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Faded Pictures from a Life: Camp Wisagoma

Camp Wisagoma


A ritual of Summer was the YMCA’s Camp Wisagoma at Pickerel Lake. The first step in getting to the camp was the selling chocolate candy bars door to door. The neighborhoods on the West side of town were saturated with candy bar salesmen. I went on the pilgrimage every summer for many years. It was your usual camp with sports, crafts, archery, rifles, canoeing, water skiing, etc. It was an all boy’s camp but the rumor was there was a girl’s camp on the other side of the lake and the strongest boys would swim there at night.

An unexpected turn of events happened one year. Next to our house was a motel run by a family with a younger brother. He was what was called at the time “retarded.” He did not speak other than some sounds but he seemed to understand what was said well enough. He was several heads taller than me, maybe in his late teens. I don’t recall how it happened but I was asked to take him to Y camp with me. It was a shock for a 12 year old but my Baptist values of the time required me to say yes.

It was awkward at first with his considerable differences. But it was not as bad as I thought it might be. I was protective and the counselors seemed coached to watch for abuse. His most difficult experience was the outhouse. When you walked in your eyes immediately began burning and the stench was overwhelming. His many years keeping motel bathrooms spotless must have added to the shock. In general he seemed to have a good time. At the end of the week to my surprise I was given the “Honor Camper” badge, the top award always given to the camper who excelled in everything. It was obvious why I received the prize and I felt a bit self-conscious about it. It turned out that I was actually given something far more valuable than the badge. After spending the week with my neighbor I learned that just because someone was different than you it did not make them less than you. A lesson that has served me well in the sixty years that followed.

Camp Wisagoma, 9″x12″, acrylic on shuen paper, 2021, Mark W McGinnis

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