Wishboats and Lighthouses in Maine


Maine LighthouseWish Boats and Lighthouses

I am not a good traveler. I get car sick on mountainous roads, I don’t sleep well in unfamiliar places, and I am grouchy if I don’t eat on time. So when my college-aged daughter told me she wanted to spend her summer internship at a camp in Casco, Maine, my first thoughts were “Oh, maybe we can visit.” Then they were “Ohh…”
The end of the school year always left me exhausted, and I wasn’t excited about traveling anywhere. The protective mom in me also wanted to say no. My daughter had spent the last year battling an undiagnosed illness. She finally convinced me the internship would be a good experience, put her job on hold, and took off for Maine. My husband and I followed for a visit a month later.

From Atlanta, we flew into Boston, picked up a rental car, and headed up the coast to Maine. After we dropped our luggage at a hotel in Portland, we drove north to the camp. We zig-zagged down country roads and fell in love with the small towns and picturesque farmhouses. Camp Sunshine is nestled beside Sebago Lake on 23 acres of beautiful forest land. We pulled up to the activity building, and I was immediately impressed.

To call it a camp is a misnomer. The sprawling campus includes all the outdoor activities normally associated with a camp, but it also includes a medical clinic and a physician’s residence. The children who come to Camp Sunshine have life-threatening illnesses. Their families come for support, and the children come for recreation. Instead of dormitories there are family suites, a nursery for the little ones and a volunteer living center. There are handicap equipped playgrounds and an indoor pool. It is a safe retreat for the whole family.

At my daughter’s request, we had planned our visit for the last night of a session. She had been telling us about the children during her weekly phone calls, but to see their struggle in person was something else. The family we joined for dinner had a daughter undergoing chemotherapy. Their daughter and mine had bonded over arts and crafts. Here, they told us, they could relax knowing she had the best of care and her own counselor. Here, chemo ports and a lack of hair were considered normal.

After dinner, the children performed their skits and sang their camp songs, faces smiling and families laughing. At dusk we made our way down to the pond for the Wish Boat ceremony. Each child had carefully decorated a little sailboat with wishes for the future—life, hope, dreams. Families gathered on the edge of the pond and shared their wishes out loud. As I watched them light the candles on the boats and launch them on the water, I prayed for one thing for their families. Time. Time to watch their children grow. Time to experience life.

There were tearful goodbyes that night as counselors hugged children, while parents hugged new found friends. Promises of “See you next year.” For the three of us, it was a somber ride back to the hotel. Time had become more precious.

We packed a week’s worth of sightseeing into three days. Our daughter crashed in the same hotel room and caught up on the latest news. The boutiques in the Old Port District and the outlets in Freeport were a shopping girl’s dream. We felt like locals as we cheered on the Portland Sea Dogs at a baseball game.
We visited the historic lighthouse at Fort Williams Park. The Portland Head Light sits on the harbor of Casco Bay. Sunshine and blue skies created a picture perfect setting. We strolled on the rocky shore and marveled at those brave enough to swim in the cool waters. Lunch was a picnic of lobster rolls, carefully guarded from the marauding seagulls.

We ended our days with more seafood down on the wharf. All too soon, it was time to take my daughter back to camp amid tearful goodbyes and her promise of “I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”

That trip to Maine was a turning point for both of us. One of the camp physicians diagnosed my daughter with gluten intolerance, a manageable illness, and the internship influenced her decision to pursue a career in Human Services.

I have always loved lighthouses. When I see one now, I am reminded of the candles on those tiny sailboats and the time we have with our families. I am still not the best traveler, but I travel. My children live on opposite sides of the United States. Wherever they are, I want to experience their world. Travel gives me time with them. Time with no regrets.

About the Author: Ann Hendrix. After 31 years of teaching, I retired to pursue an interest in writing. I am a Military Mom-In-Law, volunteer English teacher and seamstress who finally has time to travel. Someday I hope to return to Camp Sunshine, but this time as a volunteer.

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