Starting in 1911, most kids from the Claremont area went to Camp Soangetaha in Goshen, named after a character in Longfellow’s Hiawatha. The YMCA sold that camp in the 60s, and since then the local Y camp has been Camp Coniston in Croyden, named after a book written by Winston Churchill. Somehow, I like the old name better.
My parents sent me to a camp in Maine, so I never got to Goshen until I arrived as a junior counselor in 1955. The passage of time has clouded many memories, but not all. One was the homemade doughnuts, as good as Mrs. Murphy’s. Another was the orange crates called “ditty boxes”—what better place to keep your clothes? Perhaps most memorable was the honor society, the Old Guard. Occasionally, in the stillness of a late July night, a call would come from the woods, “The Old Guard is calling,” followed by a name. That person would immediately start running towards the voice, there to enter a secret society and receive the highest honor the camp bestowed. In my two summers at Soangetaha, the call did not come for me.
At the end of each camp day, we would lower the flag and sing the camp song, followed by “Day is Done.” Dwight Eisenhower was President, Sherman Adams was at his side, and the world was at peace. If anyone was worried about the future, I didn’t know about it.
In 2000 I served as counsel to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, first to conduct an investigation and then to serve as prosecutor in the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice. During August, between the two phases of that historic process, we had time to be in Jaffrey. One evening, we were eating at Gatto’s when a middle-aged man approached me and said, “Joe, my counselor!”
I looked up at this stranger and asked, “Who are you? He replied, “I’m John Teague, your camper.”
I remembered the name—“From Newport?” He nodded. “But John, that was 45 years ago.” “Yes,” he replied, “I saw you on television. I didn’t remember your name, but when I saw your face I said to my wife, ‘That’s Joe, my counselor.’”
Opportunities like this don’t come along every day. I stood up and said, “John, should we do it.” “Absolutely,” he answered, and with no further words between us, we sang to the crowded room:
Camp Soangetaha, good night to you,
You are the best camp we ever knew
We will be always loyal and true,
Good night, good night to you.