Memories from Jim

Have you ever wondered what it used to be like at Tanglewood? Jim Wade of Norridgewock shares some of his memories of working at Tanglewood from the summer of 1962-1965.

1965 Tanglewood staff photo.
1965 Tanglewood staff photo. Jim Wade, far left of the back row worked at Tanglewood during the summers of 1962-1965.

I worked at Tanglewood from 1962 through 1965 (my junior year in high school through my sophomore year of college).  It was traditional to be called by a camp nickname back then, and I was given the moniker “Big Jim.” I wasn’t particularly big (quite scrawny, in fact) but I was 6′ 2″ which I suppose was “big” compared to my fellow staff members.  The camp cook was Manny Atherton who was music director at Bangor High School at the time. I played snare drum in the marching band, and Manny recommended me to the camp director who hired me. The pay was about $200 a summer for eight weeks of camp. Truthfully, as a teenage boy working in a girls camp, it felt like I was in paradise and I would have worked for free, but I didn’t tell the director that.

Campers signed up for two-week sessions and came from across the US and Canada. Some stayed the entire eight weeks, but there was always some new faces every two weeks.  Homesickness was difficult for the younger campers, some of whom were away from home for the first time in their life. A phone call from mom and dad (and sometimes a personal visit) to assure them that they were close by was usually enough to assuage their fears and allow them to settle into camp life and make new friends.

I lived in Dog Trot with Steve and two kitchen boys who assisted the cook. At that time, Dog Trot consisted of a breezeway dividing the two living quarters, each of which contained two cots two closets. Illumination was by a single propane light between the two cots. With no stove to warm us, on cold nights we’d get an extra blanket from the infirmary (and nights did get quite cold in the middle of the woods). Reading was the main form of entertainment since there was no radio or TV, and the personal computer had yet to be invented. I went through a lot of books in those four summers!

One of my jobs as maintenance man was to arise an hour before breakfast each day and start a fire in the large fireplace in the dining room. On damp chilly mornings, a roaring fire was a welcome sight to the campers arriving for breakfast. Another job was to take some of the senior campers and their counselors to camp out overnight at Lake Megunticook in a large canvas tent we would set up on a wooden platform by the lake. I remember being awakened around midnight by the camp director one night calling to us from outside of Dog Trot. It was pouring rain with lightning and thunder and she was afraid the children would be unable to sleep in the tent. There were no cell phones in those days to check on them, so we drove the truck out and brought everyone back to their cabins. We were all soaking wet by the time we arrived back at Tanglewood. That wasn’t one of my fondest memories, but an unforgettable memory nonetheless.

Campers and staff showered in the central washroom, which was located on the path between the kitchen and Dog Trot. Water was heated by an old large coal furnace, which we tended throughout the day. On the camper’s shower day, we fully opened the dampers on the furnace to try to keep up with the need for hot water all day. The furnace had to be filled with coal every hour to keep the fire burning as hot as possible. We weren’t always successful, however, as evidenced by the screams coming from the showers when the hot water ran out!

I’ve saved my favorite memory of camp life for last…the anticipation, thrill, and excitement of raiding the kitchen pantry late at night!  On nights when the cook made a particularly scrumptious dessert, we four Dog Trot boys would wait until everyone in camp was asleep. Not daring to use flashlights for fear of being seen by the cook or camp director, who might be suffering from a bout of insomnia, we would sneak down to the kitchen by feeling our way along the path. No talking was allowed. It was difficult to stifle our giggles and laughter, however, when one of us would trip over a rock or the root of a tree and fall down. Once in the kitchen, we’d feel our way into the storage room where the leftover desserts were kept. Our favorite was sugar coated doughnut holes! Once we stumbled our way back to Dog Trot we could relax, laugh and enjoy our forbidden desserts. All of this stealth caused me to feel a twang of guilt, but evidently not enough to prevent me from doing it again.