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"The Tale of Two Boys"

by Phil Wrzesinski

Of all the memories and stories I have accumulated in my forty-five years associated with Storer Camps, I want to tell the tale of two campers. You might even see yourself or a camper you knew in these stories. They get to the heart of what Storer has meant to me all these years.

1974

His name was Phil. He was a scrawny little seven-year old going to camp for the very first time. His nine-year old sister, Laura, was in the girl’s camp across the lake. Phil and his best friend Chris were in the Indian Village for one week to try out the camp and see if they liked it.

The two boys were in separate cabins, but they did everything together. They went to the main dock to do their swim lessons the first day. They even donned life jackets and did the canoe test where they flipped the canoe over, swam it back to shore, and emptied it of water. Chris was eight and his extra strength helped get that heavy hunk of metal up and out of the water.

Phil and Chris were swim buddies at both morning and afternoon swims, often shivering together on the dock near the diving boards during buddy checks. They also were in the same archery class. They were even standing together at the end of the dock at Indian Point waiting their turn to swim across the lake when the morning breakfast bell rang ending their one chance.

The only thing they didn’t do together was get sick. Not homesick. I’m talking stomach bug, tossing cookies, go see Georgianna Swinford sick. Phil’s whole cabin got the bug. Phil tossed his own cookies all over the navy blue sleeping bag covered with pictures of trout his parents had bought special for camp.

Phil spent the third of his six nights at the health center. The fourth night was back at the cabin, but only because so many of his bunkmates were sick, they had turned his cabin into a makeshift infirmary.

At the final campfire two nights later, the counselors got up one by one and recognized the accomplishments of the campers. All the kids who swam across the lake got to stand up for the second time for the Olympic Fanfare cheer (the first being in the dining hall at breakfast the day they made their swim). Phil never got his chance. The archery instructor stood up and gave out awards for everyone who hit a bullseye or scored at least nine points in a three-arrow turn at the target. Phil never hit the target. Certificates were also given out for kids who jumped off the tower. Phil was barred from swimming after becoming sick and never climbed that circular stairway to glory.

Sometimes we use the wrong stick when measuring success. By most outsiders’ view, Phil’s one week at camp was as far from a success as his cabin (now called The Swan) was from the main dock. Yet, the first thing he said to his mom when she picked him up on day six was, “Can I go back next year?”

Phil went back every summer after. He and Chris became Forever Fifths in 1980 after going on different Venture-Out trips. Phil kept going and became a junior counselor in 1983.

1984

Phil was still a junior counselor in the Ottawa Village. He was seventeen now. The south side was short of male counselors, though, so for the first two-week session Phil had his own cabin of seven kids. One of those kids was Charlie. Charlie suffered an illness and lost his right leg at an early age. He was amazingly fast, however, on his crutches and remaining leg.

Another kids in that cabin was Paul. Paul was a big kid and was probably the class bully back home. But he didn’t have his wingmen at camp. Plus, he wasn’t the biggest kid in the cabin.

That was Michael.

Michael was the age of an eighth-grader but with the mental capabilities of a second-grader, so they put him in a fifth-grade cabin. He towered over the other boys. Phil was told that Michael also had a speech impediment. Michael never spoke above a whisper, never looked you in the eye when he spoke, and never said more than one word.

This unusual group of boys, however, came together quickly as a team at the cabin relays. Between Michael and Paul’s strength and Charlie’s quickness, they stole the show and won almost half the events.

Some of the other kids at camp wanted to bully Michael but Paul and Charlie wouldn’t let them. He was the gentle giant that all the other boys rallied around as one of their own.

There was a spark in Michael, too. By the end of the two weeks Phil had Michael looking him in the eye when he spoke and using full sentences more often than not. The transformation was unbelievable!

FOUR WEEKS LATER

Michael’s story could end right there and be one for the ages. It is a story I will never forget. (Yeah, in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m the Phil in the story.) But there is an epilogue worth mentioning.

Just like my enthusiasm for wanting to return to camp, Michael had that same feeling. Shortly after getting home, his parents enrolled Michael into the final two-week session of the summer.

By then I had moved across the lake to the north side to be in a cabin of Pioneers. I didn’t know Michael was back at camp. I was in a canoe with some of my kids out in the middle of the lake when I heard a voice shouting my name.

I turned toward the catyak where I heard the voice. It was Michael! Shouting! Across the lake!

I was a camper for nine years, a counselor for nine years, a volunteer for decades, a parent of campers for 14 years. I even got to spend another summer on the lake sailing boats in 2017.

I have heard my name yelled across the lake more times than I could ever count, but none have ever been so amazing as that one time in early August in the summer of 1984.

Sometimes we have no idea the influence camp can have on a child. No one, including my own parents, would have ever thought I would want to go back after the summer of 1974. But I did, and I’m a better person because of it.

Sometimes we see the influence of camp instantly like that moment on the lake. I’d love to know the rest of Michael’s story. And Charlie’s, and Paul’s for that matter, too. I’ll bet 1984 was as memorable for them as 1974 was for me.

We’ve all had that camper that we saw blossom while at camp. I’m living proof that there was another kid in your cabin that bloomed just a little later and maybe out of your view, but you helped nurture them to that point.

That’s what Storer is all about.

Philip C. Wrzesinski, Admiral Graybeard
Camper, Summers 1974-1982
Summer Camp Counselor, Summers 1983-1987
Venture-Out Director, Year-round 1990-1991
Sailing Instructor/Fleet Admiral, Summer 2017

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