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Cousin Power

by Elizabeth Hightower Allen

One Christmas a few years back, I gave my mother, Jane Hughes Coble, a framed photograph of a dark green canoe. Mom was a camper—an Olympian—in the late 1950s, as were both her sisters, Sally Hughes Smith and Anne Hughes Sayle, in their turns. I had the image printed from a slide we found that Aunt Anne had taken at Riva-Lake back in the early seventies. The canoe was indeed dark green, just like the song, and so was the lake water around it and the woods beyond. In my mother’s day, the Elk River ran through camp’s ravine, and canoe trips ended right at the dock. Mom has a wonderful story about her and Lee Russell (always identified as “a Marathon”) being approached by a snake on the river. They whacked it on the head with their paddle and arranged the carcass menacingly on the boat’s stern, so that when the senior trip floated back into camp, everyone would shriek and point. There were endless other camp tales, including some involving the boys’ camp (!) across the way. All of us cousins, female and male, knew the words to “You Can Plant a Watermelon on the Top of My Grave” from an early age.

When the time came for my sister, Anne Hightower Trainer, and me to go to camp, our cousins were there, too: Catherine Hughes Huffman, Whitney Smith Gregory, and on down the line, including two of the boys, who went to Point Clear during CRL’s brief reincarnation as a boys’ camp and whose names can still be seen in shoe polish on the ceiling of Lookout. Catherine and I are the same age, and we were big into Nancy Drew. Aunt Anne, whose creative juices gave camp its hand-painted map and endless other treasures, wrote us our own mystery, The Clever Cousins Clue Company, in which we foil (spoiler alert!) the evil archery counselor’s dastardly plans to steal all the valuables from the Rock House. Fate gave my mother a pack of (really quite wonderful) grandsons until my daughter, Camille Allen, was born. We immediately taught her “The Prune Song” in preparation for life as an Olympian. Meanwhile, Aunt Anne’s granddaughter Rebecca Sayle was busy learning “There’s a Dark Green Canoe” at her house. We live in New Mexico, and Rebecca lives in Mississippi, but each year, we gather at Mom’s house in Nashville and convoy back to Riva-Lake. During Riva-Lake’s centennial reunion last year, I looked across the dining room during the singing of “Camp Spirit Never Dead” to see my mother with her friends, Aunt Anne with hers, and my sister Anne with hers, all pounding on the tables to “kick ’em in the eye , knock ’em in the head.” I love that Camille and Rebecca are carrying on that proud tradition.

-Elizabeth Hightower Allen


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