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On My Own at Pilgrim Pines

by Jim Woods, Long Beach, CA

     It was the summer of 1969 and I was in 4th grade.  I had spent several weekends up at the Pines with friends from church when the couples club my parents belonged to at First Congregational Church of Long Beach had gone up for family camps, so I was familiar with the camp.

     But this summer was to be my first time spending an entire week at Pilgrim Pines without any of my friends. It ended up being a great week, though it didn’t start off that way.  I was assigned to Beecher cabin in Junior Camp; the counselor was Joe Booth, the grandson of the former minister of First Congo, the Rev. Dr. Henry Kendall Booth, so I thought this was a good thing.

     Well, two things happened: one, I got home sick, and two, Joe told ghost stories during afternoon rest period and right before bed.  Not a good start for a sensitive kid.  I spent so much time with the nurse that I missed the swim tests on Monday and Tuesday and was only allowed in the shallow end of the pool.

     Instead of being teased about being homesick, the other counselors and the nurse helped me through it.

     On Wednesday night, it came time for the campfire at the fire ring in Junior Camp, with the highlight being Joe Booth telling ghost stories.  Great!  Now I had to listen to an extra dose of ghost stories.

     Since a couple of the counselors were aware that I was less than comfortable being there, two of them invited me to come along with them since they were not going to be at the camp fire.   I agreed immediately.

     Instead of being at the camp fire, we walked to the loading dock and got the camp Jeep.  When I asked where we were going they replied, “Hop on in.  We’re going to have a little fun.”  So we drove down the road and passed Junior Camp, where we could see the campfire burning.

     We left the camp and turned left, then the driver turned left again and drove up Sunset Drive then turned off the Jeep’s headlights and parked just above Junior Camp.

     “What are we doing here?” I whispered.

     “Now comes the fun part.  We’re going to scare the campers.  We will be the sound effects to Joe’s stories,” said one of the counselors.  I had now graduated from scared camper to the rank of co-conspirator.

     While I hated being told ghost stories and hated being scared, I loved scaring other people.  I took perverse pleasure in knowing that I was going to be on the inflicting side rather than being the one inflicted upon.

     The plan was to slowly creep through the underbrush as we snapped twigs and approached the camp fire, making it sound like wild animals or ghoulish ghouls were approaching.  At one point I let out a wolf howl.  As we got to the bottom and still couldn’t be seen (everybody was looking at the fire and at Joe), we rushed the fire ring howling and yelling.  The girls all screamed.

     I found out later that I could not have timed my wolf howl any better.  Joe was just telling a story that involved a wolf and had just said, “and then the wolf let out a howl.”  A second later, I howled.  I was told that it scared one girl so much that she fell off of the log she was sitting on.

     After that, I never suffered from homesickness again.  I felt like I was part of the camp.  The counselors who knew I was homesick but didn’t tease me about it had made me feel grown up enough to go off-site and participate in their pranks.

     After that summer I always looked forward to going to Pilgrim Pines.  I spent many summers camping and then went on to being a counselor for UCYL (‘80), Pinesters (‘85), and Staff (Summer of ‘87).

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