Monday, January 23, 2006


I was aware of the fact that the "big" hurricane had tracked North roughly up Highway 49 in Mississippi - which was where I spent most of the summer of 1986, at Strong River Camp and Farm, working in the kitchen. I kept meaning to write a short post like this, as one of the small proportion of British people who has ever travelled on Hwy #49.

The owner and camp director at Strong River, Tay Gillespie, was keen to bring European workers to the camp, at least in part to expose American children to people from a greater variety of cultures. Her keenness to open people's eyes also extended to her employees. Beyond the "call of duty", she also got the staff to visit other friends of hers, in their rather splendid houses, and also paid for us to stay over Saturday night in Biloxi and New Orleans. In New Orleans, we took advantage of the (then) lower age at which people could drink, and had Hurricanes in Pat O'Briens (well, I didn't), listened to jazz being played everywhere, went round in groups to avoid being mugged, and had coffee and beignets on a beautiful blue Sunday morning. Katrina has left its mark on almost every place we visited that summer.

Tay has continued to influence me. "Happiness is a path, not a destination" I first heard on her lips. And I first learnt how special it could be to spend time with children (yes, even rich, American children) at the camp - perhaps my younger siblings were just too close to me for me to have learnt this at home.

It was only some time afterwards that I realised how few people who did Camp America got out of the "home counties" of New York State and Pennsylvania.