Editorial: Getting to Fitch Camp involves some time travelPublished 11:13pm Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Thursday, July 7, 2011
We can’t think of anyplace but E. Root Fitch Day Camp on Cable Lake where you can go back 48 years later and find things substantially unchanged, yet somehow better, too, like a better bathhouse and a sleepover for select campers who don’t fear encountering the Sister Lakes Monster.
We accepted an invitation to lunch Wednesday and campers, who spend all of a dollar a day, were chowing down on fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni salad, carrots and dessert. We remember eating a lot of chili and sloppy joes, as well as tuna fish and peanut butter sandwiches, and so do two of our counselors who happened to be there, teacher Judy O’Brien and businessman Tom Underwood, who broke his leg while a counselor.
Judy remembers losing a contact lens in a bowl of chili and the gallant young lad who came to her rescue, dumping over the contents to pick through the beans until he found it.
Counselors of that era also included future Olympic wrestler Chris Taylor, for whom Dowagiac’s gridiron is named, eighth-degree black belt Richard Anderson and state trooper Joe Neidlinger. At Fitch Camp the Gentle Giant doubled as a human diving board for anyone who could climb him to the summit. The waterfront is largely unchanged except the beloved slide has been removed. Otherwise, campers still pair off for safety. The buddy board’s even still there! So are the deep and shallow corrals two piers form.
Paddle boats and canoes still ply the placid water of Cable Lake. There is even a sign at the gate announcing a visitor’s arrival at Fitch Camp. It used to be a test if you were really from Dowagiac if you could even find the place by ducking up Grove Road from Dewey Lake, which is what all the road signs promote. Bouncing to a stop in a big yellow Dowagiac school bus — what other district around has a day camp for students to enjoy each summer since campers grew their own vegetables during World War II — was a bit magical, like Harry Potter going into the train station and coming out at Hogwarts, except you were in the woods by the Rim War court. They still play that dodge ball-like game and tetherball. We well remember Capture the Flag. Rim War even inspired shirts with Uncle Sam wanting you on the front — to get off the court on the back.
Oldtimers notice Counselor Riley Cox selling 12 colors of “string” from what had been the camp store once upon a time. After lunch, campers had to be quiet for an hour before swimming some more, so bought fruit-flavored Crushes in frosty glass bottles and nibbled licorice and used them for straws. Strings are braided into key chains and other craft projects. Summer’s sand seems to flow slower through the hour glass at a place like Fitch Camp, where activities revolve around the lake or the fields instead of screens indoors.
We did see one counselor curl up on a pier, her thumbs texting furiously before her charges arrived at the waterfront at the foot of those familiar fieldstone steps.
A gentle reminder it really is 2011 — and not 1967.