On the last night of our celebration at this summer’s reunion, as we were hugged on the waterfront by trees and warmed by the campfire, alumna M.J. Mott-Auns (1954-1964, 1984-1995) shared a written piece in response to the ever-asked question: “why did you move to Maine?”
This piece sparked many collective dreamy sighs, laughs, and a few tears amongst the crowd – while you won’t experience the joy of hearing M.J. read it aloud, she has shared it with us to read to ourselves:
When we first moved to Maine, the most often asked question was “Why did you move here?” If directed to my husband Vilis, he would simply point to me. I then had to find an answer that made sense and didn’t involve too much explanation. But answering that question never seemed easy to me. My journey to living in Maine began many years ago.
I was an only child raised by a single parent and I was lonely. My father died when I was four and my mother had to step in and run the family insurance business. As you might imagine this created some parenting dilemmas as I was way too young to be left to my own devices. It happened that when I was 7 my mother heard about a wonderful camp in Maine where I would be with children my own age and older and be well cared for. So it was that I found myself, along with my friend Romney driving with our parents into New York city on a June afternoon so that the two of us could be put on the camp train and sent to Maine for two months. I remember feeling scared and nervous, but not wanting to let Romney see that side of me. She was both more confident and sophisticated than I was.
We arrived in the city and found our way into the Statler Hilton Hotel where we would have dinner before boarding the camp train. We were dressed in nice dresses and our brand-new camp blazers. As we were sitting down, my mother said
“See those girls sitting at that table over there? I’ll bet they are headed to camp too. Wouldn’t it be fun if they are going to Runoia?”
All during dinner I wondered about those two girls and whether they would be on the same train with Romney and me. I also noticed that one was crying all through the meal. I was happy that although I was sad to be leaving my mom, at least I wasn’t crying like a baby. I ate as slowly as possible to prolong the trip into the station, but eventually it was time.
When we got into Grand Central Station, I looked around and all I could see were signs with different camp names. I couldn’t imagine how we would find the right one, but we did. There were lots of girls waiting already and most of them seemed very excited, a good sign I thought. Then I saw those two girls from dinner approaching. Sure enough they were going to my camp too and it was their first year as well. One was still crying. Little did I know that she would be one of my bridesmaids many years later.
Goodbyes were said and some tears shed, but we got on the train and soon enough were pulling out of the station. The whole train, it turned out, was devoted to transporting children to camp in Maine. Runoia filled up one car. We slept in bunks and spent much of the night peering out of the curtains to see the older girls talking and singing camp songs at the end of our car. Meanwhile I was making friends of my own and comforting the crying girl who would become one of my best friends.
The next morning, we arrived at a little station in Belgrade, Maine and were met by the camp director who was named Johnny, the Arts and Crafts counselor Shelley, and a few other counselors. We were shown which cars to get in and were driven to camp in Belgrade Lakes. I was in the car driven by Johnny. She was a little scary to me, but I did notice that most of the other girls were laughing and joking with her and I began to relax. When we turned onto Point Road Johnny told us that there were a few steep hills to climb and that the car we were in needed some help to climb them. She told us that we should all raise our feet off the floor of the car when she gave the signal and that would help the car make it up the hill. We did as we were told, and eventually all the new girls realized this was a joke that Johnny always played on new campers. When we arrived, we were told how to find our cabins and off we went. I remember smelling the pine and the old wood of some of the buildings and thinking it smelled like perfume. There was a lake down a hill, tennis courts, a tree house, and way too much to take in all at once. I knew I would love this place from that moment on. I felt as though I had found a second home. Romney and I were both in 4th Shack which made me happy.
I attended Camp Runoia for ten summers as both a camper and a counselor, and those years were formative for me. I learned about being a child among children which was sometimes difficult for me as an only child. On the flip side, I learned the joys of sisterhood and embraced those fully. Sports became central to my life and have brought me great joy. Being a counselor gave me skills I used all my working life as a teacher. All of this helped me to become the person I am today. My camp friends and I marvel to this day that we were able to have this incredible experience. I see several of my camp friends to this day, people I have known and loved for over 60 years.
I returned to camp when I had children of my own to be an Assistant to Betty Cobb. My daughter attended and my son went to another camp on the lake. Vilis enjoyed being part of it all, happily grilling at camp cookouts and attending campfires. Even our Yellow Lab Jamie was a part of Runoia although he usually stayed on his own property except when it was cookout night and there were all sorts of treats for him to clean up after the campers left for evening program.
I am still involved with Runoia as a member of the Alumnae Board that exists to raise scholarship money for girls who could otherwise not afford to come to this wonderful place. As I return each summer for our board meeting, I still get butterflies when I drive through the camp gates.
And so, when I am asked “Why Maine?”
I almost always answer,
“Because of camp.”