by Sarah Williamson
The BYM camping program is a huge touchstone for my family. For my brother and me, because we were campers and counselors and both met our spouses through camp, but also for my Mom, who talks about Catoctin with the same reverence that we do. Some of her feelings about camp are undoubtedly because the experience was so formative for her children, but I think they are equally based on her own experiences each summer as a cook in Catoctin’s kitchen. When my Mom talks about camp, it is as a member of the community, not a parent only hearing about camp through her child’s experience. She talks wistfully of the comradery, practical jokes, and deep supportive conversations with other cooks and staff, as well as the joy of surreptitiously watching my brother and I enjoy camp.
It was because of my Mom’s positive experience, as well as the need to offset some of the cost of camp, that made me immediately ask for a work grant to cook at Catoctin when my oldest child reached camper age. I was thrilled to get the chance to make camp affordable and sneak peeks at my child as she began the journey that was so important to me, all while getting to be part of the camp community again….oh, yeah, and I was also going to be doing a little work cooking. So, I asked for vacation time from my very demanding job to have a little holiday on the mountain.
While all my expectations of camp and being part of it again were met in spades during my week at camp, I was also very surprised to find that it was not “vacation-like” at all having to get three homemade, delicious meals for close to 100 very hungry people on the table every day. In that first year, my preschool-aged son had come along with me and I struggled to meet my commitments in the kitchen while also keeping him safe and occupied. He spent a lot of time that week with his face pressed against the screen door calling my name while I tried to get one more thing chopped before answering him. The “work” part of the work grant was real, and it required that every one of the cooks and kitchen manager pulled their weight to get the meals served on time so that all the other camp activities could occur as planned. Since my Mom had never really mentioned the “work” part of her camp experience, and the cooks made it all look so effortless when I was a camper and counselor, I had not fully prepared myself to work that hard.
Despite my surprise over how tired I was at the end of each day, I adjusted quickly, absolutely loved the experience, and returned as a cook, eventually taking on the more challenging job of Kitchen Manager for the last seven years. While cooking at camp is not the vacation I thought it might be nine years ago, the simplicity and daily satisfaction of the work is an enjoyable respite from the complications of life juggling kids, work, and caring for my now disabled Mom. The comradery, deep conversations, wonderful co-cooks, and unique window into the camp community are all still there thirty years after my Mom experienced them. My youngest will be in Unit 1 this coming summer and I am trying not to think about the end of his camp career possibly ending my own time at camp, as being at Catoctin continues to be a major grounding influence in my life.