Where does a summer camp come from? In the case of Camp Moss Hollow, from a family farm. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, got the story.
Josephine Rutherford Townsend is the youngest of 11 children. The siblings -- seven girls and four boys -- were all two years apart.
"It was almost computerized," says Josephine, 81.
Except they didn't have computers back then, in 1924 when Josephine was born. Nor did they have running water. Or electricity.
Okay, well, running water and electricity existed -- but not on the farm in Markham where Josephine grew up. Instead, they lit kerosene lamps and candles. They tapped their drinking water from a spring on the property.
"It was cold as ice," Josephine recalls.
Grabbing a drink from the spring was often a welcome refreshment for the Rutherford children, whose father, Shaffner, dispatched them at an early age to work in the fields. There were no exceptions.
"I wasn't babied, I'll tell you that," Josephine says. She was assigned her first task when she was 3 years old; Shaffner plowed the potato fields, and Josephine walked behind him, dropping the potatoes into buckets as they turned up.
"On a farm, you don't get a chance to play much," Josephine says. "It's work, really and truly."
But it wasn't a bad life. If work was a big part of it, so, too, was family. Josephine's mother died when she was 8 years old; the children and Shaffner remained tightly knit. At the end of the day, after the fields were plowed, cows milked and chickens fed, members of the Rutherford family gathered around the dinner table for a meal, a spirited discussion and a game of cards.
That was the best part, Josephine says, "just being together and laughing and talking."
Today, Josephine Townsend lives in Forestville, and Camp Moss Hollow sits on the old Rutherford farm. Gone are the horses, cows, sheep and chickens. Playing fields have replaced potato fields. A swimming pool sits where rows of corn once were. Water is piped into the buildings.
Much has changed, but the sense of family hasn't. Spending a week in a cabin with seven other kids and a counselor fosters a kind of intimacy and connection that many Moss Hollow campers don't find in their home lives.
"Our families work hard to make ends meet," says Hope Asterilla, Camp Moss Hollow's director. "They might be working two jobs, or they might be working an undesirable shift."
As a result, many of the children are passed back and forth between parents or handed over to an aunt or a grandmother for caretaking.
"It's those kind of social circumstances and economic circumstances that create the disconnection in the family at certain times," Hope says. "What we try to do here is be an extension of the family."
As a result, Moss Hollow campers greet one another with the familiarity that one might reserve for a sibling or cousin.
"This is sort of like a reunion for us," counselor Neil Paige said last week as he looked around the parking lot where campers waited for the bus to take them to Moss Hollow. And that's not just for Neil, who has been a counselor for six years. Many of the campers see camp as a reunion, too -- even if they don't know their fellow campers. At Moss Hollow, making friends is inevitable.
Another reason it's easy to make friends at camp is that there are so many things to bond over, such as a bear sighting, a scary ghost story or a talent show production. They're simple things, really -- and they illustrate that, in many ways, camp is reminiscent of a simpler era.
"Back in the time, we didn't have a lot of modern conveniences," Josephine says. "But we were always laughing."
How to Help
Laughter has been echoing for decades across that mountainside in Fauquier County, first when it was a family farm where 11 kids worked and played, and now that it's a summer camp to which hundreds of children from the Washington area escape.
If you've been on the fence about participating in our annual campaign, let me tell you a few things: The camp is not run by the District government but by one of the oldest and most respected charities in the city. Your name will not be added to a list, so you needn't worry you'll be repeatedly hit up for donations. Your contribution is tax deductible. All the proceeds that are raised go to fund camp activities.
Most importantly, Post readers are the only source of funding for Moss Hollow.
We have only until July 27 to raise $650,000. Since there was no mail delivery yesterday, I don't know where we stand today. I do know how you can help:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237. (Checks or money orders only, please; don't send cash.)
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation." To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
The Wayback Machine
What's your favorite summer camp memory? I'll be printing camp anecdotes in a future column. Send yours, with "Camp Memory" in the subject field, to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail it to John Kelly, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.