Sweat, Sunscreen and Tomato Soup – by Karol Kane

Sweat, Sunscreen and Tomato Soup


Drip, drip, drop. The beads of sweat falling from my forehead and chin waterfall onto the rocks surrounding the massive campfire made out of three log cabins. I don’t think I have ever been so hot in my life. Mentally, I am in the middle of the Sahara desert. Physically, I am at Camp Newaygo preparing a meal – all cooked over a campfire – for eighty six camp alumni.

Rows and rows of picnic tables are set up and covered by our homemade table cloths. The decorations that we spent countless hours on are hung from the old trees surrounding our living quarters. I swell up with pride as I see my counselors talking to Jane, the camp director about how much work we have put into this year’s Pioneer Banquet.

Quickly, I remember what task I am working on as my quadriceps’s burn as if I just got done with a two hour long leg workout. I have been squatting into the fire stirring the giant pot of butterfly noodles simultaneously with the spaghetti sauce, each in giant scolding pots.
The noodles are nearly done now, so I call over to Fran to help me drag the pot away from the hot embers of the fire. We wrap our hands in our burnt bandanas to act as potholders, and successfully land what seemed to be a 200 pound pot of noodles onto the dirt. We are ready to start serving our guests. I feel independent.

Independence is making others proud. Independence is lonely. Independence is hot. Independence is putting others before you. Independence is happiness. Independence is grownup. Independence is hard. My last year as a camper, my last year to show the camp staff that I am indeed ready to take the next step at camp: being a counselor. As a last year camper, the “Pioneers” put on Pioneer Banquet to thank camp for blessing them with all of the magic camp holds. Camp alumni and all of the important people of camp gather for a meal and entertainment, put on by ten, seventeen year old girls.

Throughout history, women are seen only to be cared and provided for with the help of the working man. In the past couple centuries women have made leaps and bounds to stray from this stereotype. Seeing the proud, almost surprised faces of the camp alumni, I realized I could
never rely on a man as many women do. Now, I have high expectations for myself and other women to make their own way in the world.

As I lay in bed the night of the Pioneer Banquet, I take a deep breath and realize we did it! My fellow Pioneers and I made this banquet one to remember. We did it by ourselves,  with no help from our counselors. We finally were independent.

Beep! Beep! Beep! My ten dollar, hot pink, plastic, Walmart watch has alerted me- as it does every morning at 7:15 – that it is time to “Rise and shine and give God my glory”, as it is sung in the all too familiar camp song. I jump out of bed, not before hitting my head on the metal bunk above me, scavenge through my disheveled trunk and pick the first t-shirt I come across that doesn’t smell too potent of a burning campfire and quickly throw it over my neon green sports bra. Luckily, my French braided pigtails are still intact after three days so all I need now is to find my favorite bandana.

Without waking the four other counselors in our minuscule, screened in, tree house, I manage to maneuver over to the opposite side of the room – a whole three steps – and snag my orange bandana which is holding my smelly Tevas together in a  friendship knot. While tying my bandana on my head like a headband and slipping on my Tevas as if they are the most fabulous pair of shoes, I hear Kori and Amanda’s watches go off in unison, signaling the start of another day. Beckoning to “my girls”, I start singing another favorite camp song to wake them from their slumber. Without any further preparation besides grabbing my backpack and sunglasses, I stomp out of the door, down the steps, on my way to start another magical day at Camp Newaygo.

I feel beautiful. Beauty is laughter. Beauty is holding hands. Beauty is Teva and watch tan lines, Beauty is running down a hill with the wind blowing through your hair. Beauty is sweat. Beauty is a band aid, Beauty is the dirt on your hands and feet. Beauty is easy. The expectations of a woman in the “real world” are substantially different than those at camp. After eight glorious summers at Camp Newaygo I have formed my own expectations of woman both in the “real world” and at camp. Early on, I was taught that beauty was mascara, shoes and expensive clothing. Not until I was welcomed into the world of camp did I realize these values did not hold true for many women, certainly not me.

At Newaygo the sunscreen with the highest SPF holds the equivalence of the most expensive foundation in the “real world”. Bug spray is our perfume, our freckles act as concealer, friendship bracelets as our diamonds and the paint on our hands from the marshmallow paint war the day before is better than any nail polish. Our sun kissed skin and mosquito bites tell stories of the beauty that we all have on the inside, rather than the beauty that society expects us to grasp. Now, I have realized that being a woman is ultimately about being beautiful as you see it, not how the status quo does.

Prior to learning this valuable knowledge I would not have been caught dead going to class – or even out of the house – without makeup on. After becoming confident in my newfound perception of the beauty that I have, I became confident in all aspects of my life, again with help from the magical world of camp: “What do I do?” I whispered to myself. I start to help my campers put up their tents that are missing many pieces: stakes, poles, zippers and tarps. Evidently, none of my girls have the slightest clue how to put up a tent, with a smile on my face still, I manage to single handedly put up four makeshift tents in twenty minutes. This only momentarily put off what was about to come. The matches are wet. The waterproof matches are wet. My hiking boots are wet. My campers are wet. The firewood is wet. I hear my stomach growl in unison with two of my girls. We are hungrier than we are wet.

Unloading the canned tomato soup, bread, butter and cheese from my pack, I realize what I have to do. Placing my ten campers in a circle I tell them that we are going to have the best camp meal ever! The girls scream – as girls always do – with delight. After buttering twenty two slices of bread, and portioning eleven cups of ice cold tomato soup out, I begin to pass the food around the circle to my girls. I watch their faces turn down into frowns as they look down at their “best camp meal ever”. Thinking on my feet I tell the tiniest white lie: “This is what all of the counselor’s eat on their nights off, this is our absolute favorite meal”, I proudly stated. To prove this to my campers I begin to choke down my cold bread and cheese sandwich followed by me drinking the horrible tomato soup.

Five minutes later my campers were asking for seconds and thirds.
I feel proud. I feel confident. Confidence is smiling. Confidence is crying. Confidence is smiling through your tears. Confidence is being a leader. Confidence is funny faces. Confidence is being proud. Confidence is singing. Confidence is going first. Confidence is raising your hand. Confidence is hard. Who knew eating a bland, cold sandwich and a cup of ice cold tomato soup could impact me so much? Who knew being vulnerable and afraid would turn me into a confident leader?
Who knew girls would look up to me?

Looking back, I had no clue the prominence of my actions in the summer of 2011. I started my summer with a closed mind and although I knew every one of the other counselors, I was still closed off and shy. Within the first week, my walls came down and I knew that I was becoming more and more confident with every day that passed. Although I knew I was changing for the better, I still had questions: What does confidence even mean? Why aren’t more women confident? How come it has taken me this long to be confident?

Prior to that summer, it was rare that I had a prominent and confident woman in my life. I knew the many celebrities I had seen on TV and in the tabloids were not truly confident, only hiding behind makeup and expensive clothing. All of my life, men were the confident characters surrounding me. In society today, women are expected to stand behind the man, rather than beside him, partially due to their lack of confidence. As the summer came to an end, I refused to go home only to fall back into the common stereotype of a woman standing behind a man.

I am completely satisfied with the woman I have become: a beautiful, confident and independent woman.

-Karol (Kane) Maurer was a camper, LIT, and currently volunteers for Camp Newaygo. She now lives with her husband in Grand Rapids