Chapter 4
An excerpt from a senior comp: Speaking of Friendship, a memoir

Nikki Taylor
    As the summer progressed I became more and more comfortable with my campers and had settled myself into a very nice routine. I was having fun working with the kids and my coworkers but I was still only really comfortable with the other first year counselors. The older counselors were very friendly and welcoming, more so than I had anticipated. Lead by Cara, who seemed to be the unofficial social chair, they frequently invited me to spend time with them outside of work. When I attended these functions, I almost always made sure that Ben would be going with me for support. Cara loved to laugh, gossip, and have a good time. Despite her cordial good nature, Cara intimidated me. She was a fifth year counselor and I had been her CIT many times over the years. I was having a hard time imagining us as peers and I assumed that she would feel the same way.
     The fifth week of camp rolled around and things seemed to be running pretty smoothly. I was surprised on Tuesday when Rob called us for a staff meeting after our cleaning crews.
    “Do you know what this meeting is all about?” I asked Leah as the two of us walked to the railroad ties to meet the rest of the waiting staff.
    “Something about us not cleaning thoroughly,” she replied. I rolled my eyes. Rob liked the building to be spotless and had trained us to clean well enough to suit his finicky tastes, but he still always managed to find dirt the rest of us would have walked right over.
    I quickly took a seat on the railroad-tie bench as Rob did a quick headcount of staff members.
    “We are all going to go down to the Longhouse. The bullpens are a mess and everyone is going to clean theirs before we go home today,” he announced.
    Feeling rather disgruntled at being held later at camp, I trudged down towards the longhouse with my coworkers.
    “Seriously?” I whispered to Elyse. “It’s not like we don’t clean the bullpens on Wednesdays for the open house anyway.”
    “That’s a good point,” she agreed. “But it’s Rob, so who knows.”
    We filed into the Longhouse and no sooner had the whole staff gathered for more instructions than Rob turned around and left.
    “Have fun tonight,” he said with a wave.
     Have fun tonight? What was he talking about? I heard a loud noise and looked up to see the garage door shutting. When I turned back to my companions all of the veteran counselors were now wearing red tie-dyed t-shirts.
     “Welcome to your Greenie overnight!” Cara announced. I shot a confused glance over towards Elyse and Jennifer and was met with equally confused looks. We had no idea what was going on.
     “Every year we have a secret party to welcome the new staff. Don’t worry we’ve already told your parents that you won’t be home tonight,” Cara continued. “Now, go to your bullpens and you’ll find a clue. Good luck.” And with that the veterans scattered off out of the Longhouse.
    I turned towards Jennifer who looked extremely overwhelmed.
    “Did you know about this?” she asked.
    “No idea,” I replied. We rushed off towards the Cherokee bullpen and found it completely covered in green yarn, making a spider web of the entire space. We deftly climbed through the yarn and found a small piece of green paper taped to the back wall.
     “It’s a puzzle! Bring over your pieces,” Ben shouted. Evidently the other greenies had made it through their bullpens too. We put the pieces together excitedly and read the clue.
    “Welcome to Greenie Overnight! Hope we didn’t give you a fright. If you want another thrill, come find us at…”
    “It’s a rhyme,” Clay said. “What’s a place that rhymes with thrill?”
    “Bullet Hill!” Marie exclaimed.
    “Alright gang, let’s go to Bullet Hill,” Ben announced triumphantly. As the six of us headed out of the Longhouse and back into the woods by the nature lodge I felt a surge of excitement. I had no idea what to expect from this greenie overnight, but it seemed to be like a rite of passage to becoming a counselor. It was like we were a fraternity and this was the end of being counselor pledges.
     We quickly tramped through the woods and stumbled out into the clearing of Bullet Hill to find a group of veterans waiting there for us. I marveled at how they got there so quickly (I later learned the secret—they drove). Bullet Hill is a sloping clearing on the edge of the woods near Shoaff Lake. It sits far into the woods from the camp proper and is a spot visited weekly by tribes who search in the ground for, as the name suggests, bullets. As a result, the ground on the hill is cracked and broken. The right side sits up higher and slopes into a valley with a ditch, worn down by rain and camper dig sites.
    “Look high and low, because somewhere there is a hidden t-shirt for each of you and you must also find your next clue. Good luck,” Cara said. The veterans settled in to watch us struggle.
    I turned a circle with my eyes peeled for anything that resembled a shirt. Ben had found something up in a tree.
    “Nikki, I need your help,” he called. I bustled over to where he was standing and matched his gaze. I soon located the small package wedged in a tree branch high above. “I’m going to lift you up and then you can grab that bag,” he said.
    “Okay,” I acquiesced, not confidant that I could actually reach the shirt even if he helped me.
     Ben grabbed me by the waist, “one, two, three,” he counted down and I jumped a little as he hoisted me up into the air. With my arm outstretched I yanked the bag from its perch and it went toppling down onto the dirt below.
    “I got it!” I exclaimed as Ben set me back onto my feet. I bent over and picked up the bundle and pulled out a tie-dyed green tank top. I turned it around to read the writing painted on the back of the shirt. “Nature Book,” I read aloud. I gave Ben a confused glance.
    Elyse burst out laughing, “I think that’s mine,” she said.
    I looked at her perplexed. “Remember when Rob made a big deal out of the nature books I made with my campers at the staff meeting last week? Cara’s been teasing me all week about it,” she explained.
    “Yeah, they’re all nicknames,” Clay said. “I found another one, who is ‘Radio?’” Clay was holding a big green t-shirt.
    “That’s definitely you, Ben!” Marie said with a chuckle. “You talk on the radio more than any of the rest of us.”
    We paced around the hill another time. Behind a stump in some dead leaves I found another shirt. I pulled it out of the baggy. When I saw the name on the shirt I was simultaneously amused and horrified. “I found mine,” I announced to the greenies.
    “What does it say?” Elyse asked as she pulled her shirt over her head wearing it on top of her original clothes.
    “’Who’s your Mama?’” I replied with a smirk.
    The nickname wasn’t my favorite but it certainly was appropriate for the occasion. It was an inside joke from staff orientation at the beginning of the summer. We were practicing our parts at Friday pow wows and we all had to go around and say our Indian names in the native language. We all picked Indian names when we were twelve as a part of the Junior Leader camper rank, and therefore the English translations tend to be pretty silly. What you think is cool at age twelve is not what you think is cool at eighteen. Mine happens to be embarrassing in both English and the native language. My twelve year-old self thought that the name, “Shining Butterfly,” was beautiful. Not even my fifteen year-old self agreed, and my Indian name had quickly become my biggest Franke embarrassment.  When it was my turn to say my name, I proudly pronounced that I was “wohosumo ka-ma-ma, Chief of the Cherokee” and then, without missing a beat, Rob replied, “who’s your mama?” I had never noticed before, but my Indian name sounded exactly like ‘who’s your mama.’ I was so embarrassed but my coworkers thought it was hilarious and so there it was on my shirt.
     “Friendly teasing is a good thing,” I reassured myself and wiggled into the t-shirt.
     When we all had our t-shirts we then tackled the clue, which Clay had discovered not-so-cleverly hidden under a large rock. Once we had found the clue the veterans took off into the field at the base of the hill. Jennifer read the clue aloud, “For the last leg of your journey, come find us where the Indians sing. We’ll be waiting for you in the…”
    “Council Ring!” Marie announced. The six of us set off again through the woods towards the sandy clearing just beyond the Nature Lodge to where Friday pow wows were held.  The Council Ring sits in a valley in the woods, and the paths that lead down to it are covered in woodchips. In the clearing there is a sand circle with sets of railroad ties around the perimeter. In front of each set are two stumps where the counselors sit at pow wow. On one side of the circle there is a large group of stumps lined out into three rows. This is where the CITs sit and they are the head council of the pow wow.
    Descending the hill into the council ring with the other greenies, I saw that all the veterans were already down there, seated on their stumps, looking solemn as if it were pow wow time. As we walked out into the middle of the sand circle no one spoke to us and I cast a confused glance at Jennifer. We looked around nervously, full of anticipation as the stern faces stared at us. After a long minute or two in silence, Cara broke in and offered us our desired instructions.
    “Greenies, you need to go find your veteran. They will be sponsoring you for the night. You must go up to them, extend your arms and ask ‘Great Chief, are you my veteran?’” she explained.
    I chucked at the absurdity of this ritual, but the cold staring faces of the veterans made me check my laughter and set to work. I was confident that I knew my veteran and walked assuredly right up to Leah.
   “Great chief, are you my veteran?” I asked with mock seriousness. She shook her head. I was shocked. I backed away and looked around the circle again. Why wasn’t Leah my veteran? I thought that we were friends and I had completely expected her to be the one sponsoring me. If Leah wasn’t my veteran who was? Standing in the middle of the sand I turned in a circle and surveyed my options. It wasn’t Vinny; he would be Jennifer’s for sure, as they had already become good friends. Next I saw Kam. I said a quick prayer that it wouldn’t be Kam who I found extremely intimidating.
     Then my eyes landed on Daniel who was slouched on his stump with his characteristic poor posture. Then it dawned on me, of course Daniel wanted to be my veteran. I bet he had insisted on it. Daniel really liked me, not in a romantic way, and he was also always looking for ways to be more included with the staff members. His unique personality sometimes left him on the periphery of the group, it always had. Marching up to Daniel, I thrust my arms into the air and asked with much gusto, “Great Chief, are you my veteran?” and to my relief Daniel nodded. I sat down on the railroad tie beside him and waited for my next challenge.

     Later that night, after we had pitched some tents in the Wednesday night program area, a grassy space between the Nature Lodge and the Longhouse with a fire pit in the middle, we made a fire and had a barbeque. I was thoroughly enjoying myself, munching on food and talking and laughing with the other counselors. There was something about greenie overnight and what it stood for that helped put me more at ease with the veteran counselors.
    Just after dark, when I thought that all of the greenie hazing was over, Cara announced the final activity of the evening. All of the greenies were given big old t-shirts and instructed to sit in a row in the grass.
When we were all in place, Cara explained what was about to happen. “We’re going to play a friendly little game. The veterans are going to go down the row and ask you a trivia question about themselves. If you get it wrong, we get to pour sundae toppings on you.”
Vinny drug out a long, “oh,” to add drama to the moment and Leah swatted his arm playfully.
    I looked over at Elyse sitting on my right and laughed. While being covered in sundae toppings is ridiculous and not something I would usually be excited about, on this evening it seemed like a lot of fun. When else would I ever be in a situation like this? It would make a good story, so I went with it.
    Everyone was nervously chattering with anticipation. Henry was first. “What instrument do I play?” he asked Jennifer. I had no idea that Henry played an instrument and he had been my camp counselor for five summers.
    “The trumpet?” Jennifer wagered a guess.
    “Wrong. The violin,” Henry replied. There was laughter and applause as he squeezed the bottle in his hand letting Hershey’s syrup flow down onto Jennifer’s t-shirt. She squealed as the thick, brown syrup oozed down her chest, settling on her stomach. I could see it start to dry on her arms as she lifted her hand to her mouth and licked the chocolate off her fingers.
    Vinny sauntered up to Ben next.  “What was my senior superlative in high school?” He asked with a humorously cocky tone.
    “Oh man,” Ben said searching for a plausible guess. “I’m going to go with best car.” This sent the entire group roaring with laughter. Vinny’s car was terrible and you could hear it coming long before you could see it.
     “Good one,” Vinny cackled his signature boisterous laugh. “It was, ‘most fun to be stranded on a desert island with.’”  Then we all noticed the odd bottle in Vinny’s hand. Apparently hadn’t gotten the message to bring a sundae topping and so he borrowed a topping from the dinner condiments. A cacophony of cheers, groans, and laughter broke out across the group as Vinny dumped a heavy portion of pickle relish all over Ben’s chest and stomach. Ben was convulsing with laughter as the small green chunks made contact with his torso.
“Oh, Vinny! Seriously?” Jennifer giggled in disgust.
The smell of the relish rose up into my nose. It was an abrasive smell when mingled with the scent of the bonfire and the cool night air. I giggled at the small green clumps of pickle that now dotted Ben’s chest, arms and stomach.
    My turn, oh dear. The veterans’ questions were impossible; there was no way I was going to get it right. I was just hoping that I wouldn’t come up with some sort of stupid answer. In an inevitably embarrassing situation, I needed to try to glean some semblance of self-respect out. Leah came forward. Of course she was going to ask me a question. I looked up and gave her a big grin as she stood over me. “Who lives in my old house?” she asked. My heart jumped, I knew the answer! I had heard Leah and Cara talking about a week before about how Cara’s family lived in Leah’s old house. Just as I was about to answer a thought came to me: it’s not fun to get the answer right.
    “You’re grandparents?” I suggested knowing full well I was wrong.
    “Nope,” Leah dragged out.
    “I do!” Cara exclaimed.
    “Oh! Man, I think I did know that and I forgot,” I said with a smile as Leah made a Redi-Whip smiley face on my stomach. The sound of the can made me jump and the whip cream felt cold through my shirt.
After a few more rounds I was thoroughly coated in toppings. Multi-colored sprinkles were glued to my exposing skin by the Hershey’s syrup that was drying on my arm and tugging annoyingly at the small hairs. Redi-Whip melted from my body heat and was soaking into the t-shirt. I could feel the awkward wetness through the fabric sticking to my stomach. I carefully peeled the shirt away from my body and turned the bottom up to create a bowl where the runoff toppings could collect. My stomach hurt from laughing. Along with the rest of the Greenies, I waddled off to the back of the Nature Lodge to clean up. Walking through the dark that night I was thankful for being sticky. The night had been so much fun. I felt like I was finally bonding with the older counselors. We were having fun together and I was learning about them on a slightly deeper level.
    After we were cleaned up, the group sat around the bonfire talking and laughing. Cara came and sat beside me in the grass with a bag of marshmallows and two sticks.
    “Hey Miss Nikki, want to roast a marshmallow?” she asked offering me the bag.
    I pulled the sticky white blob out of the package and shoved it on the end of the stick. “Thanks,” I said.
     “Did you have fun tonight?” Cara queried.
    “Yeah, I did. I had a lot of fun,” I admitted as my marshmallow toasted in the fire.
    “Good. I think Greenie is really important. I know I felt a lot more comfortable with the older counselors after mine. Which is what we want. That’s what makes working at camp so fun, that all of us are friends, you know?”
    “Yeah, I do,” I said. Suddenly feeling as if I could open up to Cara I added, “I was a little intimidated by everyone except the greenies for most of the summer.”
    “I was too my Greenie year,” Cara laughed. “But don’t be! We want to help you and we like you guys. You know, I feel like you and I are a lot alike.”
    I smiled and pulled my marshmallow out of the fire. Pulling the gooey sweet off the stick, I blew on it to cool it down and popped it into my mouth. It was a simple gesture, but Cara’s words really touched me. She was so well respected by the entire staff and if she and I were going to be friends then I had my perfect in. It only took the opinion of one key person and one exciting night to make me feel more at part of the staff than I had all summer. I looked up at the stars and sighed. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m really a counselor now.”