I joined Boy Scouts so I could go camping. I grew up in an urban environment, and my first summer camp was also the first time I ever walked in a forest.
I had great fun at summer camps. I learned a lot of outdoors skills: canoeing, orienteering, pioneering, outdoor cooking, et cetera. Those camping experiences transformed me from a city rat to an aspiring outdoorsman.
I was forced to go a religious camp with my neighborhood friend when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It was an evangelical Baptist church. That’s when I began to realize that religion was not for me. It still ranks as one of the worst weeks of my life.
I grew up in a very small town in rural TN and church camp was a highlight of my summers. I could meet kids from other towns, try new things, re-invent myself for a little while. All my high school romances were with boys I met at camp, and I made some really good friends.
Bearing my soul time: I went to Jewish camp. All summer. For only one summer.
Right away, I was in with the freaks and geeks. Only problem was, there were two houses for our age. My mates were in the next house. I was in with the mean girls.
I was paired for chores (scrubbing the bathroom, serving meals to the bunk, bussing the tables) with a ‘disabled’ camper who couldn’t carry anything heavy or bend over. So I did everything alone while she gave piggy back rides to anyone that wanted them.
I was not allowed tampons or leg/armpit shaving at home, because they were ‘for whores’. I was The. Only. Hairy. Girl.
I also, at 12, was a whopping size 4. Size 4. I was the fattest girl in the bunk. Need to borrow something? Better go ask if the kitchen staff if they have something, you heifer. There were pig and cow noises anytime I did anything. Particularly trying to use the shower.
When I started refusing to shower because of all the noises and people fucking with my stuff while I was in them, the counsellors- the collage age counsellors- got the meanest girl in the bunk to take me out into the woods and tell me I was a disgusting, smelly embarrassment to the bunk. And that I’d better shape up or they’d get my mommy to drag me home in front of everyone.
And we prayed three times a day. Sometimes fasted for religious events. Observed the sabbath and kept it holy.
I actually won a scholarship to a Jewish camp in Massachusetts (I’m Canadian). I was excited to go, as it was out of the country!
When I got there, I was astounded at the luxury of the place (it was formerly some rich person’s retreat, I think he willed it to the camp). People there seemed nice enough, though they thought my accent funny, and it wasn’t horribly religious … then disaster struck. Fortunately, it did not strike me.
What happened was, the kids started coming down with a mysterious illness that knocked them the hell out. It swept through the camp like, well, a plague. Pretty quickly, I was one of only a few kids and councilors who were not sick. I remember the camp taking a bunch of precautions (like having meals driven in, rather than cooked on site, the sick being strictly quarantined, and attending special lectures about how to wash one’s hands). No-one knew what the source of the illness was, or how serious it was. It totally disrupted the camp schedule, and we non-sick kids were, well, left to do much as we pleased. It was great! We ran wild and went feral.
Turned out that the authorities had quarantined the entire camp, and parents were throwing a shit-fit that they were not allowed to take their kids out (until the authorities figured out what the cause was). I missed all that, which must have been sheer hell for the parents. I heard about it later, of course. The cause? Turns out that one of the camp counselors had just returned from a trip to Africa in the Peace Corps or something like it - and had picked some sort of spectacular, but not particularly dangerous, stomach bug there.
A memorably fun summer for me; a memorably terrifying one for my parents.
Summer camp for me was largely spent at one camp, starting in the late 70’s and all the way up to head staff in the early 90’s.
The camp was “jew-ish” - there was a blessing before meals and candles/“wine”/challah on Friday evenings, but aside from avoiding pork, seafood, and mixing milk and meat the food was not kosher and there was no other religious activity.
I spent one month each of my first two years and then the whole summer after that. I was not a fan of land sports, so I spent the bulk of my day sailing with the rest filled in with canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and canoe tripping (3-5 days at a time). My years as staff were all teaching sailing.
Most significant for me was meeting my wife my last year at camp
Two-week long “arts” camp, held on campus at a local private university. There was music, dance, theatre, visual arts, and writing.
Dance and theatre for me, and it was so much fun! Two weeks with other arts geeks!
I did NOT get to go to any kind of camp in the wilderness, because my mother is a native of New York City, and thinks that all camping is dangerous and insane. Also, she thought I’d immediately die outside from an asthma attack. I didn’t and haven’t (even when I hiked part of the Appalachian trail), so long as I have antihistamines and inhalers.
I’ve obviously uncorked something, as I have just remembered that Heidi, the nature lady, would read us bedtime stories. From ‘Women on Top’. Which contains a woman’s fantasy about sex with her German Shepard.
That was one of our school’s football songs. We never sang that in Scouts.
I went to Boy Scout camp for several years in the late 60s. As others have noted, it was one week. We saved up all year to pay for the week. It was in a State Park a couple of hours’ drive from where we all lived…*
There were several campsites within the overall camp, each big enough for everyone going from a troop. We slept in tents on platforms, two to a tent. There were metal bedframes with thin foam mattreses, atop which we placed our sleeping bags. There was a two-hole pit latrine a short walk away. There was a central fire pit.
Meals were in a central dining hall, which fronted on a big grassy field for formation and parade, with a triple flagpole. One flag was always for the home country of a Visiting Scout.
There were canoes and rowboats, located away from the swimming area (which seemed to change location every year), all on a man-made lake. The area had been flooded recently enough that tree stumps that stayed just below the surface were a hazard to boating.
I loved it. You were expected to advance one grade in scouting, up to First Class. After that you were expected to get 2-3 merit badges in a week. Random memories:
– Doing the Mile Swim
–Building a three-sided signal tower (we ran out of time and materials for the fourth)
– my friend finding a star-nosed mole, which won us a Nature competition (and a watermelon)
– Same friend dropping his flashlight – still lit – into the latrine. It stayed lit a long time down there
–Building a rope-making machine from whatever scraps of wood we could find and sacrificing a clothes hanger for it. And making a yard of rope.
– Picking blueberries on-site and baking a blueberry pie in the reflector oven I built, and brought from home for the purpose
–Getting lost in the lake in the fog, and going in circles because my companion and I paddled at different strengths (and we hadn’t yet worked out how to correct for it)
I went back to the camp a few years ago just for a look. They’d moved the swim area yet again, along with the bulk of the camp. It was raining and everybody was soaking wet – which was pretty much par for the course for my own Scouting days. It’s a good thing I stopped – a couple of years later it closed down for good, a combination of required repairs to bring things up to current code being absurdly expensive, and the fact that they had fewer customers every summer.
I loved camp. Both kinds. I went to one of each every summer from age 7 through 13. By one of each, I mean one outdoorsy camp and one music and arts camp.
The outdoorsy camp was much more fun - none of the competitiveness of the high achievers at the M&A camps. The camp was on a lovely lake in Upper Michigan that was challengingly cold in the mornings, but warmed up nicely as the day went along. It was there that I learned to row, which led me to crew, which was a passion of mine for years. I found I had a natural skill at archery and enjoyed that, as well.
The M&A camps were hard work, but tremendous learning experiences. They worked us hard, but also entertained us well. I saw wonderful theatre productions, went to amazing concerts, toured art galleries, met guests musicians I never would have gotten to know in my normal everyday life.
OK… summer of 1970 came at the end of a really horrible 5th grade year. 4th grade had been my first year in the new school and I hadn’t made many friends so I’d made a real effort for 5th grade and tried to stand out and be a presence instead of a wallflowery shadow-person. I stood out, all right. I could not believe so many people could hate so viciously.
So off to summer camp, one month sleepaway, courtesy of the YMCA. In the north Georgia mountains close to my Mom’s childhood home town, not mine. NO ONE knew me there, so no nasty carryover of hateful people from the year just ended, clean slate. I had hopes.
All male camp. Naked swimming in the river, other kids found it hilarious that I was body-conscious and shy about being unclothed. Lots of mocking and nasty comments about bodies and body-parts. Dirty jokes. Language I didn’t approve of. They could tell it from my face and oh they found that hilarious too.
I was a skinny serious intellectual kid who liked classical music, and uninterested in rock. Opinionated too. I wasn’t intentionally trolling them but I might as well have been. Yeah, brought a lot on myself with my visible disapproval of them. You could say it was mutual.
Sexually ignorant. Oh they thought that was seriously deliciously entertaining too. I knew how babies were made but I did not know about sexual appetite*. I didn’t know people had sex except to make a baby. Had no idea what the word “fuck” meant.
I knew stuff about myself but I thought I was a pervert. I had no idea anyone else had corresponding fascinations, and I did not make the connection between what they were talking about and the things I had felt, myself.
The adult (and teenage counselor-in-training type) leaders acted like I was doing something creepy and wrong. The other boys were Real Boys. If I was being picked on it was totally because I was doing things to draw it on myself. and deserved it for being how I was. They were exasperated with me, and contemptuous.
Came home with some questions to ask my Mom and a much stronger sense than before that I hate boys.
I have another arts camp anecdote: I went to an arts camp run out of the Pauline McGibbon Cultural Centre in Toronto.
It was a lot of fun, but we kids thought that the heavy marble tables were a trifle strange to work on, and the huge pull-out refrigerator we were supposed to put our lunches in was very inconvenient … it only gradually dawned on us that the cultural centre was a re-purposing of … the old Toronto city morgue! :eek: