Ever wonder about the impact a camp program really has on campers?
Does it matter whether staff members have camp names, or whether the camp hosts skit nights, or offers creative craft projects? Evidently it does!
The following anecdotes are from adults who obviously have many fond, positive memories from camp:
I will never forget my first camp counselor. He had the ability to make us feel like we owned camp. He was always there to support us, challenge us, and empower us.
I truly feel that my experience that summer excelled my growth as an individual.
Only by attending summer camp in my youth (starting at 8 years old) could I ever have had experiences involving bunkmates where we were delegated jobs (i.e., cleaning the bathroom and porch) and the order in which we could take a shower. I also remember receiving care packages and dances with the boys’ camp.
I remember crying the entire three-hour drive to northern Michigan to attend a newly opened Armenian camp. My good-natured younger sister was singing in the back seat, but I was miserable.
By the second day, we called our parents to ask if we could stay longer. We ended up staying three weeks, and went the entire summer each year after that.
I remember archery, volleyball, learning songs, riflery, sand everywhere, the lunch bell, swimming across the entire lake, getting the giant August issue of Seventeen magazine before we went to camp, sneaking out to the boys’ cabin only to find the counselor in his underwear, and on and on.
I grew up there: unsuccessfully trying to learn to insert Tampax (two of us “students” on the tub, our older friend the “teacher” on the toilet seat, and another girl outside with a megaphone announcing to the woods what we were doing).
Even though we learned Armenian songs and dances, everything else was “American.” My parents lived their entire lives without sleeping on bunk beds or in tents–they knew nothing of shooting a gun or arts and crafts. Oh, to have those simple days again!
For several years, my sister, brother and I attended Trailblazers camp each summer. My brother and I drew a diagram of the camp and mailed it to our elder sister. She immediately recognized the map and returned it after labeling the archery court, the place where the buses parked, the docks, the “outward” trail and everything else.
Camp is still an endearing, indelible memory some 50-plus years later.
On really hot nights, the head counselor announced skinny-dipping after the evening activity. Instead of returning to our bunks to get ready for “Taps,” we’d return long enough to grab towels and bathrobes and go to the waterfront–naked under the bathrobes–to swim in the darkness or near-darkness.
Despite the lack of light, we were certain someone was spying on us. Any boat that was out on the lake–however far away–we were sure contained boys from nearby Camp Monterey, and we were equally sure they were surveying our immodestly nude bodies.
–Cynthia MacGregor (nee Aronson)
I went to camp with a friend; I think we were 9 or 10 at the time. I remember it like it was yesterday.
We had a big rain storm one night that caused a water moccasin to move up from the lake into the camp. The camp director shot it with a shotgun and left it out for us guys to look at in the morning. (You know boys are always curious about such things.)
I wanted to scare my buddy, so I picked up the snake and whirled it around and around, hoping to drop it right in front of him as he walked away. Unfortunately for him, my aim was slightly off. The snake hit him on the back of the neck, causing it to coil around his neck. He started screaming and jumping up and down, desperately trying to uncoil it. Once he freed it, he looked at me with blood in his eyes and started chasing me with the intent of doing me bodily harm.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to run for your life while simultaneously laughing your butt off?
Following In Footprints
I attended Camp Pembroke in Pembroke, Mass., for 10 summers beginning when I was 9 years old. I went to the all-girls sleep-away camp for eight weeks every summer. My closest friends today were my camp friends, and two of them were even in my wedding.
My fondest memories were hanging out in the bunk late at night, eating junk food and laughing, laughing, and laughing. Sailing on the lake, swimming in the pool, and playing silly games during athletics were so much more fun because we were with our best friends.
I have a 9-month-old daughter and have already told my husband that we need to start saving for camp! As a non-camp person, he still can’t understand the importance of going to camp, but I think he’s starting to catch on–slowly.
Growing Up Girly
I was a camper and a counselor at Camp Pembroke for eight summers, and some of my most cherished childhood/adolescent memories are from camp.
I remember feeling safe and loved every summer when I returned, surrounded by my closest friends. It was the time of year I most looked forward to as I felt I could let my guard down and abandon worry about what boys thought of me.
I can still remember the words to the songs we sang, the smell of coffee cake on Saturday mornings, the feeling of the grooves of the metal dock on my feet. It’s all so vivid and fantastic.
I am still close with many of my camp friends to this day, and one of our favorite activities is reminiscing about our days in the bunk–waiting for our counselors to return from a night out, telling tales of our fist kisses, getting our periods for the first time–we experienced it and navigated the challenges together at camp.
Nothing felt right when we returned home after a summer at camp. No one understood what was so special about our Pembroke bubble. We were campsick–not homesick!
–Joanna Aven Howarth
There were only two phones in the whole camp. The official camp phone (whose number I still remember: 614W2–it was a party line), which rang in the camp office, to which we were summoned if a parent called, and the phone booth out on the office porch (the number was 8109M–another party line), the phone we were to use if we wanted to call home.
Placing a long distance call was a major production in those days. Not only was there no direct distance dialing (as it was called when it was first introduced), but if the long distance operator didn’t know how to route the call, she first had to call an operator known as “Routes and Rates” to get the routing of the call before she could place it. This took precious time.
My mother, wanting to make it easier for me, made it her business to learn the routing and instructed me that when calling home I was to tell the operator I wanted, “Woodmere, Long Island, New York, Franklin 4-2089, going through Garden City.”
It really saved oodles of time that might better be spent in some fun activity in camp instead of waiting for some poky, old operator!
–Cynthia MacGregor (nee Aronson)
My twin sister and I finally pestered our parents sufficiently about going to camp when we were 9 years old that they found the funds and sent us off. We were so excited to go on an adventure with just the two of us–that is, without our three other siblings.
Once we got there, we were told we would be separated “for our own good.” Whoa! That was not our plan!
So my main memory of camp was figuring out ways to sneak around the head counselor so my sister and I could have camp adventures together. She was a bit of a mouthy rebel, so we did not fly under the radar too well, and kept getting busted for hanging out with each other.
We got so mad about this stupid rule–which we still don’t quite get–that I wet my bed the last night there. I told the head counselor it was because I was scared not having my twin with me, but really I was mad.
Word to camp counselors–let twins be together, or else!
The Memories Just Keep Coming
Oh, I loved camp! I went to day camp, Girl Scout resident camp (first for two weeks, then a month at a time), and then a coed resident camp (a month at a time).
Here are some things I remember:
• Hating the cold water, hating the swim lessons, but then being extremely proud each time I earned a new Red Cross card. I later became a lifeguard, which helped pay for college.
• Camp songs and camp fires, of course.
• Sailing (or, more accurately, sitting there while my counselor did all the work, but to me, I was “sailing”).
• Knots and lanyard tying. The lanyards were cool because then I carried the camp experience home, to my non-camp friends, and to school.
• Gathering firewood.
• Camp dances! At the coed camp, it was all about the bi-weekly dance.
• The chore wheel … this was a spinning disc that assigned different chores to different people.
• Having secret snack stashes. Pringles were my contraband of choice.
• Rules–tying hair back to work with the fire, using only fallen wood for fires, wearing the PFD (personal flotation device), walking with a “buddy,” etc.
The loudest, zaniest counselors are the ones I vaguely remember, but I don’t necessarily think they were the ones I liked best. I do remember that the Girl Scout counselors all had camp nicknames, and we never knew their “real” names. Summer, Sky, Rabbit … stuff like that.
I had the best time at summer camp. It was a weeklong stay and the first time I had been away from home. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
I loved sleeping in a top bunk, the “mess hall,” crafts, swimming, softball and all the other kids.
I remember calling my mom from a phone booth to talk to her. She wanted to talk and talk because she missed me–not the other way around. I would say, “I gotta go, we are going to get ice cream.”
My two older sisters went to camp, but Mom had to pick them up after two days because they wanted no part of it. I could have stayed all summer.
I am now 53, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
My first kiss from a boy!
Also, one summer a counselor sang “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor at night; now I sing it to my kids as a lullaby.
–Eileen Z. Wolter
My first or second summer at Glenmere, the drama counselor asked whether any of us girls had written a play. My hand shot up. The counselor–her name was Gert Magnus–said she’d be interested in seeing it and perhaps producing it at camp.
That afternoon I wrote home, telling my mother where the script was hidden–under some games in my closet back home–and asking her to send it up quickly.
The play was produced for the junior campers one evening when the seniors were at an off-campus activity. It was called “The Chosen Jester,” a title that absolutely telegraphed the ending, but I was roundly congratulated for my work.
At the end of the show (which was mercifully brief), one of the adults (I think it was one of the directors) sent up a call of, “Author! Author!” and when I came out onstage, someone threw me a bouquet of wildflowers picked at the tennis courts. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Many years later, I wrote a play for kids that was based on the play that had been put on at Glenmere. This time, I knew enough to give it a title that didn’t telegraph the ending. The play was produced in New York. I had already moved to Florida by then but flew back to New York for the opening performance.
As proud as I was to see “King Theo-What’s-His-Name and Joey” produced onstage in New York, I believe I was prouder the night “The Chosen Jester” was produced at Camp Glenmere.
–Cynthia MacGregor (nee Aronson)
Acquired Skill Sets
It has been a long time since I attended camp, yet the memories are still vivid. I went to summer camp in northern Wisconsin every summer for nine years.
The memories are warm and wonderful. I made friends and had fun, but the things that stay with me are the wonder of discovery, the amazing beauty of the wilderness and the taste of wild blueberries eaten while on the trail.
I appreciate the many skills I learned–from putting up a tent and rolling a sleeping bag to weaving, crafts, archery, canoeing and swimming.
The beauty and the wonder come most readily to mind, probably because I so value these things as an adult. I remember whole meadows sparkling with fireflies, “fields” of water lilies along the edge of a glassy lake, miles and miles of pine trees fragrant in the sun. (I’ve even written poetry about the memories of that beauty.)
But, of course, as a youngster, I also valued the excitement: catching my first fish, learning how to right a capsized canoe, swimming races, learning to ride a horse, chopping wood and building a fire, and–as we became more advanced in our skills over the years–being able to go on overnight canoe trips.
And the friends were wonderful, too.
It was an entirely positive experience. I loved summer camp. I think it probably helped me become who I am today–a resilient, globe-trotting adventurer, who still loves camping under the stars.
Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.