Saturday, September 7, 2013

Goodnight, not goodbye

In the world of Girl Scout camp, there's a song called "Linger". It's a song of parting words for fast friends, acknowledging that yourself and those seven other girls you shared a cabin with, who became your quick and instant best friends, will never be in the same in the space again, but that you will remember them, that you wish the night wouldn't end. Linger ends with, "Mmm, this is goodnight and not goodbye."

In the world of Girl Scout camp, circa 2000 (maybe 1999?) to 2006 you will find a silly little girl with buck teeth, frizzy hair and, for some of those years, as if the first two weren't bad enough, there was also glasses. She tanned easily, tripped easily, and adored being around the water and out in the woods. She lived for that one week (sometimes two when she got old enough!!) of fifty-two in a year where she got to return to the place she loved most. And, of course, that little girl was me.

In the world of Girl Scout camp, if you examined the Auburn, NY newspapers from December 2012, you would find out that the Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways Council had made the decision to sell Camp Yaiewano, a beautiful property on a hill with waterfront access to the Finger Lake, Owasco. This decision came following an extensive committee looked at all of the properties owned by the council and decided to let go of several of them to be able to continue to afford keeping a select few running. I followed this decision for the months and months that it was on the table, forever doubting that my beloved Camp Yaiewano would ever make it to the chopping block. The hill was so green; the water access was amazing; the cabins were beautifully constructed and it had never gone a year as long as I could remember without operating and having girls making memories there every summer. Plus, it was my camp, I worked there a summer and I camped there for so many summers. They wouldn't take away my camp. Yet somehow, it snuck up on me.

Today, they closed Camp Yaiewano. Inside and outside, I cried. I ached and I felt lost. I had been dreading returning for the closing for days, not wanting to deal with the raw emotion of it all, but knowing I would regret it if I didn't go. So much was being taken from me, and there was not a thing I could do about it. Every direction I looked there was a memory - a certain campfire atop the hill, the specific spot I remember falling and scraping my knee my second year there, the trees we would reconvene under after having meals and play name games, the time myself and my sailing partner sailed in the deep end of the swim area on accident because we were just learning.

Despite all of these memories (and the millions more), I couldn't particularly pinpoint what was so special to me that I was terrified of going and having a mental breakdown leaving for what might be the last time - that didn't seem right. I kept that question in my mind, but I had no answer for myself even as I walked the grounds, sharing my memories with my boyfriend as they rushed back in. I had never looked at the property so introspectively in the way I did today, with nostalgia instead of with excitement.

Finally, we had looped all the way back around to our vehicle, and it was inevitable. I had made my peace, and it was time to leave. I stood and looked up our hill from where the parking lot sat at the bottom. I looked at Emerson Lodge, so carefully placed on top with wide, long windows providing views of the lake over the treetops and that one farm that was always off to the left-hand corner; Emerson, where we ate on the top floor, sang songs for our dinners on the porch out back and played games on the bottom floor when the rain won and forced us indoors.

I looked at the hill, such a special place, Yai's trademark. The first thing that you see when you drive around the bend into camp. Here holds my first memory of Yaiewano from six or seven years old - I remember bigger girls walking up that hill with their bandanas and their backpacks; I thought they were the absolute coolest and I had to be like them.

I looked up that hill and thought, this is me, as tears poured from my eyes. This is me. This is me. This is me, as I continued to look around. But what does that mean, Mandi? That means nothing. There will be other camps; camp is the same special experience everywhere you go; you know this, you've been to other camps.

In the world of Girl Scout camp, no one cares what clothes you wear. Heck, no one cares if your clothes even match. No one laughs at you when you fall down and scrape your knee. There is no embarrassment, there is no harassment, there are no mean girls. In the world of Girl Scout camp, there are meals called "shipwreck dinners" where you might have to eat dinner with tongs, or "raccoon dinners" where you eat dinner with your fingers taped together - and everyone does, and no one cares, and being messy is all part of the game. Fun is the number one priority at Girl Scout camp, and if that means you've never sailed before and you sail into the swim area, that doesn't matter! You've had fun, you've learned, you've grown, you've embraced such a different, amazing and new experience in a nurturing, compassionate environment where everyone understands. In the world of Girl Scout camp, we are all together.

In the world of Girl Scout camp, you can sing loudly, with reckless abandon, and it doesn't matter how bad your voice is, and in the world of Girl Scout camp, you can be you. You can be loud, obnoxious, silly, energized, independent, self-sufficient, a leader and be just plain excited to be alive. No one will bring you down, and the real world isn't real because it takes itself just a little too seriously.

In the world of Girl Scout camp, my personality was nurtured. I learned that it was okay to be silly, obnoxious, energized, independent, a leader... ring a bell?... and as I grew, I harnessed all of these traits and was the person I loved to be. I was happy, full of light and could've cared less if I was the only one being silly and having fun as long as I was enjoying myself - and I took complete advantage of this all throughout high school.

I realized Yaiewano was so important to me because I regarded it as the last piece of that person I was still in existence. So much of my light has succumb to the unfortunate real world that takes itself too seriously, the world of school, work, money. I put blinders on myself for success, nothing less. I get up, go to class and work, do homework, maybe watch some television if I decide to give myself a break, and sleep on a daily basis. In this world, my personality that Yaiewano built in me has not only not been nurtured, it has been downright ignored and squashed. It has reverted to some different personality - someone who's way too mature and clinical. And leaving there meant that I could never get that old girl back. That was why leaving forever felt so hard, so life-altering, so devastating, so crushing.

In hard times, I always find myself returning to the resilience and good spirits instilled in me by Girl Scouting. Though it's still devastating, Yaiewano closing is nothing short of a significant and positive turning point in my life, and I believe it was clearly fated to be brought to me at this point in my life. Yaiewano helped me grow through the formative years of my life, and now it has come back into my life now to help me grow again.

I thought going into this closing ceremony that I was saying goodbye to Yaiewano, that I was saying goodbye to everything it brought me, that it was going to be gone forever after today, just like I regarded closing ceremonies after a week of camp with new friends. Though "Linger" tells us that it's goodnight and not goodbye, I always believed it was a goodbye, something set in stone, black or white, because I would never physically see those people again.

What I walked away with, however, was understanding the true meaning of "goodnight, not goodbye". I may be saying goodbye to the physical space (or in the song, the people I met there), but I am only saying a fond goodnight to what it/they brought me. I will revisit what Yaiewano brought me every morning for the rest of my life, because of the true grasp I now have on just how sacred my experiences at Girl Scout camp were.

I said Yaiewano has come back into my life in this way to help me, once again, to grow, and I have never had more faith in a statement. Yaiewano has given me so much to be grateful for over the years, and I know in several years I will look back on this time now and these formative years of beginning adulthood and see just how much more it's given me.

Through the eyes of a disposable camera, Girl Scout Seven Lakes Council Camp Yaiewano, as I will always cherish it.


  1. Awesome! I was not a true Girl Scout until I was an adult with a daughter (eventually 3) of my own. My family has strong memories of Girl Scout camp and what it taught and shared with us! You rock! PS My very favorite song of all is Linger! I just love it! It means so much to at an adult training, falling off a bench because I was Go Girl Scouts!

    1. Aw, thank you so much Dale! Go Girl Scouts indeed!!

  2. I know I am writing a few years too late, but I went to yaiewano from about 2001-2005. My Girl Scout troop also rented a cabin there every year. Everything you described is exactly how I feel. That was my happy place and one of the first places were I was truly accepted and told to boldly and loudly be myself. I will always have a piece of myself in that camp and I am devastated that future generations of girls won't experience it. Thank you for the pictures and for the memories (I had totally forgotten about shipwreck dinner!) and I wish you peace, wherever you are. - Kaight Conheady