Dear Little Red Cabin...

You must be a little worried. Since the last camper packed up her bag and shuffled out into the quad, you've sat empty. Your floor was swept one last time. Your window flaps were lowered to keep out late summer rainstorms. The nice counselor who’d kept you company and corralled new campers into your bunks each week seemed so sad before bidding you good-bye. The campers and counselors are always sad to leave but this summer, something was different.

Then in September, some people came by and pulled out tape measures, pacing around you and the other little red cabins. A few of them looked familiar—like grown-up versions of campers who’d slept in your bunks long ago. They looked at you with warmth in their eyes but they looked worried too. They talked about whether they thought you could survive the trip. “What trip?” you wondered.

As the first whipping winds of late autumn arrived in October, they returned. But this time, they came with large trucks and big hydraulic jacks and hammers and nails and…oh my…saws. They began working on your friend, Cabin #9, first. After securing her with chains and support beams, concern and fear in their eyes, they started to lift her. People watched her from every side, shouting “be careful!” and “she’s tipping too much!”

You couldn’t watch and closed your eyes until things quieted down. When you opened them again, your friend sat perched atop a big flatbed truck, unmoored from her prairie foundation, looking so oddly alone without cabins to flank her. And as your creaking screen door shouted a final good-bye, the truck carried her away down the hill. “Where are they taking her?” you asked.

One by one, they did the same to each cabin, moving down the line until they reached you. Your friends, who’d huddled together on this hilltop for nearly 100 years, were gone. By Thanksgiving, only you remained. As a blistering snow storm moved across the hills, you hunkered below the elm tree that had sheltered you from so many storms before and warmed yourself with thoughts of summers past.

There was the first summer in 1921. A man from Elmdale, Fred Calvert, had carefully built you and each of the 16 wooden cabins with simple hand tools. Afterward, workers painted your lap siding a bright white. Staff hoped that you would provide better shelter to the campers than the military-style tents that had circled the quad previously. And you did.

Five years later, the candlelight that had cast shadows through your rafters and inspired the telling of countless ghost stories was replaced with a single light bulb. That same year, a totem pole was erected in front of each cabin to mark the accomplishments of campers. How hard they worked each week to earn another stripe on their cabin’s totem! The boys would shout and cheer with each victory.

Sometime during those early years, you also welcomed your first female campers to sleep under your roof. Though their voices may have been sweeter during the nightly singing of Taps and Green Trees, their energy and excitement for camp and all the adventures they found there was as electric as that of the boys.

Later, on your twelfth birthday, the gift of a small elm tree was planted next to each cabin in the hopes of providing some much-needed shade during the hot, Kansas summers. Only a handful remain today, twisted and battered by the never-ending prairie winds, their visible roots worn smooth by the traffic of thousands of children.

As stories of a second World War arrived on the hill in 1942, you and your friends received a little sprucing up. After a new roof and fresh paint, returning campers complimented you for looking so sharp. At night, they shared stories from former counselors and campers fighting on the front lines. You heard word from one of your favorite campers, Don Coldsmith, who while serving abroad had found comfort in memories of camp’s little wooden cabins and the friendships he formed within their whitewashed walls. You prayed for his safe return. Your prayers were answered.

A decade later during the spring of 1951, a large wooden cross was erected on Hi-Y Hill, overlooking the little quad of cabins. Over the next two decades, you began to notice fewer and fewer campers returning each summer. Some weeks, there weren’t enough campers to fill the cabins. In 1976, numbers were so low that camp was shuttered for the summer. The little cabins sat empty and the hot, windy days passed slowly and silently. What a sad summer that was.

Four years later, your dear friend, Don Coldsmith, returned to you. He brought a group of men and women, several of whom you immediately recognized as campers from decades past. They gathered in the quad, surrounded by you and your friends, and vowed to restore camp’s greatness. You knew they could do it. You’d seen them as campers and you’d seen their hearts and bodies grow each summer. If anyone could save camp, it was them.

By the end of the next summer in August of 1980, your cabin door was thrown open and in streamed families and kids chattering about campfires and swimming and horseback rides. They were all members of the Wood Family—co-founders of this little camp on the hill and they had returned to these cabins to kick off a new era for you and your friends. Slowly, roofs were repaired, bunks were replaced, and screen doors were re-hung. The familiar sound of children laughing and singing returned to the quad. What happy years those were! You were useful again and kids wrote their names on your walls and hung towels in your rafters and all was right again in your little world.

Since then, new buildings have started springing up all over camp. Several new cabins were built on the other side of the hill. They look so big and solid! In the winter, you can hear the hum of heaters keeping them warm.

Lately, you keep hearing the word “rustic” when they talk about you and the other cabins. You wonder when you’d earned this title. As the winter snow storm rages on, you miss your friends and wonder where they’ve been taken.

You awaken a long time later to the sound of songbirds and the smell of thawing prairie earth. As the sun warms your roof, construction equipment moves in and a flatbed truck pulls up to your door. You know what comes next. The holes are cut, the beams inserted, your body lifted from the ground—just clearing the branches of your guardian, the elm tree. You close your eyes. Maybe it’s your time to head to the dump or the burn pile or maybe they’ll put you down by the maintenance shed and store lawnmowers and rakes against your bunks. But after a short trip across the hill, you are lowered again and set upon a new cement pad. The holes cut into your walls are patched. You get a fresh coat of paint inside and out and a brand new roof. Your bunks are removed. “Now where will the campers sleep?”, you wonder.

From your new vantage point, you watch as new cabins are built one by one around the quad. “Wow, the campers are going to love those!” you think to yourself a little sadly.

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Then, just before summer campers arrive (you can always tell when it’s time for them to come back to the hill) your door is opened. In walks a group of familiar faces—former campers and counselors! They carry boxes and tables and hammers and nails. From the boxes they pull photos and begin to hang them on your freshly painted walls. There are old pictures of you in your youth--painted white back then with a gaggle of boys smiling outside your door. There are pictures of campers you recognize, and your heart beams at one of Don Coldsmith.

And then, you start to see pictures of the other red cabins. But they are not pictures of them on the quad. Some of the cabins are nestled into the woods and others sit in grassy fields. With new paint and fresh front porches and flowers planted around their foundations—they look so young again!

Standing in front of the cabins are smiling families—little kids and their parents, older women and men standing proudly before the familiar screen doors. And in each older face, you begin to realize, are the faces of former campers who once slept in your bunks and told stories under your rafters. They look so proud of the cabins and of the new homes they’ve provided them.

You are relieved that your friends are not lost or forgotten. They’ve found new families and children to care for them. But you are a little sad as your door is closed again and the workers leave. Who will care for you now?

The next morning, you watch a cloud of dust rise from the road to Elmdale. The campers are arriving with their parents for the first day of summer camp. They drag backpacks and sleeping bags from their cars and head for the new cabins on the quad. Oh how you love this day every year—as a new generation of children discover the wonder of camp for the first time!

But then, your creaky screen door sighs and your windows are propped open. Campers and their families begin to file in under your roof. They wander from photograph to photograph and marvel that you’ve stood on this hill for so long.

A little girl holding her grandmother’s hand bounds across the room and touches a name carved into the wall, reading it aloud. Her grandmother smiles and starts to share the story of her first summer in the cabin and the memories she made there. Her granddaughter listens in silence until the story ends—marveling at the realization that her grandmother was once a camper too. After the story ends, they open your door to leave but the little girl pauses and turns around, taking one last look at your well-worn walls and dusty floor. “You were so lucky! I wish I could have spent the night here. It would have been so fun!” she says.

You smile. It was fun--so very fun. And at almost 100 years-old, you know now that the fun is just beginning. 

As Camp Wood YMCA enters it's second century of summer camp, we want to honor all the memories made in our "little red cabins". If you have a memory or photo (or both!) to share about the old red cabins, share them with us! You can comment below this blog post, on Camp Wood's Facebook page, or email us at ymca@campwood.org. We'd love to hear from you! Watch for upcoming information about the new cabins being built around the quad in time for Camp Wood's 100th summer in 2016. On social media, you can search out special 100 year celebration information with #100CampWoodSummers.