September 7, 2007

Be Our Guest / Mary M. Conway

Trip back to CYO camp is a nostalgic one for mom

It’s rare in life that we ever get to “go back” to relive a childhood experience that actually feels the same as it did when we were young.

I have been able to have such an experience, returning to CYO Camp Rancho Framasa after a 30-year absence.

Starting in 1963 at the ripe old age of 7, I—along with a group of my best girlfriends—came to love the magic that is CYO camp.

Back then, we had a choice: Framasa or Christina, and I had the joy of experiencing both many times—as camper and counselor.

In my day, we had all-girl weeks that ran from Sunday to Saturday.

I’ll never forget those wonderful Friday night Indian pageants with authentic Indian costumes and tales of camp folklore. And after every pageant, we’d walk arm-in-arm, tearfully wishing that the sisterhood of that week would never end. To this day, those friends and I talk about how CYO camp made us who we are, and that those memories are some of the best we ever had.

So fast forward 30 years later, and I get the opportunity to volunteer as nurse for a week. In exchange, my 8-year-old son, Alex, gets the benefit of a free week of camping, and I am so excited for him to be part of the magic.

While the fresh country air, the cabins, the lake, the birds and the trees are all the same, the world of CYO camp has changed enormously.

Through the impressive leadership of Kevin and Angie Sullivan, Mary Beth O’Brien and, of course, head counselor “Steve,” Framasa has incorporated so much more into its program, making it “inclusive,” opening it up to kids who have limitations mentally and/or physically.

To say that this staff and its counselors are impressive is a huge understatement. Their mission is to be “present” to each and every camper 24 hours a day. Now while I’d like to think that we were pretty devoted to the positive camper experience in the ‘70’s when I was a counselor, these counselors are devoted in a way that I can’t really describe with words.

Just watching them interact with the campers is a wonder to behold. It is the “intention” that is so impressive to me; the willingness to be open and inviting to each and every child, in each and every moment, in the purest, most selfless way I have ever seen.

It is an atmosphere of “yeses” in a world where sometimes these very unique campers hear a lot of “noes.” Here, it is a world created of laughter, singing, swimming, exploring and praying on a holy and beautiful Brown County playground.

As for me, not once was I reminded that I was a 51-year-old “mom.” I was embraced as an equal, as one of the family.

So along with my fellow nurse and new friend, Karen, I painted my name and all my years at camp up on a beam in “Handies.”

It felt affirming somehow. And when it came time for the closing staff meeting, I felt that old familiar sadness, tearfully hating the idea that I had to leave this magical place called Framasa. (Even after 30 years, some things never change.)

So to each and every one of you there, thank you for giving me such a beautiful, memorable week, and for the opportunity to “go back.” You are a blessing to all.

(Mary M. Conway is a member of St. Matthew Parish in Indianapolis.) †

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