My family gathered to celebrate my father’s 94th birthday in Albuquerque, New Mexico on June 19th, 2019. We spent a lot of time reminiscing about my father’s fascinating life and that of our family’s over about forty-eight hours. My oldest brother, Dave, my sister-in-law, Judy, my older brother Rick and I went for a hike along the Rio Grande on the morning of the second day. As we hiked, I asked Rick what was one of the happiest times of his life and he responded, “Camp Dewitt. The whole purpose of life was simple, and that was to beat the Grays and we often did.”
Camp DeWitt was a private boys camp on Lake Winnipesauke near Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. My father taught history in Wilmington, Delaware and spent his summers working at camps. In 1964, my father started working at Camp Dewitt as the Waterfront Director when I was 3 years old. My two brothers attended as campers and my mother and I spent most of the summer there at the beach or shopping with other wives and daughters. My parents and I lived in a three-room cabin on Family Circle that actually had our last name “Noice” on the cabin. My single cot was in the kitchen (which was basically a sink) and I always remember looking out the window next to my cot in the morning at the pine trees above. The possibilities for the day were endless. The setting was bucolic. Pine trees, sandy beaches, rustic cabins and a beautiful 27-mile lake. It’s only, in retrospect, that I realize how ideal the situation was because, outside of my dad working 6 days a week, everything else was recreation and relaxation for the rest of us in the Noice Clan.
Here is why Camp DeWitt was so magical:
For ten years, I never spent a summer in the suburbs of Wilmington, Delaware. Our family never belonged to a neighborhood pool, we never owned a beach get-away and, for most of that time, did not own an air conditioner. As I look back, I cannot imagine living in suburban Delaware during the hot, humid summers while most of my friends escaped to the beach or local pool. The mountains and lakes of New Hampshire were the norm for me, and my family and I can appreciate now what a serene and magical escape it was.
My brothers were able to learn all sorts of skills at the camp, including archery, arts and crafts, tennis, swimming, football, baseball, sailing, riflery, canoeing and rowing. They both went backpacking in the White Mountains and on overnight canoe trips. For me, girls and boys too young for camp were able to use different facilities when the campers were on rest hour or at meals. I loved the giant trampoline and swimming in the lake. My mother enjoyed not having to cook as we ate every meal in the main dining room. I remember a massive stack of white bread on every table and a giant milk dispenser that even had my favorite: chocolate milk. My father learned how to repair used sailboats for campers to use. He also led canoeing trips into Quebec province. I remember my whole family going on a sailboat for several hours on Lake Winnipesaukee after camp ended, with my dad at the helm while time stood still.
Every summer, there was a small gang of kids for me to hang out with that were either girls or boys too young to be campers. We knew every trail in the camp and every back route to get somewhere to avoid disrupting the campers on their daily schedule. There was Slippery (Soap-Soap) Rock, which was a huge slanted rock right on the lake that was not frequented by campers and an excellent place to go swimming. There was a PA system that announced reveille, meals and taps. I can still smell the pine-scented air from the trail my mother and I would walk down to go get breakfast. I wasn’t a camper so there was no place for me to “be” except for meals and the trampoline right after lunch. Most of the families would sit on the beach in the afternoon and I would swim out into the lake, past what seemed like countless sandbars hoping to make it to Plum Island. No schedule. No responsibilities. Just time in a beautiful spot.
My father had Wednesdays off. When he was off, more times than not, we went off to explore New England. We usually went to Ogunquit Beach in Maine at least once a summer, where my dad always brought a shovel so that we could make huge sit-in sandcastles. My dad would bury one of us, if not all, up to our necks in sand. The highlight was going to the Kancamagus Highway and Rocky Gorge. At the time, we were allowed to go sliding down the frigid rapids and slippery rocks in our bathing suits and getting out before going over the impending waterfall. My male cousins from Florida were campers as well and they could not stand the freezing water temperatures. There were also the trips to Alton Bay and Wolfeboro, with the main intent to acquire ice cream or maple candy. My mother used to take us to the Hansel and Gretel Shop, which had an enormous selection of penny candy and a large pool to go fishing for plastic fish. In case of rain, my mother and I went off shopping to the Bass and Pandora outlet of tax-free Manchester.
The camp had many traditions, including snipe hunts (a futile hunt for an imaginary bird), a beauty contest where my dad dressed up like Miss Delaware and Campfire Circle. I’m not sure why the camp brats like me were included, but I can remember sitting at the huge campfire and what seemed like the entire camp sitting around as my father came in from the dark as Big Chief Chibougamau. The biggest event of the entire summer was the All Camp Relay Race, which pitted the Blues and the Grays against each other. Each camper was assigned a team and number when they started camp. My brothers were Blues, with Rick as number 24 and Dave as number 67. And most events had some sort of competition pitting the Blues against the Grays. It all came down to the last day of camp and the All Camp Relay, and I was always rooting for the Blues to win. I can remember the race started at the camp entrance and went through the entire camp, including swimming and sailing races until it came down to the two team captains sitting at a table eating a container of graham crackers. The first one to whistle was the winner. So, there were two teenagers mowing through 20 graham crackers without water and trying to whistle. They were surrounded by hundreds of spectators and held all the hopes of bragging rights until the next summer.
I think of the sacrifice my dad made for all those summers so that my family could have a terrific summer in what I will always think of as an idyllic setting. The camp was sold many years ago and is now a residential community, but I still go back whenever possible to put my toes in Lake Winnipesauke and to smell the pine-scented air. I think back to a time where I had no worries, and anything was possible. Magic.