A lonely cottage, mysterious lights and five very active imaginations.
Chasing spies at summer camp.
When I was 10, I spent eight weeks at Camp Wahconah, a summer camp for girls near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I didn’t like it very much. It was too regimented, too competitive and too focused on athletics. But I did like the four girls with whom I shared a bunk and an unexpected adventure.
Our sleeping area was at the rear of the camp. Behind us were woods, and beyond the trees, an isolated summer cottage.
At night I watched the house from my bunk and noticed lights repeatedly going on, then off, briefly illuminating each window. I also saw what looked like a flashlight being clicked on and off in suspicious patterns.
I should add, this was 1943 and we were at war. There were rumors about German spies living in New York City and U-boats off the coast of Cape Cod. My young head was full of fears of evildoers and espionage.
One night, I told my bunkmates of my worries. They quickly agreed the situation needed our careful attention. Appointing ourselves junior FBI agents, we’d slip out during rest hours and, using tree trunks for cover, spy on the “house of spies,” as we started calling it. We were convinced the light patterns were coded messages. We tried to decipher them but the code was too complex.
Each time we ventured into the woods, we moved closer to the house. “We need a better look at the spies so we’ll be able to identify them on wanted lists,” I said. We even hatched a plan for two of us to knock on the door and claim to be lost, but we were too scared to carry it out.
One day in late August, we got caught in a downpour while maintaining our vigil. We decided to build a covering to protect us from the weather. We found a flat area free of tree roots, dug a large trench, stuck some branches into the ground and covered them with a piece of discarded linoleum.
The next time we arrived at the lean-to to watch our Nazis—for that’s how we thought of them— we sniffed something foul. We had accidentally dug into a cesspool. That put a smelly end to our surveillance.
Soon after, it was time to go home. We never told anyone about the Nancy Drew Spycatchers Society of Bunk 12. But to this day I look back on it with astonishment and fondness. We’d turned an otherwise ordinary summer into something intoxicating, exciting and totally ours.
I wonder if the innocent vacationers staying in that house ever knew that they’d given us such a memorable experience?
We were convinced the light patterns were coded messages.
AT 10, Edith had a grand smile and a yen for intrigue.