Started as a summer camp for blind girls by the Boston Lion’s club in 1931, Camp Allen (located in Bedford, New Hampshire) has had a lasting impact on my life and the lives of many other visually impaired girls.
The plans to spend part of the summer of 1959 at Camp Allen started in mid-March when at school, we had a welcome interruption during study hall on Monday evening in Glover cottage by our principal. He captured our attention by describing a delightful camp in New Hampshire where we would able to hike, swim, and make new friends. I impulsively signed up for the entire eight-week session, and would discover that a few of my classmates had done the same thing.
On a cool Wednesday in late June, my parents and brother said goodbye after they and camp counselors helped me unpack and settle in the dorm. This camp would be my home until August 13th. We had roommates in this cabin, and the kids ranged from ages six through ten. I was sad to see my parents go, but knew I would see my family every other Sunday and was looking forward to all of the adventures we’d have. By the end of that first week I was becoming used to their schedule and began to quickly make new friends.
There are four memorable events which made the first two summers at Camp Allen special–my swimming accomplishments, the annual trip to Pine Island Park, the celebration of Christmas in July, and most importantly, the friendships I made.
Classes were generally held outdoors and I remember our arts and crafts were always in the tranquil pine grove. My favorite class was swimming, when we had lessons in the morning and then free swims every afternoon.
That summer, the swimming instructor put new campers from the dorm in the Beginner’s class. I did not like being confined to the shallow end and would find a way to circumvent this rule. On July 4, we had an extra free swim on that hot evening and I ducked under the rope finally swimming and splashing in the deep end.
When we had our last free swim the hot afternoon of August 12th, the instructor praised me, admiring my ability, and even taught me the flutter kick. “You will definitely be in intermediate swimming next year,” they promised. This gave me yet another reason to anticipate returning to Camp Allen the following year.
The summer of 1960, I had a new swimming instructor. She patiently taught me the elementary backstroke, the Australian crawl, and I started learning the complicated side and breaststroke. I liked being in the deep end and feeling grown up and more confident in my abilities.
In July, campers and counselors went on the annual trip to Pine Island Amusement Park in Manchester. Everyone had fun going on rides like the whip and tamer and the merry go round. We sat at rustic picnic tables chatting, laughing, and having sandwiches with soda and ice cream.
Christmas in July was special, as a camp counselor read the unforgettable story “The Littlest Angel” the evening before the festivities. The celebration always took place on Saturday, when the Lion’s Club served us a delicious turkey dinner, after which we got gifts of sneakers and a sweater. We reciprocated by entertaining our gracious cooks by singing Christmas carols and some campers did synchronized swimming.
The real magic of these two summers was held in the places we went, the experiences we had, people I met, and the life-long friends I made. These happy memories will last a lifetime.
Have any Ziegler readers gone to Camp Allen? Tell us about your summer experiences there in the Reader’s Forum.