A Camp Memory: My First Directive at Alford Lake Camp

July 2003

I could barely contain myself. After seven years of delicate negotiations, Alford Lake Camp was ours. It was November 1962, and Mrs. Carleton Knight had “transferred” the camp to us. This momentous event was brought about by promising Mrs. Knight that we would say nothing about acquiring the camp until she was able to announce that after my assisting her in the upcoming summer, Alford Lake would be carried on by “someone from within the ALC family.”

My husband, Andrew, and I walked down the beautiful woodland property to find Donald, the camp’s caretaker, piling brush on an outdoor fire. I introduced myself as Mrs. Knight’s new assistant. Donald barely stopped working to acknowledge us. He pushed his cap back on his head, straightened to his six-foot-four-inch frame and said, “Always nice to know who y’er workin’ fer.” And that took care of that.

As the three of us walked through the camp, I became increasingly, but secretly, dismayed at the condition of the buildings. Since Alford Lake had been there since 1907, some of the structures were badly in need of bringing up to American Camping Association standards. I looked at one small building where the front steps were rotted and unsafe. Inside, I was quaking. But, I decided not to waste any time in preparing for the summer ahead. “Donald,” I said diplomatically. “I really think we need to repair the steps on this building.” Donald peered at them as if he was just seeing them for the first time. He had a shake to his body, and it became more pronounced as he intoned, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I was you!” I looked at him in sharp surprise as my first request was being denied. My husband leaped, perhaps a trifle too quickly, to my aid: “Donald,” said Andy, “Those steps don’t need just repairing, in fact — they should be entirely replaced.” “Why not replace them, Donald?” I asked. “Well ya see,” said Donald, looking me straight in the eye, “You replace them steps, and the building ’ll fall down!”

As we said goodbye to Donald, I determined that I had better take control or I would never be able to work with him. Besides, the steps had to be fixed. “Donald,” I said lightly but firmly. “When we come back next time, we want to see those steps replaced.” We drove off, waving back in a friendly fashion.

It was three weeks later that we made our second trip to camp. How would Donald have responded to my first directive? As we walked down through the woods, I was delighted to see, bright with new wood, a brand new set of steps. But, looking more closely and focusing with horror, we saw that the building had fallen down!

Lesson number one: listen to your caretaker.

Originally published in the 2003 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.