When asked what my favorite day of camp is (an unsurprisingly frequent question around here, considering the sheer number of exciting events that pepper our schedule), I almost always say Banquet Day. The final Tuesday of camp, two days before parents return to retrieve their daughters, thrums with mounting anticipation, as all but the oldest campers (or CA’s, who plan the event) mill about the outside of the closed-off Dining Hall, eager to find out the secret theme of the final Banquet. The girls have all become perfectly at ease with each other and with themselves by these final days of camp—they stroll through the camp that has come to feel like their very own in just a few short weeks, headed for one last dip in the lake, or to polish off the final coat of glaze on their piece de resistance in pottery.
In the evening, all that easiness lifts into jubilation, as the girls laugh through the Banquet skits put on by the CA’s, indulge in the delicious dinner and candy spread across the tables, and dance to the music coming through the loudspeakers. The campers know that this is their last chance to let loose and act goofy before the return to the real world, and you can sense their determination to make the most of it.
The sheer energy that pervades Banquet Day is what gives it the top spot in most Rockbrook girls’ camp memories—including mine. But walking through camp today, stopping in for a while on every activity I passed, I realized that the first full day of camp just might deserve some more acclaim.
The girls are nervous, sure, and certainly much quieter than they will be three weeks, two weeks, or even one week down the road. They explore this new space tentatively, poking heads through cabin doors, and quizzing passing counselors on which path leads to Nature Nook, and which leads to the barn. They still have their best manners on, those “please’s” and “ma’ams” that have guided them through long days at school. They place novice hands on looms, clay, and canoeing paddles, and laugh nervously when they stumble through their first tries.
But as the day goes on, if you pay close attention, you can see those polite shells that the girls have spent the whole school year crafting begin to crack. Smiles become quicker, laughs become louder, and footsteps on uneven mountain paths become surer.
You get to watch as the campers realize (or remember, for the returners) just what they’re in for here at Rockbrook—that this is the sort of place where, if you were suddenly to get the urge to put on a crazy costume for no reason, no one would look twice, and more than likely, others would hurry to join you in dressing up; where, while we place a premium on treating others with respect, no one expects you to tiptoe through those tricky rules of courtesy set up in school; where no one cares about the labels on your clothes, the school crest on your backpack, or the grades on your last report card—they only want to know if you want to join in the tetherball tournament.
By dinner time, the Dining Hall is twice the volume it was at breakfast. Girls excitedly fill in their cabin mates and counselors on what they did that day, returning campers teach the camp songs to the new ones, and the Hi-Ups lead the rest of the camp in song after song, creating a happy din that spreads out from the Dining Hall, all across the still camp.
As energized and as vibrant as the Dining Hall has become in just twenty-four hours though, there is a long way to go yet before we reach the levels of Banquet Day. Over the next two or four weeks, these girls will face experiences that challenge them, that push them past their comfort zones, that make them laugh, make them cry, make them dance, make them sing, make them create, and make them wish that they could stay longer and experience even more.
That’s what makes this first day so exciting: today is the day they get the first sense of what awaits them in the days ahead. But all of that is still to come—today was just the start.