"Carbide camper looks back"

Wednesday May 30, 2000


It has been a long time since I was a Carbide camper, but I still get a nostalgic longing about this time every year - the beginning of summer, the ending of school.

This is the time when I would've been dragging my big black trunk up from the basement, carrying it to the back porch to air out and touching up my paint-chipped name on the top.

This is the time of year when Mom would've been diligently trying to squeeze the name "K. Tauscher" in permanent ink onto the label of every item of clothes, while my brother and I rush-gathered the items on the list in a frenzy, as though on a scavenger hunt.

For decades, Union Carbide hosted a camp for teens and pre-teens deep in the woods of Blue Creek. It closed sometime in the early '80s, not long after I became too old to attend.

A demolition crew went through there, removing almost every trace that the camps - Carlisle (for girls) and Camelot (for boys) - ever existed. My parents and brother went back there once, to confirm the reported devastation, but I didn't go. I'm glad I didn't.

To me, it's still as real and magical a place as it was in those long, in-between times when I was a kid.

Back then, it was comforting to know it was there, even when camp wasn't in session. Anytime I wanted, I could close my eyes and see the row of little cabins, with the Castle (the dining hall and gathering center) nestled in the middle.

Even now, I can retrace in my mind the footpath to the place where we made crafts, just to the left of the rifle range. It has been two decades, but I can still almost smell the scent of the gunpowder, as girls stretched out on their stomachs to shoot at paper targets with old .22s. (I still have the target where I obliterated the center. I knew it was more luck than skill, but that didn't stop me from waving it about.)

It seems impossible that it has been so long since I was a camper, lugging a sloppily rolled (and forever unrolling) sleeping bag to some middle-of-the-woods destination for an overnight, where a small group of us would poke sticks into a crackling fire while a counselor told scary stories.

It seems impossible that it has been so long since I sat, cross-legged and smelling of chlorine, on the wooden floor of the Castle, amidst a roomful of cross-legged, chlorine-scented girls, all singing loudly about how "We are the Carlisle girls!"

And it seems impossible that it's gone. Impossible that bulldozers flattened such a special place. That kudzu and rhododendron have overtaken campfire circles, choked out footpaths, and erased those few things the dozers passed by.

My beloved old camp may be gone, but many others remain. Others just as special as Carbide Camp. I realize this because of my work with the Gazette's Send-A-Child-To-Camp Fund. At the close of each camping season, many of the children who received camp sponsorships write letters thanking us for allowing them to attend. They write of their experiences, skills that they've learned, friends that they've made.

What I wouldn't give to pack that old black trunk one more time. To touch up the paint on my name. To worry over that list.

I can't go back again, though.

But, thankfully, others still can.

Karin can be reached via e-mail at kvingle AT cnpapers.com