by Brett Harrison
When I was 9, my dad sent me to Camp Shady Trails, located on Little Traverse Bay off of Lake Michigan in the northeastern part of Michigan’s Southern Peninsula. In many ways Camp Shady Trails was a camp like any other. It was located on a beautiful body of water, offered arts and crafts, intramural sports and other activities. In fact, like many camps, many counselors were former campers. But Shady Trails was different in very significant ways.
All of its campers had a speech impediment.
As far back as I can remember, I had a severe stutter. Although my family had gotten used to it, it had begun to be a problem in school. Not so much with the teachers but with fellow students, who teased me mercilessly and often erroneously believed me to be mentally retarded. Although dad had taken me to a number of speech therapists and one psychologist, he knew stronger action had to be taken. Somehow he had heard about the camp and after further research, I was enrolled.
Camp Shady Trails was founded in 1932 by John Clancy, an accountant who was having a hard time finding success because of a severe stutter. He finally got the help he needed and devoted his life to helping young men with the same affliction. I don’t know why, but the decision was made to make the camp all male. This rule only applied to campers and counselors as most of the speech therapists were female. Most of the speech therapists either had a degree from the University of Michigan or were working towards one.
By the time I arrived in the summer of 1968, Shady Trails was helping boys with a variety of speech impediments. Stutterers were in the majority, but there were also boys with cleft palates, deaf boys and boys who sounded like Elmer Fudd. The Elmer Fudds were usually given the somewhat generic classification of misarticulation. I say “generic” because a speech therapist explained to me later that “misarticulation” just means you have a speech impediment.
Excursions were a big part of camp life, and often we were assigned speech therapy tasks on our trips, like walking into a store and buying a candy bar whose name consisted of letters that we had difficulty with. But fun was always the main order of the day. Since the camp was on a part of Lake Michigan, excursions usually had something to do with water, and we often found ourselves swimming at some point. When that did happen, eventually we would all start hunting for Petoskey Stones.
For those of you who are neither marine geologists or natives of the great state of Michigan, the Petoskey Stone is the Michigan State Stone. It is usually a small to medium-sized stone or pebble that is also a fossil, with the fossil part being made by coral over 300 million years old. I don’t know who first found a Petoskey Stone at Camp Shady Trails, but by the time I arrived, it had become an unofficial tradition. Although the stones could be found on the shore, the best place to find them was usually in shallow waters.
Although many of us had gotten pretty good at finding them, including yours truly, the undisputed champ was Monroe Dibbets (not his real name; I don’t want a lawsuit), the pride of Cleveland, Ohio. Monroe was blond, a nice looking kid and deaf. He was pretty hard to understand except when he found a Petoskey Stone. Most of us were lukewarm about Petoskey Stones, but not Monroe. His sole purpose in life seemed to be the first to find a Petoskey Stone at every outing and to find the most by the end.
Monroe never had any friends. As soon as we hit the water, his head would arch back a little bit, as if he were communing with the Great Petoskey Gods. About 20 seconds later, he would go to a certain spot and look in the water, the same way a bear looks for fish in those nature documentaries. He was extremely focused, to say the least. It usually took him no more than two or three minutes to hit pay dirt.
Then Monroe would get a sort of creepy, competitive smile on his face, jump up and down while pointing at his quarry and squeal loud enough that the seagulls would turn their heads, “Petoskey Stone! Petoskey Stone!” Monroe sounded like the illegitimate child of Marlee Matlin and Pee Wee Herman but 10 times more obnoxious than you could imagine said offspring to be.
Although he was annoying to everybody, even the counselors, once “Petoskey Stone! Petoskey Stone!” was heard, this was usually the beginning of a Petoskey Stone frenzy. And no matter how many you found, Monroe would find more. If you found five one day, he found 12. If you found 18, Monroe got 25. And so it went. You see, nobody liked the kid, but we admired the heck out of him.
I have no idea what ever became of Monroe. Maybe he worked hard on his speech and became a radio announcer. Or maybe a successful businessman or politician. But I like to think that as an adult Monroe moved to a small town on the shore of Lake Michigan and can still be heard squealing to this day, loud enough so the gulls turn their heads . . .
“P-p-p-toskey St-st-stone, P-p-p-toskey St-st-stone; I w-w-w-win!”