By Ross Feltz
With my wife, Marie, between surgeries, there were questions about making this summer’s annual family “Camporee.” However, our 8-year-old granddaughter, Lydia, had been talking about it for months.
After discussions with Lydia about walking to the bathroom facilities on her own and that Grandma might not be able to be as active with her, we committed. Who knows, though, what sinks in to an 8-year-old with her heart set on going to her beloved Allegany State Park?
Lydia has been spending part of the week with us, along with her parents, since before she was 1. The first year, we hung her infant swing from the frame of the cabin porch to keep her entertained. We had taught her to shake the swing sideways when we said, “Shakey, shakey.” She laughed mightily while doing the shake.
Marie’s family started the tradition in the 1930s and others joined in as they married into her extended family. Her tenure at Allegany was interrupted by our marriage and our own family activities.
In 2005, with our own children grown, Marie persuaded me to stay a couple of nights at the family Camporee with her brother and his wife. When we experienced how much fun it was, especially for all the kids, we got our own cabin the next year. Our daughter and son-in-law brought their two boys, ages 5 and 6, for a few days. We’ve been consistent since.
The Camporee is about making family memories. It’s about seeing kids grow into young adults and then helping those younger. Our granddaughter went from being among the younger ones being helped by the older girls, to being one of the older girls this year. There were 14 children under 8. We are into the fifth generation.
One family’s son has a group of friends since third grade that started having their own cabin when in high school. Now they’re all starting careers, a couple are Ph.D. candidates, and still spend the week.
It has been a joy to see how the boys participated with the young ones in our yearly version of the Olympics, complete with entry march, and the way they served as “coaches” in recent years. The young learning from those somewhat older.
One can only wonder when one of “the boys” introduces his wife to our Camporee.
Watching families grow and influencing that growth is the great benefit of our week together.
Paul and Donna Lewis became part of our group years ago. In 2001, at the closing campfire, Paul started presenting a walking stick adorned with his artwork to the person he and secretive advisers selected as “Camper of the Year.”
This year it was my wife, which made little Lydia extremely proud and proves that one can be Camper of the Year at age 70.
The next morning, Lydia refused to get out of bed. It had been her first full week and she was in tears as she delayed leaving Allegany for as long as possible. But she left knowing Grandma was Camper of the Year and with her own original walking stick piece of art done specially for her by Mr. Lewis.
“When I grow up, I want to bring my children to Allegany,” she said.
Ross Feltz, who grew up in the Clinton-Bailey area of Buffalo, lives in Meadville, Pa.