Guest Blog by Hannah Doherty
I was in my parent’s basement a few weeks ago looking for who knows what, and came across an unlabeled box. My attention was drawn to it by a few inches of hideous purple floral stitching poking out of the top that I immediately recognized as my senior prom dress. I had not seen it since I unabashedly chose and wore the beautiful thing in 1999. With my curiosity peaked, I pulled up a chair to see what other treasures from the past might be lurking within. I found an array of items including old family photos, sports trophies and more pieces of clothing which, along with the prom dress, would be entered into evidence if I were ever to be arrested by the fashion police. As I sat there smiling and shaking my head I pulled out what looked to be a stiff, white cloth napkin. What it actually was, was my first pair of ALC “Sunday white” shorts from 1988. (Name tag still securely sewn in). Thank you, mom for being a “saver.”
I was seven my first summer at ALC and tent 1 was my home. My sister, Arin was in tent 5, my brother arrived in diapers and was a morale booster, and my parents were the nurses. If my memory serves me correctly, our two cats even logged some summers at ALC. I would estimate that between us we spent close to 50 summers at camp. Saying that summers at Alford Lake Camp were a tradition for the Doherty family would be an accurate statement, but it was more than that. They became a necessity. As the summers progressed and we kids grew older, repacking our trunks and squeezing into the car each August at the end of camp began to feel equally like we were heading toward… and leaving home.
When I found these shorts I was hit with tangible evidence of just how long ALC has played a role in my life…and just how short a 2 inch inseam is. I have always known that Alford Lake Camp was one of my favorite places in the world. I spent 16 summers there as a camper, CT, counselor and Bungalow, but these minuscule shorts made it undeniably clear that I really was just a little girl when I first slept in a canvas tent and sang Dominique at the top of my lungs. Sue McMullan likes to say that I was a “peanut” and I’d like to add that as this peanut came out of her proverbial shell she was not always the easiest camper…or (uh…hmmm…) counselor to contain. I was oftentimes “invited” to make another choice but my innate spirit and goodness were always celebrated. I was patiently guided and appreciated and even after my parents no longer worked at ALC…I was home. I learned through living in a community with women I admired, how to become a better one.
Over the years non-ALCers have told me that camp is not the real world. I was encouraged by advisers in college to get a “real job” over the summers….that experience in my field and padding my resume were imperative to success in a competitive job market. I always thanked them for their advice and would subsequently drop my signed contract to Sue and Betsy in the mail. I believe that camp IS the real world. It is all the best parts of the world. The lessons that I learned at Alford Lake have helped me both in celebrating my life’s successes graciously, and perhaps more importantly, in accepting inevitable adversity. College courses in mathematical theory and the archaeology of Sub-Saharan Africa have fallen short as adequate moral compasses.
No one on their death bed says, “I wish I had spent more time at the office and a little less time with family and friends.” We are not our academic or athletic achievements. We are not our report cards, our Facebook profiles, our jobs, our bank accounts, or our pant sizes. We are spirit, and every summer, Alford Lake Camp allowed me to de-clutter my life and brain enough to recognize mine. I learned much of who I am by making mistakes and realizing who I wasn’t. The process of elimination is a powerful tool in self-discovery. To this day, when I am faced with an obstacle or big life decision, or heaven forbid, someone doesn’t agree with me and I feel frustration bubbling…Jean McMullan’s voice will echo in my ear, “Always remember who you are and what you represent.”
So parents, as you finish squeezing the last of your daughter’s belongings into her trunk and prepare to send her off to camp, remember that she will be loved and guided…with both firmness and patience. She will be challenged, appreciated and educated. She will experience many things for the first time and she will see some things that she stubbornly claims to know already in a new light. (I’m sure you will be happy about this. I know my parents were thrilled.) The camp experience for each individual is varied, as we all cross into 258 Alford Lake Road with unique personalities, interests and backgrounds…but one thing that I can promise is that your daughter will be returning home with more than she carried in.