I have cerebral palsy, and when I was very young I could not use a straw. This made it very difficult for me to drink milk and other liquids. I first met Helen Lamb, founder of Camp Jabberwocky, in 1953, at a small clinic in Fall River when I was two and a half years old. Her task as a speech pathologist was to teach me the ability of how to suck. I disliked Mrs. Lamb and constantly cried, not wanting to do the exercises. She finally accomplished her goal — teaching me how to drink though a straw. I thought I would not meet the Englishwoman again for the rest of my life.
But in 1962, when I was eight years old, my parents called Mrs. Lamb to determine if I could attend her camp on Martha’s Vineyard. I didn’t want to go. I threw myself down on the floor and launched a temper tantrum. Despite my fierce protest of not wanting to go, my loving parents rushed to Woods Hole, put me on the ferry, and off I went to the camp.
Everyone was enjoying camp except for me. I continuously cried from homesickness and gave my caring and fun-loving counselor a hard time. Hellcat, Mrs. Lamb’s nickname, absolutely had no mercy for homesick children. I was her challenge for that summer. Like a cowboy taming a wild horse, she broke me out of my childish ways.
Then I started to love camp and Mrs. Lamb. I also began admiring her for what she has done for me and others with disabilities. Before 1953, no residential camps existed on the eastern seaboard for people with disabilities. We were mostly isolated from mainstream society. As a result, we had no access to social events and summer activities. Our parents had no respite and vacations from the constant day to day care of us.
Helen Lamb, who emigrated from England to America, worked at a small clinic in Fall River. She saw the need for a summer program to benefit us and our parents. On a beautiful summer day in 1952 while Mrs. Lamb was relaxing on the beach in Oak Bluffs watching her three children playing, suddenly it dawned on her that Martha’s Vineyard would be a perfect place for a camp.
She was appalled to learn that many doctors in the American medical community during the early 1950s believed that summer camps for people with disabilities would be detrimental. There were camps of this nature in England, so why not in America, she thought. Her clinic’s medical director, however, gave Mrs. Lamb his permission to try her idea.
In the summer of 1953, she and a 16-year-old high school student, Ursula Dittami, took a small group of children from the clinic to the ferry in New Bedford for an hour-long voyage to the Vineyard. Several of them used wheelchairs and wore heavy iron leg braces. Then they walked and wheeled to Happy Days, a small gingerbread summer cottage that Mrs. Lamb’s sister, May Davis, owned at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting campgrounds in Oak Bluffs. Together the pioneers played on the beach, swam, and went horseback riding as well as going on sightseeing trips to places like Gay Head. And for the first time in their lives the children from the clinic played with youngsters without disabilities.
Mrs. Lamb’s letters in the Vineyard Gazette about the camp captured readers’ attention. Money and other forms of donations such as food and blankets began to come. Also, the following summer the 4-H Club in Oak Bluffs donated the use of its property to the camp. The 4-H Club served the camp well for 11 years but it ran out of room because of the growing population of campers and unpaid fun loving counselors wanting to enjoy all sorts of summer activities together.
In 1965, The Episcopal Parish on Martha’s Vineyard generously donated eight acres in Vineyard Haven to the camp, and it was christened Camp Jabberwocky. Mrs. Lamb’s daughter, Gillian Lamb Butchman, ran the adult session and her son, John Lamb, ran the children’s session for many years.
Thanks to Mrs. Lamb I have spent 45 wonderful summers at Camp Jabberwocky, and while at camp my parents can rest and go on vacations as well as spend more time with my two brothers without disabilities. Camp Jabberwocky is not only a camp to me but is my second home where I established so many lifelong friendships.
It is also there where I met my best friend, Wendy Gray. While she was attending medical school at Brown University, a 30-minute drive from my home, she visited me often. We went out to eat, went to movies or watched them at my place, and comforted each other during troubling times, which we still do. We also discovered that we are so much alike and have the same sense of humor. However, Wendy does not share the same DNA as I do when it comes to chess. Despite constantly beating her at the game, Wendy wants to establish a retreat program with me in Canada for people with disabilities. Our vision for the retreat was inspired not only by Camp Jabberwocky but also by Tulgey Wood, a new summer program that Gillian and other friends developed on Nantucket.
This summer Camp Jabberwocky is celebrating its 55th anniversary and honoring Mrs. Lamb who is now 93. Join me and my fellow Jabberwockians in the celebration by attending the Jabberwocky art and pottery show and sale at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. We will provide refreshments and have a tent selling camp merchandise. We will be in the first building on the property. The event is open to the public on July 12 through July 27 (closed both Wednesdays) between noon and 4 p.m. Featherstone is located on Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs half a mile north of the blinker light.
We are also inviting the public to our camp’s two plays. Dates and times for the free plays will be posted in the calendar section.
To learn more about Camp Jabberwocky, please go to our Web site: www.campjabberwocky.org.
Paul Remy is a freelance writer who lives in Fall River and contributes occasionally to the Gazette.