Last year I was working at camp, getting ready for a mealtime, when I noticed an older gentleman sitting at my cabin's table. I'd put him at about 75, but he could have been older or he could have been younger. It was hard to tell. He was leaning against his cane and looking out the dining hall windows toward the lake.
I noticed he was already wearing a Visitors badge, the sign to us that he has checked in with the front office and not a "stranger danger". So I went up and decided to ask him who he was and why he was here at camp today.
That day I met a man who's gentle voice told me about his time here at Camp, many years ago. He didn't reminisce too much, but did make a comment that at the time I didn't pay much attention to. He told me:
"The sound of children laughing and playing just never changes."
He's right. He may have been here 50, 60, maybe even 70 years ago, but I imaging the sounds coming through the dining hall window hadn't changed much. Back then, it was a different dining hall. Back then, Camp was boys only (and would remain so until 1984). But even with those changes, that sound doesn't change.
I didn't have time to talk to him much longer. It was mealtime and the campers were filing in and needed my attention. My hour-long break was over and it was time to dedicate my attention to my campers. I didn't notice the gentleman leave. I didn't really think of him much again.
The other day the Camp Director came to us during lunch and held up a package, saying she wanted to share it with us all. Inside the package was a note and the book. In the note, we learned that the gentleman I sat next to listening to the laughter of children outside of the dining hall window had passed away in December. He had been diagnosed with cancer and had been taken by it. But after his death his daughter, the writer of the letter, had found an old Camp Song Book in his belongings.
50, 60, maybe even 70 years he held onto his Camp Song Book. Kept it by his side for how many moves? Through his marriage and having children. Through cancer. He held onto that book. That's how much camp meant to him.
We went through the book, tried to find something we still recognized and there were many songs that they sang back then that we sing now. "Rolling Over the Billows" was the song we chose to sing out of his book after lunch that day. We've changed the lyrics some. No longer do girls make the boys go 'round, now kids make the world go 'round. But the heart of the song is still the same. And 50, 60, maybe even 70 years ago that man I sat with that day sat with his campers around the campfire, perhaps even in the very same spot I sat with mine last summer, and sang that very same song.
It hit me how profound that little shared moment was that I had with him last summer. I suddenly regretted not asking him more. Not finding out what years he was here. If he was a camper before he was a counselor. What his favorite memories were of camp. But I know now that every time I hear the laughter of children coming through the dining hall windows I will think of him. The person who's life was so bettered by camp that he came back to visit and kept this little memento of his time here.
Perhaps in 50, 60, even 70 years that will be me. An old woman with a cane. Sitting in a new dining hall talking to a counselor of how the sounds of laughter haven't changed. Because that is what this place means to me.