Red Cap Forever

 In Inspirational

As a result of my very first Girl Scout sleep-away camping experience, I knew I wanted to be a Red Cap forever.

As a kid, I enjoyed the outdoors. I didn’t mind bugs or worms. But, I did not embrace rustic sleep-away camping experiences. I guess you could say I was an outdoor free spirit who liked her own bed and bathroom.

Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.(Dave Barry)

Vanessa and Jill (front) Kim and Christine (back) New camp hats on rosebushes 

When we were old enough, my mother felt that her daughters should have a sleep-away camping experience for two weeks in July. No number of tears or amount of whimpering and foot stomping changed mom’s mind. My older sister, Christine, and I were the first two girls shipped off to the nearby Girl Scout camp. Eventually, all four of us went, leaving Mom home alone. Actually, I am not sure what she did with the solitude. However, Mom did send postcards.

Camp Minnetoska opened in July 1949. Within the vast wooded property along the shoreline of Lake Otsego near Cooperstown, N.Y., five Girl Scout enclaves spread out. Three units were located on the lakeside. Two other units nestled deep in the woods on the other side of the two-lane roadway. Even James Fenimore Cooper’s trail blazing fictional character, Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo, would have had trouble finding them.

The local native American tribe, the Mohicans, named the seven-mile-long, two-mile-wide lake, Otsego. Its nickname, Glimmerglass, a modern-day translation, referred to the serene spring fed body of water.

source of Susquehanna River in Cooperstown, N.Y.

At one end of narrow Lake Otsego is the source of the mighty Susquehanna River. It is marked by a plaque on a rock. The 464-mile-long Susquehanna River, the longest on the American east coast, empties into the Chesapeake Bay. From there, the waters flow on out to the Atlantic Ocean.

During my first summer at Camp Minnetoska, I was assigned to the lakeside unit named Tantremar. This cluster of platform tents was for the youngest campers. It was closest to the mess hall and infirmary.

          Dad and his  camping girls

Throughout my first two-week sentence, I plotted to get myself admitted to the infirmary in hopes of being sent home. I rubbed every shiny leaf all over my body and on my face. No luck. I guess I was not allergic to poison ivy, or I picked the wrong leaves.

Tantremar suffered the earliest swimming lesson time slot. In the early morning after breakfast, the sun shone on the opposite side of the deep lake. Therefore, the swimming area was shaded and the water was cold.

Prior to coming to the waterfront, in my tent, I fashioned a nifty protective sarong. I tucked the bottom of my sweatshirt into the top of my beach towel resulting in a warm tube.

“Take off your sweat shirts and towels campers!” bellowed the hefty, bundled-up Girl Scout counselors from the dock.

Obediently, I reluctantly exposed a sliver of my black polyester one-piece swim suit. Eventually, I dropped my cocoon and huddled in line with the other campers at the water’s edge. My knees knocked together.

On the dock, cardboard boxes filled with primary colored bathing caps patiently waited. Red for Beginners. Yellow for Intermediates. Blue for Swimmers. White buoys partitioned off the appropriate sections of the water.

I was drawn to the Red Cap. I quickly had observed that the Beginner’s section of the lake was in a protected, sandy- bottomed area. A small sliver of sunshine peeked through the tall trees and warmed up the shallow still water, making it more inviting. As a result of my discovery, I vowed to bury a secret deep in the forest of Camp Minnetoska.

I could swim.

You see, I had been taking Red Cross sanctioned swimming lessons for years at the local Canajoharie Country Club. I was moving quickly through the ranks. But here at Camp Minnetoska, I pretended I was a non-swimmer.

My manipulation of the Girl Scout waterfront system afforded me a very pleasant swimming experience. I was one of six Red Caps. Our swimming instructor, PJ, was soft spoken. Every morning, she coaxed us to the water’s edge.

“Don’t be afraid girls. This is going to be fun.”

At first, our sympathetic instructor told us to just dip our faces in the water. No pressure. Then, we advanced to blowing bubbles in the water. I was in heaven. Eventually, we stretched out our entire bodies on the sandy bottom of Lake Otsego.

With arms and legs full extended, I pulled myself around like a salamander to the sound of PJ’s enthusiastic applause. I totally enjoyed my scaled down status. I calmly slid into pockets of warm water while gazing up at the blue sky.

For two weeks I enjoyed my Red Cap status. PJ complimented me when I ducked my entire head under water. My bubbles grew larger. I even kicked a little as I navigated around the protected roped-in area. I actually looked forward to swimming lessons.

However, I had to always be mindful to maintain my ruse. I could not exhibit any level of swimming ability. I was a proud Red Cap.

Finally,  my session ended. At Camp Minnetoska’s closing campfire ceremony, PJ presented me with a Beginners Swimming Certificate. For me, that piece of paper represented so much more than a recognition of my swimming ability. Or lack thereof. It was proof that my charade had been successful!

From that moment on, I decided to be a Red Cap forever.

Fisher Tower on Lake Otsego in the fall


( Originally titled Count Me out for Camping posted 6/9/12. Edits were made and pictures were added)


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