by Rod Johnson
In the early 1960s, the Camp Abena Girls Camp was alive and fairly well. The property was a peninsula sticking out into Great Pond in Belgrade Lakes, Maine. Most of you probably know the general area and perhaps some of you live on it now, often referred to as Abena Point or Abena Shores. By car it is found off the Sahagian Road just south of the Lakes Village, and by boat it is the first peninsula that you see after leaving the Mill Stream.
At that time Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Tinker, Sr. operated the seasonal camp. Mr. T was also a high school math teacher, and Mrs. T was an RN at Thayer hospital in Waterville. They moved to the Lakes a few years prior and bought the girls camp, as well as a village home that we sometimes refer to as the "Lime house," right in the center of town.
Their son Joe Jr. and I became good friends as my folk's house was right across the street. "Tink," as young Joe became known, fit right in with the local kids, and we all grew up together being mischievous teenagers. We were not generally a destructive bunch, but did like to raise a little hell now and then. Camp Abena was included in our gigantic playground, especially before the girls came in early summer and after they went home in the late summer.
Mr. T. was good-natured and let Joe and I get away with quite a lot, but every now and then he'd put his foot down and reel us in. Most often he'd lose patience when we "borrowed" the camp's old International pickup truck. We'd ride the camp roads and slew around corners, taking turns spinning dirt and so on.
Mr. T. also owned and used an old Cadillac hearse which had been turned into a work vehicle. This too was fun to use, especially if the old man was preoccupied and we could heist it without him knowing it. We would take it out onto Sahagian road and try to burn rubber, or get going really fast and see how far we could coast. The car weighed a couple of tons, and one day we coasted all the way from Hampshire Hill to what is now Peninsula Drive, around three miles on Route 27.
Enough about motorized vehicles, because we ultimately found that riding the horses used to teach the girls to ride was much more fun. The horses were rented from Meader's horse barn out in Waterville. Each year they supplied five or six horses and delivered them to the Abena barn a few days ahead of the girls' arrival. That was the key time for Tink and I to "ride 'em cowboy."
We weren't experienced riders at all, just a couple of young teenagers willing to try most anything. We figured it out enough to make our way on a trail or two around the peninsula, one trail being on the ridge that runs along the east side overlooking Sahagian Cove. We occasionally got thrown off a horse, or wiped off trying to duck a tree branch. Occasionally, a horse named Elvis who had a mind of his own, would decide to head for the barn at full gallop. There was no stopping him or getting off, we would just hang on as best we could, duck when he went through the barn door, only to be bucked off when he stopped in his stall.
Horse riding was not a long term endeavor for either of us, but the experiences are still quite vivid as you've just heard. Mr. Tinker sold the girls camp not too many years later, and by then we had moved on to hopped up cars and dating girls. That's another story. THE END.
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.