Remembering the Times & Celebrating My Mechuwana Memories
There has been nothing easy about life during the Covid-19 pandemic. I am lucky in that I am still employed and so is my husband. We don’t take that for granted. Our family members and friends are healthy, and so are we. We stand in line for groceries, but we wear our masks and wash our hands and are fortunate that we are able to buy food and keep ourselves fed. We know that not everyone is as lucky.
I have been spending a lot of time alone, working from home and thinking about all of the things for which I am grateful. Feeling grateful for what I have instead of focusing on what has changed and caused disruption and inconvenience takes a lot of energy. I can so easily start thinking about the losses and get weighed down in the uncertainty and overwhelming sadness about life as we know it right now.
And then, this week was the week. As a member of the Mechuwana Site Committee and the person who manages Mechuwana’s website and social media, including email blasts, I knew this week would be hard. This is the week we contacted Mechuwana campers, parents, volunteers, and supporters to say that with very heavy hearts, we were announcing the closing of camp for the summer season. Thinking about a summer with no Mechuwana was like a punch in the gut. Even though I knew it was coming and I could brace for it and prepare myself, it hurt nonetheless.
The Lodge porch, where many of us have spent lots of summer days & nights over camp's 73 years. We will be back there before we know it...
What hurts most for me is the thought of so many campers who were excited about their first time at camp, or the campers who were already planning their week at camp and thinking about what they would pack, whether they wanted a top or bottom bunk, and if they would still get to eat pizza on Friday night. Thinking about Adult Special Needs campers in particular is heartbreaking. I have known many of the campers since I was first on camp staff in 1991, nearly 30 years. The enthusiasm and excitement of this week of camp – for the campers, volunteers, and staff – is hard to explain unless you have experienced it. I know how much these remarkable adults look forward to their week at Mechuwana, and to think of them hearing the news that this summer they won’t be playing kickball, making crafts, swimming, boating, dancing, or hosting their talent show is what caused me to weep today. Laura Church’s rendition of the Mechuwana Song Monday morning on Facebook also made those tears flow. It was a beautiful performance full of emotion that we all felt. I felt the pain and sadness in each note, and want to thank you, Laura, for sharing that moment with so many of us. It was sad, but also brought back a flood of memories of singing that song with so many people over the years.
Lisa (Agurkis) Lockhart and me at Elementary Cabin Camp in 1980, and inset, Lisa & me at the 2018 Dempsey Challenge in Lewiston.
My memories of Mechuwana started in 1980 during Elementary Cabin Camp, deaned by Janet Smeltzer. I remember much of that week, including my first camp friend, Chelsea from Biddeford. I haven’t seen Chelsea in nearly 40 years, but I remember that we kept in touch and wrote letters back and forth until we saw each other at the same camp the next summer. I am still friends with Lisa Agurkis, who also was in my cabin all those years ago. We make a point of seeing each other at the Dempsey Challenge each fall in Lewiston, and always talk about camp and take a selfie.
My sister, friends, & me (far right) at Jr/Sr High Music Theatre Camp 1984, "Choose"
I remember years of music theatre camp. I was not a talented singer or actress, but I loved that camp. I made so many lifelong friends at my two years there. And then, in 1991, I got hired to work in the kitchen. If I am not a singer or an actor, I am also definitely not a cook…but I can chop vegetables and wash dishes with the best of them. That summer changed my life. I have been involved in Mechuwana ever since – going on to work in the office, then as assistant director, and finally in 1996, I became the year-round Youth Director, running the rally program for 12 years before retiring 10 years ago this month. To say that Mechuwana is important to me is a complete understatement. I credit Mechuwana with turning my life around and giving me a life I never imagined. I found my voice, my passion, my confidence, and some of my very best and most important friends on these sacred grounds. For that, and so many other camp impacts, I am profoundly grateful.
What brings me hope and some moments of peace during this pandemic is thinking about camp and looking at camp photos. I think about sitting on the boat dock or waking up in my room on the Lodge porch to the call of the loons. I think of uncontrollable laughter and singing showtunes late at night with Lisa Swett the summers we roomed together…some of the biggest laughter was when we were tormenting her brother, Peter, who was on staff with us.
Lisa Swett and me in our room on the Lodge porch, summer 1992
There is a meme that I have seen on Facebook several times that reads something like: “Smiles are not canceled. Laughter is not canceled. Phone calls with family and friends are not canceled.” I like to think that Camp Mechuwana memories are not canceled. Camp memories can help sustain us during this time. “Remembering the times we had here” at Mechuwana can sustain us…singing the camp song or a silly campfire song is not canceled. We are actually hoping to share some campfires this summer, virtually, if possible. Stay tuned…
And know that as much as you are going to miss camp this summer…camp is going to miss you even more. We look forward to seeing you at camp each time you drive down Mechuwana Lane. We love seeing you in the registration line for your week of camp. We love seeing you at meals, swimming at the waterfront, walking on the Owl Trail, and singing around the campfire. We know that we won’t have those moments this summer, for your health and safety and the safety of our staff and volunteers. But know that we are here, rooting for you, praying for you, and hoping that you will be back on our 200 wooded acres on the shore of Lower Narrows…or as we call it, Mechuwana Pond, as soon as possible.
A junior high rally while I was youth director. I am going to guess this was 1999 or so? Recognize the junior high rally goer I am with? That's Jarod Richmond...and he is going to LOVE that I shared this photo.
—Beth Comeau, former camper, summer & year-round staff, youth director, & current Site Committee member