White Mountain Bread

For five summers during my undergraduate and graduate school years I worked in a boys’ camp in Wayne, Maine. It was a beautiful spot on Lake Androscoggin and the summers were memorable. Bright sunny days with the clearest of skies followed upon one another like geese flying South. Together with another counsellor who became one of my closest friends, my job was to teach young boys the game of tennis and I was also in charge of a bunk with five precocious boys aged nine. During those summers I had many of the most pleasant moments of my life and in order to maintain my sanity in an insane world, I shall share a couple of the those moments with you. This post has no point, really, it’s just anecdotal.

Each summer the boys from the camp, aged seven through eleven took trips around Maine and even into New Hampshire. One of the trips was to Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We rode to the top of the mountain in the cog railroad, slowly inching up precarious angles, chugging away as the boys took turns standing up at ridiculous angles seeking to defy gravity. At the top we explored the region around the headquarters and souvenir shop and later after a good meal we spent the night high atop Mount Washington where, it is said, one can see several different states on a clear day and the wind blows at record speeds.

We went back another time to New Hampshire and camped out in a public camping area which the boys cleared for themselves. It was primitive, which is to say it had no running water and no bathroom. The boys and counsellors visited the front office or found a tree when necessary, otherwise they spent the afternoon clearing the area and playing games. At night we were preparing for the evening meal when the leader of the expedition, an older and more experienced man by the name of Phil Traub who ran a boy’s club in New York during the year, pulled me aside and said we had forgotten to bring the bread. Since we were planning to have sandwiches, this was a problem. He told me to go into the closest town and buy several loaves of white bread — as the campers, being young boys, preferred white bread to all other kinds. The store had no white bread so I bought several loaves of whole wheat bread and handed them to Phil with fear and trepidation. He was an imposing  man, a former marine who did not suffer fools. But he said not to worry he would think of something.

As the meal was being prepared and the boys gathered around Phil told them they were in for a treat. “Tonight,” he said, “we are going to have White Mountain Bread!” The boys had no idea what he was talking about, nor did I, but they cheered nonetheless and ate their sandwiches with great glee. Needless to say, I learned many a practical lesson in child-rearing from Phil and also from the man who owned and ran the camp who was in many ways a very wise man. His name was Pat Wack and he was not only wise but also had a delightful sense of humor and ran a terrific operation. The camp was spotless, the meals were always excellent, and the counsellors were among the best men I have ever been around.

The eleven-year-olds took a canoe trip each summer and the counsellors, as was the case on all the trips, were chosen on a rotating basis. When I went in my final year I learned how to handle the canoe and we took off one bright morning headed for Canada — or at least that’s what the boys were told. Bear in mind that the camp was in the Southeast of the state of Maine and Canada was, as they say, a fir piece! But off we went, portaging after we reached the shore of our lake and settling into the canoes in the nearest lake North of the camp. We went several miles on that lake (and on that lake alone) until we reached a spot owned by the boys’ camp that was set up and ready for the boys who would swim, explore, eat, prepare their beds for the night, sleep and then return to home base the way they came — all the way back from Canada! The arrangement for bathroom needs was primitive, to say the least: a rope hanging over a deep hole. The boys (and counsellors) swung on the rope over the hole and “bombs away!” One only hoped that his aim was good. Otherwise it was great fun and relieved many of the young boys of their fear of pooping in the wilds.

As I say, I learned a great many practical lessons in raising boys which came in very handy when I had two of my own. And that was not long after as my wife joined me in the fifth summer by way of a honeymoon. Pat arranged a room for us to sleep in on alternate nights (when I didn’t have to be in the cabin) and found some work for her to do in the office with his wife and daughter with whom she got along famously. As I say, those were the best summers of my life and, as I also said, this post has no point to make whatever. It’s an exercise in pure, unmitigated self-indulgence.