“Dad, because you are a teacher and have the summer off, why don’t you take the job of Camp Manager at Tapawingo?”
“What? Why would you want your old dad to do that? Surely you don’t want me around while you are there!”
“But dad if you were the manager at the camp, you would be in charge of the Tuck Shop everyday. And I could be your helper. I would love that cause ‘tuck time’ is the best part of every day at camp.”
So went the conversation between my twelve year old daughter and I the month of June, 1980.
Now I would never spoil one of my kids; so of course, I applied for and got the job of Camp Manager, and my twelve year old daughter was my very happy assistant.
Tapawingo is a United Church Camp on Candle Lake. It has been a place where thousands of young people between the ages of seven and sixteen have spent a week of their lives every summer since 1948. (Except this past Covid Summer.)
I had absolutely no idea what being camp manager involved. I did know, as the Camp Committee informed me, that I needed a truck. So, off I went to buy an old red half-ton.
Well I soon found out what my new duties would be: camp maintenance ( example, washing the dining hall floor every day), trips to Prince Albert to pick up each week’s supply of food and other necessary items, garbage hauls to the lake’s landfill every night, keeping the camp’s water system treated and running, chopping and stacking all wood needed for the campfires, overseeing the storage of all items, capturing and removing the odd skunk, unplugging toilets, patrolling the camp site at night if there happened to be the rare bear sighting, and of course watching my gleeful daughter run the Tuck Shop.
Well by the end of each camp, I was more than ready to escape back to Prince Albert for a two day rest. After the first two camps, I began to really look forward to going back to classes of 30 well mannered, polite, calm(?) teenagers.
Oh by the way, Tuck Time at camp did come everyday. After lunch, the campers went back to their cabins for an hour of quiet time, and during that quiet time each cabin, one after the other, came to the Tuck Shop, in the Manager’s Office, to buy a variety of sweets. That is why Tuck Time was the all time favourite of not only my daughter, who loved being in charge, but of every camper.
As the summer wore on, so did I. By the end of July, I was more than ready to call it quits. Each night I would think about opening that old red truck’s driver’s door for the last time and ESCAPING down the road.
Well finally that day arrived. With zeal, I took the last garbage run, washed the dining hall floor for the last time, checked that the bathrooms were clean, made certain all the cabins were locked, checked that all the canoes were safely locked in the boat house along with all the life jackets, toured the beach for the last time, and then marched quickly to that red truck, grabbed the door handle, took one last look around, ready to make my escape. BUT I could not open the door, not that there was any malfunction with the door; I just could not do it.
I, in some bewilderment, just stood there. Finally, I turned and slowly made my way along the lakeside to Vesper Hill – the site where every evening campers, counsellors, and I had gone to sit listen, sing, and pray. I sat down on one of the log seats, stared at the lake and thought.
I thought not only of all my chores, but of so much more: my daughter’s very happy, meaningful twelfth summer where all those older counsellors reached out and made her a most welcome member of their group; about the little eight year old who stopped me and read me the riot act because my sandals did not have closed in toes – a stringent rule when off the beach; about all the raucous fun filled team games after supper hour; about the sing songs at the end of every meal; about the little seven year old girl who I overheard whisper to her friend that she had, “heard the worst singing of her life,”when I had joined in loudly during one beautiful morning song; about all the fun, laughter filled skits done at campfire; about the sad eleven year old found wandering away from the beach, homesick, not feeling he had any friends, about how we brought him back to the beach, started a sand castle with him, and stood back, smiling as other campers rushed to join him; about how everyone gathered, holding hands, on the lake shore one night to witness a most glorious red sunset fall over the still, shimmering lake; about watching campers, boys and girls, aged seven to sixteen, tears streaming down their faces at the end of camp, hugging and pledging life long friendships with new found soulmates.
Finally, I made my way back to my old red truck, got in and drove slowly out the camp gate knowing that Tapawingo did not mean too much work – no it meant a PLACE OF HAPPINESS.
When Covid comes under control, Tapawingo will be there again to give all who attend much: fun, friends, meaning and happiness.