To Break A Heart of Stone, You Have to Crush It

Level Zero. You Gotta Start At The Bottom.

The first few weeks were very strict. There was a level system every camper followed. All “newbies” were on zero level when they landed at the dock. Our team leader had a score sheet and he rated you daily from 1-5 on how you performed in numerous areas and totaled them each week, and each day to assign or maintain a level. Compliance, discipline, communication, judgement, chore completion, timeliness and quality, work-time, are some of the areas we were scored on. To get off of level zero and up to level one all you had to do was literally hold it together for a few days. Yet many many kids stayed on zero the entire summer.

I was able to easily fake it to level one. Zero level was just a pain, honestly. At every single doorway, inside and out, you had to stop and wait for your team leader to give you permission before you could walk through it. “Paul may I please step into the lodge?”, said 10 girls, one at a time. Zero levers also had to ask to sit down, get up, start eating, etc. We even had to ask to begin and recover when we had to do exercises. I cant imagine how annoying it must have been to have 10 little toddlers constantly saying your name and asking you for ridiculous things. Paul was good at keeping his cool but being stern. He would raise his voice but you could tell it was controlled and intentional, to make his point.

Admin Intervention

There were a few Admin in camp. The admin on call was the disciplinarian. If the admin on call had to come down to your cabin and deal with you, you regretted that. He assigned the units for punishment and what type you would do. Peter (Paul Bunyan) was an admin. He could be very intimidating just because if his height and his stature. But John, in my opinion, was the most intimidating. He wore a leather hat and looked like he was straight out of a Western. He was extremely calm and composed. Tony was another Admin. He looked like a damn wild caveman that came up out of the depths of the Canadian shield. His eyes were crazy and he moved fast. They would run your whole cabin down to the beach and yell for you to run into the ice cold lake water, fully clothed and run out, do a unit of exercise on the sand and run back in again. Have you ever done sit-ups soaking wet and freezing cold? I have. It’s hard.

The punishment system was like the Ten Commandments. Sort of. Seven Units for Lying. Ten Units for Insubordination. That’s all I remember, because those are the ones I always got…A unit could be in the form of exercise, writing or sawing logs. One unit was one hundred, I repeat, ONE FLIPPING HUNDRED exercises. Twenty-five push-ups, twenty five sit-ups, twenty-five squat thrusts, and twenty-five mountain climbers. It was not strange for us to do five units in a row.

On zero and first levels you could not speak to each other. You could only talk to second level and above or staff members. This was quite irritating. During work time if we were doing an involved project, sometimes we were granted “Work related communication”. I got in trouble almost immediately for passing a note to another girl who was having a hard time. She was one of the youngest in our cabin.

Abby Has An Attitude; I Have An Anger Problem.

Abby. She was little. She had spunk and an attitude. I liked her. She got in trouble. A lot. Of course they found my note in her pillow case the next morning. I’m sure it said something stupid like “Just fake it and do what they say. You can make it through this.” All I kept thinking through that entire summer was “I only have to make it through this summer.” My mom had promised me I could go home at the end of the summer.

Paul called me outside. There was another guy out there with him. Often our female leader, Patty would be there when we were disciplined as moral support and a witness. Patty wasn’t out there this time. Abby was out there too, as usual, and crying. “STAND AT ATTENTION NENA.” He yelled. Arms at my side tall and proud with a little grin on my face I’m sure. Until he yelled, “NOW GET IN PUSH UP POSITION.” I sat in in push up position until my arms shook. If I lowered my butt or knees down, he yelled, “STRAIGHTEN UP”. Mosquito’s were biting my face and arms.

I started to get mad. I’m guessing at that point tears started to roll. I was used to the physical labor , I could handle it. My step-dad landscapes and we worked outside a lot. I was strong, tough, and I could fake being fine better than the best of them. But when they made me do exercises. I would get mad. I hated the exercises. When I got good and mad I would cry. I would think about everything I had been through and how angry I was about everything and everyone.

26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:26-28 NIV

Work Time

Work time was the time of day that broke everyone’s point sheet. Because work time was hard. Intense, demanding physical labor. It broke down the weaker girls to tears int eh first 20-30 minutes. Work time consisted of hauling logs out of knee deep mud in the bogs down to the saw-mill, hauling rocks from one location to another, or doing building projects. The big project of that summer was to build a wooden boardwalk that extended all the way to our cabin. Part of it was wood planks and from Short Branch, where Paul stayed at, all the way up to the little tool shed by the garden.

Once a week on the same day we had camp chores. Best. Day. Ever. During chore day we did all the dishes from the meals, deep cleaned the kitchen in the lodge and all the surrounding buildings to try to get a higher score and compete for “The Trough”. A coveted giant PVC pipe cut out to form a long trough filled with ice cream and toppings. The beautiful thing about chores was that it was inside, all day. I remember the rare occasion of watching the rain pour outside while everyone else worked in their little ponchos soaking wet while we stocked the fire in the A Frame and swept the floors, staying nice and dry. Of course had our days working in the rain as well. Many.

On your chore day, you got hot showers. I want to make sure you don’t miss that. Once a week, we took hot showers. How long you got to shower was determined by your level. I cant be sure but I think zero level got 5 minutes, first got seven, second got ten, and so on. We also had time limits for bathroom use. Two minutes for number one, and five for number two. The other shower days, we went down to the lake in our bathing suits and filled up our first ten gallon bucket of dirty frigid lake water. It didn’t even start feeling remotely warm until July. One of would dump the bucket over the other, then the other person would dump. We had two minutes to soap up and then we dumped another bucket over each other to rinse. Miserable. Completely miserable.

It still amazes me how looking back at those summers, they are some of the best memories of my young life. Have you ever been crushed by the weight of a situation, but looking back know that it made you who you are?

  1. Alisa Scribner

    You are amazing! I’m glad I know you.

    • nenamhart

      Aww thank you Alisa!

  2. Marsha

    Refined and strengthened by fire. I saw some kindness in your reaching out to the youngest and weakest no just seeking kindred spirit in suffering.

    Looking back at my rough times they were all the result of bad choices ranging from not listening to parents to chosing a husband who had no faith or moral compass. The 10 commandments are meant to protect us from pain and suffering.

    • nenamhart

      Yes, thank you!

  3. Mya Taylor

    Wow, it’s refreshing to see so many kindred spirits in this wonderful little blogger universe! This post is a great example of dealing with adversity and finding meaning in it. Loved!

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