When I renovated the format for this Blog, Alex asked me if he should know what its title references. I have tried my best to put into words what this place is and where it belongs in my heart. I know I have not come close. Only a handful of people know exactly, but here is an answer that should suffice for the masses.
I grew up in a small coastal town in Southeastern Connecticut. I inherited two older brothers when my Mom married for the second time. We managed to create a wonderful family, one that I miss terribly at times, now that I’m 500 miles away from them.
I have another family, one that is also hundreds of miles away. A family I grew up with as much as my own. They are a large part of who I am today. You see, I’m a choirboy. I grew up in a family of 50, with brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers galore.
Every summer all the kids in this family of mine would fill two school buses and race up the New England highways to a camp that remains this day to me, the most magical place in the world. We called it Camp Ogontz.
For one week every August we would leave the world we lived in, forgetting the looming school year, discarding where we came from, and would become enveloped in the New Hampshire wilderness. There are no TVs, very few radios, and if you should complain about cell phone coverage, the trees laugh at you.
Camp Ogontz is a collection of open air log cabins with canvas flaps to serve as walls, and . On the rafters of those cabins, written in tooth paste, or whatever substance was at hand at the time, are the names of the people that have passed through the nearly century-old camp. My name is among them.
Ogontz is also a lake, a Junior Recreation Hall, a Mess Hall, a bakery, barns, latrines, stables, a boathouse, an island, waterfalls, and a swimming front. I grew up there. Although I’ve spent no more than a sum total of six months of my life there, I have more memories of this place than of any other.
I can navigate the gravel paths connecting the different buildings in complete darkness. I can picture in my head, every corner of every building. I get shivers remembering how cold the mountain snow run-off felt as I dove into the lake. I can repeat the nightly Compline Service by rote. I sing the prayers from that service to my children today. I can taste the warm cookies, made daily by people who I swore came to Ogontz just to bake. I can hear the dominoes smack against the Mess Hall tables, as I watched the adults play their never-ending game.
I proposed to my wife on the remnant stone steps of a burned building overlooking the lake. Later that night, I phoned my cancer stricken mother to tell her our news. Shortly after she died, I sat on the hill by the flagpole, with the star filled night sky looking down, and cried to myself, feeling helpless and alone.
When I finished, I returned to the Mess Hall, and to my family. Ogontz is who I am.