When Susannah Wessel reaches into her jewelry box, she can trace the happiest summer moments of her youth in the simple crescent of a sterling silver bracelet. The band, engraved with her initials on the inside and the letters M and W on the outside, is a loyalty bracelet from Camp Merrie-Woode, a girls camp in North Carolina that has been operating since 1919.
“My father’s company purchased a company condo in the small town of Sapphire Valley, North Carolina in 1981,” Wessel wrote. "Shortly thereafter, my family started to spend our vacations there whenever possible. There is a lake called Lake Fairfield. One day we decided to take a walk around the lake and we stumbled across a camp for girls: Camp Merrie-Woode. It was in such a beautiful setting, nestled beneath Old Bald Mountain.”
After talking to the director, Wessel’s parents enrolled her for the next summer. Wessel received her bracelet in 1988 after attending six summers. She spent a total of 10 summers at Camp Merrie-Woode, the last three as counselor.
“The camp is still one of my favorite places on earth. It was there that I learned how to shoot a bow and arrow and ride a horse. I learned canoeing, kayaking, and sailing. I slid down rocks and swam a mile to the dam in the Dam Swim. I went on campouts, hikes, and river trips, and I even slept out in a canoe on the lake,” Wessel wrote. “I made life-long friends, and I cried like a baby on the last night each year when it was time to go back home.”
The idea of a silver bracelet given to loyal campers was conceived by Dammie Day, the founder of the camp. The bracelet is given at the campfire of the last night of each camp session and over the years, thousands of girls have received their Merrie-Woode bracelets. Wessel and her husband Sean eventually purchased the North Carolina condo from her father’s business and their daughter followed in her mother’s footsteps. She’ll receive her own bracelet this summer.
“I wear my Merrie-Woode bracelet the whole time she is there. In so many ways it connects me to her as she is enjoying so many of the same experiences I had there many years ago,” Wessel wrote. “ We will be connected by a bond that will never be broken and will always hold a special place in my heart.”
“This simple, elegant, bracelet is a beautiful, tangible reminder of that.”
Cheryl-Anne Millsap's audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org