proves that point every single summer with a leap that most teens couldn’t replicate.
“My dad, who turns 85 this summer, does his back flip off the diving tower [on Lake Megunticook] once every summer,” she wrote. “It is about 8 feet above the water. He says he is going to do it this year, too, although now he waits until the water temperature gets to at least 70 degrees (usually July).”
Patti also sent along a photo of Jack performing his flip back in 2007, when he was just 80. And he has continued his own camp tradition each year since then.
“I did not witness it last year, but my sister did. (I feel better knowing she was a lifeguard for many years),” Brissette wrote.
Brissette says her dad gained some level of local fame on Camden’s toboggan chute and has long been a daredevil. He also used to enjoy tackling New Hampshire’s infamous Tuckerman’s Ravine on skis, “back in the day.”
That’s all for this week. We’re still looking for camp tradition stories, and are sure that many of you have stories that you’d love to share. Just email them to me at the address below or send them by old-fashioned mail to Bangor Daily News, attn: John Holyoke, PO Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329.
John Holyoke may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Check out his blog at outthere.bangordailynews.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnHolyoke.