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Archive for the ‘camp’ Category

Some people say that when you die, Heaven is supposed to be better than anything you could have imagined on Earth.  It is supposed to be like being in your most favorite place.  If that is the case, then Heaven would look a whole lot like summer camp, to me.  I’m not kidding.  When spring arrives (It’s sunny today…thanks, God!), I can’t shake the feeling that summer camp is around the corner.  I’m almost forty years old and I still get that longing to pull down the trunk from the attic and begin planning for summer days ahead.  Where’s my canteen, my flip flops, my sleeping bag? Alas, there is no summer camp for adults.  I only wish there was.

In Sleepaway:  The Girls of Summer and the Camps They Love by Laurie Susan Kahn, the author chronicles the whole summer camp experience.  The book is pure nostalgia…in black and white photos.  Kahn’s book is chock full of memories of camp rituals, camp menus, dances and songs…all from the single-sex camp perspective.  It is one that I can totally identify with. I, too, am an alumna of a girls’ summer camp…only my camp was nestled in the woods of Fishville, Louisiana…not near the rocky shores of Maine.  Amongst my bookshelves filled with Jane Austin, Tom Wolfe and Margaret Mitchell, this “picture/coffee table” book has a special place.  It’s a book that I treasure, since I did not have the foresight to save so many of my camp photos and memorabilia.

However, I do have memories. From the age of seven to seventeen, I spent two to six weeks of every summer at camp.  The smells, sights, sounds, and tastes of camp never fade.  I remember the smell of camp so vividly.  The smell was a heavy perfume of Off insect spray, bubblegum, pine tree sap, Coppertone tan lotion, and Sea Breeze anteceptic. The communal shower always smelled of bleach and one doesn’t forget the stench of horse manure steaming in the Louisiana heat.  However horrible the smell of the barn, the mess hall always smelled fantastic…like hot yeast rolls or hamburgers grilling.

Summer camp sounded glorious, too.  It was the most beautiful sound to hear a mess hall full of girls sing the dinner prayer…right before getting totally rowdy and shouting a round of bawdy songs or pounding on the tables demanding M-A-I-L!  There was no better music to drift off to sleep than to hear crickets and the lapping of the lake water…or the rustling of the wind through the pines.  The camp at full tilt was just as harmonious…to hear constant laughter, the thud of arrows hitting a bullseye, cheering at a game of tug-of-war, or the clopping of a horse’s hooves in a riding ring.  My personal favorite was the sound of the campfire with a circle of girls around it, holding hands….singing “The Call of the Fire.”

Camp was always bustling.  There was never too much time to get “bored.”  If memory serves me correct…here was my schedule:

6:45 – Reveille (yes, someone played a bugle to wake the campers)

7:15 – Flag raising (imagine 50 to 75 sleepy girls saying the pledge of allegiance…sometimes this included the flag being raised …and someone’s underwear)

7:45 – Clean up bunk & cabin before breakfast (The floors of the rustic -and I use that term generously – were always covered with grit.  To this day, I can’t stand to walk barefoot on a wood floor)

8:00 – Breakfast (we sang before and after every meal…there were always “hand” movements or some sort of motion to most songs….”Do Your Ears Hang Low?”, “Father Abraham,”  “Lemonade,”  “Clementine,”  “A Cabin in the Woods,”  “Be Kind to Your Web Footed Friends,”  “Rise and Shine,”  the list goes on and on….)

8:45 – Cabin inspection

9:15 – Swimming

10:15 – Arts & Crafts (Tues/Thurs), Archery (M,W,F)

11:15 – Horseback riding

12:15 – Lunch, Mail Call

1:15 – Rest hour (Playing cards, writing letters, making lanyards)

2:15 – Canoeing

3:15 – Snack (popcicles or frozen snicker bars)

3:45 – Tennis & organized games

4:45 – General Swim

5:45 – Clean up before dinner

6:15 – Dinner (which tasted really great at camp….mostly tossed salads with Good Seasons Italian dressing, spaghetti with meat sauce, hot rolls, green beans, fried chicken, corn on the cob…sometimes hot dogs/hamburgers on the grill)

7:00 – Evening Activity (This could be anything.  Every night was something different.  Some of the activities included:  skit night, overnight camping trips, capture the flag played with the whole camp divided into two teams, talent night, movie night…..but the last campfire of the season was reserved for the last night.  More about this later…)

9:00 – Lights Out (more bugle playing)

The last campfire of the season was the most special.  The camp counselors would go out into a clearing in the woods, near the lake and chapel, to build a huge bonfire.  The girls would be led from the camp in single file to form a circle around the fire.  This was a night that the whole camp wore all-white…white camp shirt, white shorts, etc.  We took a minute to take a camp-wide picture out by the lake (one which I wish I still had in its black and white starkness of all of these precious girls) before heading to the fire.  Because many of the new campers would not be familiar with the songs, sheet music would be given out.  I remember being so proud of myself to pass on needing the sheet music after a couple of seasons.  We would all link arms and begin the songs.  After singing Kum By Ya and It Only Takes a Spark, we’d pass out candles and each girl would light the next girl’s candle from one lit candle.  We saved this song for last:

“The call of the fire comes to us through the shadows
That follow the close of the day.
It’s flames bring us peace and a calmness of spirit
That drives all our troubles away.
We are thankful for days and the joys that they give us,
For nights and the rest that they bring
May we go on believing in this life we’re receiving,
Just now round the fire as we sing.”

Then, the counselors would award girls with some outstanding achievement while at camp….”Most Improved Swimmer,”  “Best on Horseback,”  “Most Courageous,”  etc.  I don’t think I remember a girl leaving the campfire without some small ribbon that she had “won” at camp.  Everyone cried..but, only as girls do when faced with leaving a place you love…and people you cherish.  Everyone wanted to stay.

So, why do I love camp?  Easy.  It’s about tradition.  A sense of belonging.   Innocence.  Everyone fitted in.  Childhood was cherished and observed.   Kids were uninhibited.  You ran and played and got dirty and didn’t care.  Gosh, I miss it.

I get a glimpse of that feeling on days when I climb on my sons’ tire swing and let them push me.  I can see over the picket fence in my backyard to the pond down the street.  It reminds me of some camp scene in the back of my mind.  Sometimes I get a whiff of camp while taking my boys hiking down by the river.  Nostalgia boils up from the recesses of my mind.

So, what do I do with this longing?  Well, I plan to send my boys to camp.  Every now and then I look online at a myriad of camps and get excited for them.  However, they are two to three years away from actually going.  It will be a while before I order the big steamer trunk and saving hotel bottles of conditioner.   In the meantime, I revel in my memories … and look forward to giving my boys the same chance to experience it for themselves.

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