It was my mother who first alerted me to the concept of summer camp, talking fondly of her many years in the magic realm of a place called Matollionequay in the wilderness of Medford, New Jersey. It was, however, the repeat viewings of The Parent Trap and my American Girl Molly Saves the Day book that lit within me an insatiable desire to become one of those vibrant creatures known as a Camp Girl.
I wanted it all: the month-long slumber party, the mountains, the fresh air, the nightly competitive games, the singing, the dancing, the friendship bracelets, the tie-dyed shirts, the battle scars, the blurry disposable camera photographs, the year-long pen pals, the sun-kissed and freckled skin, the smell of campfire in everything I owned… nothing save for making the 4th grade kickball team neared the importance of my becoming a Camp Girl.
Though it would seem we randomly picked Merri-Mac out of a stack of VHS camp tapes one afternoon, the choice of that particular camp was nothing short of a divine act: Camp Merri-Mac’s green rustic cabins and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains would come to mold and direct the path of my life in inconceivable and immeasurable ways.
I became a Camp Girl the moment we rolled our Suburban onto the graveled driveway of that North Carolina property. I remember peering out of the car window at the large, white house that guarded the front entrance and imaging what adventures awaited me just on the other side of her rocking-chaired front porch. I jumped out of the car when we rounded the first corner and saw the beach of Lake Doris, not being able to control the anticipated excitement of cold mountain water on my bare, Floridian feet.
In many ways, that’s where it began: a semi-awkward, Umbros-clad 10-year-old dangling her feet in the water of Lake Doris. But in reality, it’s a much more storied history, and one that begins with a man named Spencer Boyd.
Many people set out to Change the World or Become Famous or Be Wildly Successful.In my experience, the most impactful people I’ve come across in my short life have neither been World Changers nor Famous nor–to the world’s standards—Crazy Successful. But if success and notoriety can be measured by the weightiness and depth of impression a person can have, than Spencer was surely one of the Greats.
The man had a dream to be a camp director, and he made it happen. He helped create a world where girls could go and be what God had created them to be: just girls. No phones, no TV, no boys, no distractions… just sunshine and mountain air and late nights and campfires and singing loudly and painting faces and playing games and serious talks and caring deeply for one another. Somewhere through all the constant activity and adventure… Spencer created a place where we grew up and fought like mad not to grow up too quickly.
When I was 13, Spencer turned the camp over to his son Adam and Merri-Mac thrived, still relentlessly breathing life into girls often beaten down by the pressures of teenage life and the whims and expectations of the world. Simply saying that being a 13-year-old girl is difficult would be quite an understatement, but each June when I returned to camp, all of those realities faded into the background as starry skies and canoe trips and headdresses and morning bugles came crisply into view.
I consider it a high privilege to have been able to experience summer camp at Merri-Mac, with her gravely roads and steep mountain pathways and blooming rhododendron enveloping my senses.My memories from that place are entwined in my soul, hushed and ever-present even though I am hundreds of miles and many years removed. It is those memories and formative experiences of friendship, teamwork, heartbreak, adrenaline, glory, adventure and delight that inform most of the decisions I make even today. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord in all earnestness for allowing me to grow up a Camp Girl.
When I think of camp, I often think of ol’ Spencer on his white horse, circling around camp to witness the splashes of water at the diving well, to hear the echoes of tiny voices from the drama room, to smell the ‘smores charring on the blazing fire. I can’t possibly imagine all of the women today who have been formed and molded by Spencer’s camp over the years and whose lives will forever proclaim the sentiments of camp’s motto: First, Last, and Always.
Many of you reading this are younger Merri-Mac girls who might not have gotten the privilege of knowing Spencer before the Lord welcomed him home this past weekend. But the next time you’re behind the gate, inside the haven that is good ol’ Camp Merri-Mac… travel up to Spencer’s Green, always remembering the man that helped make this rapturous place a part of your life.