Sixty Years Ago

By Montague G. Ball, Jr.  

This past camp season was a milestone for everyone at Pine Island—another great summer for campers, counselors, and everyone else connected with PIC.  Even here, in the far reaches of northern Thailand, there were reports of splendid weather, vigorous activities on the mainland as well as on Great Pond, epic trips, brilliant campfires, and entertaining Saturday Night Shows.  Although the island is quiet now, those happy memories will abide—and last a lifetime.  Indeed, they remain with me still, reminders that exactly 60 years ago this past June I arrived for my first summer at PIC.

I was most unlikely counselor material, never having spent a night outdoors in my life.  The only reason Ben Swan’s father hired me (sight unseen!) was that I came on the recommendation of my college roommate, Monroe Baldwin from Lynchburg, Virginia—who had acquitted himself creditably the previous summer. It also helped that I was attending the same college which Jun Swan himself had attended, the University of Virginia.  More likely, Jun needed counselors, and Roe pointed out to him that I was available. As usual, I had made no summer plans—never being one to think very far ahead.

My parents had made their plans, however—a trip to Europe, leaving the family Pekingese in my care.  (“Pine Island sounds like a great place for the dog,” my father said—not knowing that Jun Swan couldn’t abide them.)  Anyway, in early June I struck out for the State of Maine in my ’53 Ford, turning on the car heater upon crossing the border from New Hampshire.  It had been a brief spring; only the birches had leaves. Tourists were few, and there was almost no traffic north of Portland.  At Augusta I followed Routes 8 and 11 where they forked at the camp road. Pine Island’s sign pointed the way. Someone had forgotten to take it down at the end of the previous summer…

The camp road was in awful shape. A rugged winter had heaved boulders; potholes were deep; shoulders had vanished.  Even more disconcerting, there was no trace of any vehicles coming or going. Who was looking after this place, I wondered.  Turns out, nobody…  Anyway, arriving at the mainland shore, there was not a sign of life—but from Roe Baldwin’s description (and a famous PIC post card) I recognized the signal.  Duly hoisting notice of my arrival, I sat on a bench and waited—wondering how a boat could land without a dock.  An hour or so passed with no launch to my rescue; the dog and I were starting to worry.

And just about that time, I heard a car coming down the camp road.  It was an ancient Chevrolet station wagon with luggage strapped to the roof, towing a splay-wheeled trailer behind.  A man with his bow tie askew leaned out the window from behind the wheel and said, “Hi, I’m Jun Swan.  Who are you?” The owner and his wife had arrived, and I had beaten them to camp!

My dog and I were led through a dark forest to the Rink—a wet and muddy trek that neither the dog nor I enjoyed. Loaded with the Swans’ luggage, I looked around for a light switch—but, of course, no electricity.  In a wood stove, Mrs. Swan built a fire, then opened a #10 can of pork and beans.  My first meal in Maine!  By now it was cold and dark.  I found my way to a bunkroom upstairs, borrowed a sleeping bag, and told the dog in no uncertain terms, “We’re not staying!  First thing tomorrow morning, we’re out of here.”  No objection from the Peke.

And, of course, I did stay. Morning brought a great breakfast in the nearby town of Oakland.  The sun came out, and it warmed up a lot.  More counselors appeared, and before I even realized it, I was wholeheartedly involved in opening camp and Another Great Summer.  I returned for three more seasons, then directed Pine Island for 20 years.  It all seems like yesterday to this old man who now lives on the other side of the world…

Jun Swan’s words echo in my ears: 

Akka Lakka! Rigga Jigga!

Summer’s big—and getting bigga…

Director Monte Ball, c. 1975.

3 thoughts on “Sixty Years Ago

  1. Dave Ruble

    I was a high school junior when Monte, a teacher at my school, recruited me to work in the kitchen at PIC — half a country away from my northern Minnesota home. Though the first week was a bit rough — the kitchen really needed cleaning — I soon fell hopelessly under the spell of Pine Island. That was 49 years ago. The two summers I spent on Great Pond instilled in me a love of wilderness that has never left, and were truly a life-altering experience. And in a pinch I can make scrambled eggs for 110 people.
    Thank you, Monte!

  2. Carlos solanilla

    Wow Monty!!! Great piece of writing. I have been thinking about you in the past few years as the country you were born in is falling apart with rampant communism.

    I must thank you for all your patience in the four years I was a camper in PIC in the mid 70’s. I wonder how many runway campers PIC had since

  3. Virginia Hipp Phillippi

    Hard to believe there was a “first time” for Monte Ball, an elemental part of the PIC by the time I arrived early 1980’s. PIC was an amazing experience for many campers, counselors and kitchen crew from Greenville, South Carolina and we owe it all to Monte.

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