Accaponac Memoirs/1935: The Wood Carver

Contrary to the later TMR philosophy, one of the big advantages of the Brooklyn Camps in the 30's was that you didn't get to go to camp with your home troop. Instead, you met and lived with scouts from other neighborhoods and backgrounds, including a few who were a whole new experience. I admit that there were several kids in my home troop, 121, who might have been considered a bit odd, but there were a number of '35 Accaponac campers who were off the reservation. For instance, there was Mel Bodasky, who was addicted to whittling.

Mel was not only addicted to whittling, he was addicted to whittling just one thing: wooden link chains. It had all started the previous season at Accy when Bert Plano, our versatile handicrafts man, offered a course in carving wood chains to anyone who might be interested in donating blood. I was uncoordinated and a bit anemic, so I audited the course. Bodasky took up the challenge and hung in.
Mel struggled through his first chain, kept going at it for days, and finally, by the end of the '34 season, had conquered the technique. Mel was 15, big for his age, and the ultimate perfectionist. He was never satisfied with being just good at something, he always had to be the best. The trouble was, he usually was, and I guess he felt compelled to advertise it.
So Mel arrived in camp in '35 equipped with several sharp knives and an inexhaustible supply of the necessary pre-cut, cross-shaped blocks of pine. Between inspection and lunch, he would walk around camp carving out a four or five-link chain - almost every day. The summer of '35, Mel's whittle walk was one of the three constants in Accaponac; the other two, courtesy of Joe Levine, being apple butter and Epco. We accepted all three as part of camp life, and as long as they didn't go missing, no special note was taken.
If anyone wanted to, and no one did, you could follow Mel's trail through camp by the shavings and wood chips he shed as he wandered whittling. His trail led across the parade grounds (now the Picture Window), down the service road to Kanohvet, back to the staff cabin, over to the cooks' tent back of the mess-hall, through the trail around the Willy house, down to his patrol tent, out to the baseball field, where he looped through a back trail to the cliffs, and eventually came back to the mess-hall in time for lunch, along with the finished chain. This was two years before TMR turned some of the abandoned mess-halls into handicraft lodges. Otherwise, Mel would not have been homeless in the morning. On the other hand, he may not have been capable of stationary whittling.
Mel's carving was strictly a morning routine. Most afternoons, he turned into a waterfront fixture like the rest of us. Except, of course, he had to be noticed, so he had become a better swimmer than most of the rest of us. In preparation for the all-camp Rock Lake swim meet held at the Ihpetonga dock every year, each camp held trial races to choose their team. In 1935, Mel won the Accaponac backstroke event. I remember that race well, because I came in second.
In the backstroke race, it was the first time that any of us had seen the new straight-arm stroke. All of us, except Mel, were still using the bent-elbow version, which, of course, was a bit slower. We found out later that Mel had joined the Tilden High junior varsity swim team between seasons and had had winter-time coaching. I wound up on the relay team, and we all watched Mel take first place in the Rock Lake backstroke race at Ihpetonga.
You might have thought that, because of his swimming ability, and despite his morning whittle demonstrations, Mel would have been accepted as one of us. He might have, except for one thing: his wood chain necklace. My most distinct memory of the summer of '35, and most of Accaponac's as well, will always be the waterfront board with all the buddy tags - plus that damn wood necklace.
Note: Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

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