Monday, May 21, 2018

Sepia Saturday 419: Safe on a Rock!

The photo prompt this week shows a daring group seated on a precarious rock. 

My prairie-bound family liked things flat—the flatter the better. A mere mound in the landscape made my mother nervous. When she visited S. California and the mountains blocked her views, she was like a skittish cat. The only time she fully relaxed while visiting was at the beach, where she could see the open ocean. 

There are no photos of ledges or lookouts or mountain climbing in my photo boxes. No thrilling moments were captured either. For our risk-aversive family, the Tilt-A-Whirl at the Royal American Shows was skirting the edge of dangerous. Reasons for not riding it included the possibility of it flying off the rails, tipping over and crushing somebody; vomiting; permanently damaging your equilibrium.  

What I do have is this photo of me and my fellow CGIT'ers, Canadian Girls in Training, on a rock, at the Brereton Camp, Whiteshell Provincial Park, 1955. We were thirteen. I'm in the front row, left, looking like a ten-year-old. 

It was probably this camping experience that turned me into a hotel gal for the rest of life. Using a stinky outhouse and hauling water wasn't my idea of a good time. The water in the morning for face washing and teeth brushing was shockingly cold. Night noises from the bush were scary.

This cartoon comes from the Alberta CGIT website. A new body image for the girls? Our leaders wouldn't have tolerated drooping socks. Our middy blouses had to be clean and neat. The friendship knot in our ties had to be correct. In my memory, the guides were leaders, but not tyrants. 

I had to get a special dispensation from our priest in order to attend the camp because it was a Protestant organization—as if my Catholicism was so tenuous that I could be co-opted in a week.  Actually, they were right! All my friends were Protestants and could take care of their religious duties in an hour per week. I envied them. No confessions, no Holy Days of Obligation, no fasting, no penance. At church, no kneeling, no Latin, no suffocating incense. The United Church, where I attended CGIT, was light and airy compared to our Catholic Church, dim and scary with curtained confessionals, strict unsmiling nuns and stations of the cross hung with bleeding, suffering Christs. As I recall, I was excused from the religious ceremonies at the camp.

At this age, I rarely smiled in pictures. A cousin told me I was going to be buck-toothed and I may have been trying to hide whatever it was he saw. Almost fatally homesick; this was my first time away from home for a week. My life-long friend Linda is at the other end of the front row and she looks happier than me. Looking happiest of all, is Fish—aka Mary Ellen Cuthbert—back row, right. Look at her upturned collar; her hand on her hip; legs jauntily crossed in a studied pose.  I've written about her before. She was an outstanding character in our midst. A gal with a reputation later on in our teens. I can't imagine she was a bad girl at thirteen, but maybe. The photo here portrays a great deal of self-confidence, the exact opposite of me. I hope that confidence worked well for her for the rest of her life. 

The Ode came from the camp website and brought back a lot of memories. 

Ode To C.G.I.T. Camp Brereton, 1937-2007 

Way back in the ‘30s this camp was begun 
By women and men, who, when they were done, 
Had built here a lodge, and a cabin or two, 
For campers and leaders like me and like you. 
To get here the campers then traveled by train, 
They walked from the tracks in the sun and the rain. 
In the 40’s they bused it right up to the door – What an improvement; could they want more? 
In the 40’s and 50’s the lodge was quite small, 
Can you believe, there was no dining hall! 
We ate in the lounge, and then should it rain, 
We’d collapse all the tables, then set them again! 
The water, we hauled it all up from the lake, 
No showers or flushes, and make no mistake 
We extinguished our lanterns when time for “lights out”, 
And we needed our flashlights to wander about! 
In the mornings we hurried to be first in line 
At the biffy – no privacy – three at a time! 
A wall at the end gave the leaders their side, 
“Twas just a two-holer- they sat with pride! 
Below the rock ledge you can now reach with stairs 
The cabins were arranged mostly in pairs, 
Please take the time to check out old Cabin 7, 
It’s just storage now – we thought it was heaven! 
Six bunks to each cabin arranged ‘round the wall, 
Each cabin with one leader, her whistle and all, 
Our leaders were given affectionate names, 
And mostly they all went along with the game. 
The ledge where your cabins now proudly reside 
Was called Council Rock, where our Pres. would preside 
Over meetings; and then, Bible Study was shared, 
And much more, as for campers and leaders we cared. 
If we wanted to paddle our own canoe 
We had to swim to the island and back again too, 
Off to the Ridge we would hike as we sang, 
And our voices would echo, and all the woods rang! 
International Camp Council was here in ’85, 
With 72 or us on site, it really came alive! 
From Nigeria and Trinidad, and yes, Bermuda too – Our “pathways” crossed at Brereton, and friendships came and grew. On our 50th we had a ball with campers re-uniting, 
The singing, laughter, fun and all was really quite exciting! 
And Cabin 1 has been improved, it’s own bathroom and ramp 
Have helped to make our Brereton a fully accessible camp! 
New roofs, and walls, and holding tank, a pump, canoes – a “Tree” Have all been added to this place – most, of necessity! 
But these aren’t the things that matter most, there’s a Magic that we see 
As girls and leaders share and grow into the persons God wants them to be. 
For 65 years at Brereton, we all can give a cheer 
In joy and praise and gratitude, that we still gather here. 
Our Tree of Life, and the names upon it, is a symbol of love for this place, 
God has blessed us richly ‘thru the years – we say “Thank You” for this gift of grace. 
So take your neighbor by the hand before the evening’s end, 
We want to bow and say a prayer to our never-failing Friend… Thank you for the Past… Thank you for the Now. Be with us as we grow to become the persons you would have us be. Amen. Addie Thoroski, Pat Finlayson July 1997, June 2002

Check out other Sepia Saturday stories HERE


  1. For a flat land family, you found the perfect image. This brought back memories of my Girl Scout days. Loved the poem!

  2. Mary Ellen Cuthbert did look rather 'mature' for 13. I remember turned up collars - wore 'em that way myself in Jr. High but most gals did. It was a style. And in gym class our shorts were short and the white shirts had extra short sleeves. In both Jr. High and High School I wore my gym clothes other places when I had them home over summer vacation because they were stylish and comfortable. Loved the Ode. :)

  3. So great to see you stretch the meme and stay on topic...and I sure do remember the insecure feelings of being 13 with other girls more comfortable in their new bodies...mine didn't change as early as theirs!

  4. Great post! Summer camps seem to inspire great stories, both positive and negative. Last summer I took my 87 year old mother on a road trip that went past a church camp in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains where she had fond memories of attending at age 13-15. On our return we stopped in on a Sunday morning as a family church group was finishing its weekend stay. She got to see an outdoor service, the same rustic cabins, and we invited ourselves to lunch at the dining hall. The happy noise, the country food, the friendly people made memories 70+ years past became like yesterday!