Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Daddy's Little Girl (Part III)

More and more of the stories about growing up and spending time with my dad involve camping and the father/daughter program through the Y. There were so many different nights or weekends filled with fun and love, narrowing down the stories to specific incidents is somewhat difficult. I remember ice skating and playing broom ball on the frozen lake and then heading inside for hot chocolate and marshmallows. On one of the camping trips, our tent flooded with water so Dad and I slept in his car. During two of the years, we participated in a celebration in the Twin Cities that involved creating boats made out of empty milk cartons. It's quite an experience to build a boat out of smelly cardboard and then trusting it enough to float across a large lake. This is not a happy memory for me.

But when I think of the program, my thoughts instantly turn towards the final weekend each year. It would be in late May and all the girls and their fathers would head out to Camp Icagawan (I'm close on the spelling) in Wisconsin. Each of the different "tribes" would have their own cabin in the woods and the different groups would compete for different titles.

Each year, my dad would pull out the map and I would be the navigator (it's amazing we never got lost, but I think it was just a title, not an actual responsibility). The trip called for us to take Highway 8. On the map, there was a large 8 marking the road. My dad, being the jokester he is, would point it out each year and then pretend that it should be painted on the actual road. He would put me on the lookout for it. I was a bit naive the first year (hey, I was six) and I looked and looked. Yet I never saw the giant eight painted on the road. It didn't work the next year. He still brought that up each year on our way to the wild weekend.

One of the titles all the girls wanted was "Fastest Turtle". There was an annual turtle race. We would hop into canoes and go out on the lake with our nets, trying to catch turtles and then keeping them for a day before the race. The final year my dad and I were in the program, luck played a part, and we were walking around when we got to the camp ground. We wandered over to the racing area and found a turtle just walking away from the racing circle. She had just laid eggs in the sand.

We picked her up and brought her back to the cabin and kept her in water and took care of her for a day. The other girls in my cabin caught their turtles and finally it was race day (Saturday).

The race was divided into different brackets. One girl from each tribe would have a turtle in each of the beginning races. Then the winners of those races would go on to a final competition. Our cabin had amazing luck that year and the girls in our group won every single of the first races. The final competition was our group only! In the final race, my turtle squeaked over the finish line (circle) first! I was given a medallion for "Fastest Turtle". I remember heading back to the lake to release our turtles with a huge grin on my face and giving my dad the biggest hugs.

During this weekend, different items would be hidden throughout the woods for the girls to find. I did find a few arrow heads hanging on different branches of trees and I would always giggle as I found a painted popsicle stick sitting on a path. The popsicle sticks were a way for the fathers to give the girls a little bit of pocket change. The different colors corresponded with different coins. A red stick might be worth a nickel, a green one worth a dime. There were also medallions hidden in the woods each year, I never did find one of those. But I usually left the weekend with a few dollars in my pocket, ready to be spent on the next video game for my Nintendo or some candy at the local convenience mart.

Another thing the girls always searched for in the woods was a Wap-a-doodle. The "story" was that an alien was hiding out in the woods and clues would be given at each meal to where it was hiding. We would analyze where we thought it would be hidden and then go out on our trek. If we spotted it, we were supposed to creep up on the Wap-a-doodle and then tackle it, catching it before it got away. The prize for catching a Wap-a-doodle was being the "tribe" allowed to eat it for dessert. The first year girls always looked sickened by the thought of this. That is until they found out what it actually was.

One year, a girl in my group and I were walking along and spotted the elusive creature. It sat there, perched and ready to "roll". We captured it, it didn't take much hard work, and hoisted it up and brought it up to the dinner hall. A large knife was brought out and pieces were cut. All the girls chomped away, happy, with "blood" dripping down our chins. Occasionally, we'd find a seed and spit it out. There's nothing like the taste of ripe Wap-a-doodle shared with your daddy. I still think of this ritual each summer when someone brings a watermelon around.

On one night of the weekend each year, we'd have a large campfire and sing different campfire songs. One of the other parts of the campfire was to hunt bears in the woods. We'd chant, "Going on a bear hunt, gonna to find a bear. Going on a bear hunt, gonna find a bear." The "bears" of course, remember this was good clean family fun, were dads and older girls who caught bears the years before. They would hang out just off the path in the woods, roaring as they heard girls nearby.

One particular year, my dad was a bear and I was sent to hunt with a girl and her father. As we were walking along the main road, I heard a bear roar in the thicket. I took off, running through the trees and making my own path. I wanted to catch the bear! When my dad heard the ruckus coming from the non-path area, he knew it was me. I did manage to capture my bear that year and I was the only girl to find her own father! The next year, I was a bear and hid out in the woods, waiting for another girl to find me.

At Icagawan, we had cabins. This is probably why I enjoyed the trip more than other camping trips. The comfort of any mattress is much better than the cold, hard ground. The different tribes had their own cabins and competitions were set up during the weekends for us. I didn't really know any of the other groups, but one night I felt the need to use the facilities just down the path from our sleeping area. On the way back, I had a brilliant (or so I thought) idea of startling my fellow cabin mates. I snuck around the cabin where they wouldn't see me coming back.

I crept towards the door and once there, I threw it open at full force and yelled, "Ahhhhhh!" at the top of my lungs. The people inside the cabin jumped, and then they all looked very confused. This is when I realized I had the wrong cabin. Without explanation, I turned heel, walked out and headed towards the correct cabin. When I got there, I walked in without saying anything and headed towards my sleeping bag to hide my reddened face until it cooled down a bit.

The final memory about Icagawan that I want to share is the annual shaving cream contest. On the last day, there would be a relay race where the girls had to "shave" their dad's faces. We were each given a can of shaving cream and would run back and forth, covering our dad's faces and then shaving their faces (we pretty much just wiped the shaving cream back off). Once the winner was declared, it was open season on the head of the program and the elected "Chief" for that year.

The last year of the program, my dad was the Chief. All the girls turned after the race was done and covered him head to toe in shaving cream. I got to empty the can out on top of his head, creating a pile resembling a soft-serve ice cream cone! The tradition was for the head of the program (a guy named Jim) and the Chief to jump into the lake to wash off the shaving cream.

The year we covered my dad it was still a little too cold for swimming. He didn't jump in the lake, but he did get covered in the shaving cream. He cleaned up in the showers and we got ready to head home.

I have fond memories of the program and I really got to know my dad through these events. I know my mom enjoyed the time to herself and I know that my dad enjoyed the memories. I know the program has changed a bit since I was a kid (the whole political correctness has revamped some of the structure), but I would recommend it to any father/daughter team. The weekends were great and the evening events were a way to form a bond. I'll treasure the memories forever.