Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer camp memories

Have you ever caught a scent so evocative of a certain time or place in your life that you were immediately transported there?  This happened to me on a recent morning as I strolled the three blocks between my parking lot and the office tower in which I work. 

Despite the mild weather that had me taunting winter back in February, winter did indeed return and took me up on my offer to hang out in the Pacific Northwest until May or so.  It's been one of the coolest and wettest springs on record, and we've only just reached the 80 degree mark in the past two weeks.

But this week it was finally warm enough to shed my jacket and enjoy the mild sunshine on my morning walk. I get into work by 7 a.m. to avoid the worst of the morning traffic.  Downtown streets are quiet, almost peaceful at that time of day, and my stroll takes me along the edge of the downtown core where it fronts a park running along the river.  As I passed under shade trees filtering the morning sun, I smelled the fresh air and all of sudden I was transported back to the sleep-away summer camp I attended each year from the ages of about nine to thirteen.  Something about the light and clean air recalled the walk down the lane from my cabin to the dining hall for breakfast, where I would happily indulge in Froot Loops - one of the over-sugared cereals my mother denied us at home.

I haven't thought about camp Laurelville in years, possibly a decade, but once I opened my mind to it, the memories came flooding back.  Laurelville is a camp run by the Mennonite Church conference located in the foothills of the Laurel mountains in southwestern Pennsylvania.  It was only 5 nights sleeping away and I never remember being homesick.  Camp was always the highlight of my summer.  When we would arrive, the first thing my brother and I would do is start bouldering on the field of huge rocks in front of the main lodge, some as tall as we were, playing the game of getting as far as we could without touching the ground again, or risking limb, if not life, playing tag and leaping from stone to giant stone.  There was the flurry of check-in, cabin assignment, bunk-picking (I was an upper bunk kind of girl) and re-establishing friendships started in prior years.

I remember signing up for the daily activity sessions where, among other activities, you could do crafts like making popsicle stick cabins or macaroni pictures, or get your shoes thoroughly sodden tramping through a mountain stream on a creek hike.  I didn't learn to swim until I was 11 or 12, but I loved swimming pools.  I would sign up for the swim session designed for us flotation-challenged children which was held in a pool fed directly from the chilly mountain river.  It was so cold, I would be shivering and blue-lipped in no time, and I never did learn to swim at camp - it took phys ed sessions at the heated pool in 6th grade to finally master swimming.  I heard they later fitted a solar heater to that pool, and I think the children that still attend camp there probably don't know just how good they have it.

I remember in the evenings after dinner, all the campers would play games like Red Rover or my favorite - Capture the Flag.  We played Capture the Flag on the best natural field possible - divided roughly down the center by a small drainage ditch, only two or three feet across.  I couldn't run fast so I wasn't a natural, but I still remember clearly once when I managed to creep across the ditch unnoticed at the very end of the playing field.  Then I casually sauntered back to where the flag was kept and offered to be a guard.  As soon as I was left unattended, I grabbed that sucker and high-tailed it back across the ditch - a successful capture.  Unfortunately that trick only worked once, because with my pasty skin and platinum hair, my looks were too striking to blend in with the other team once my treacherous tactics were known.

Each day, we had a session designated for cabin clean-up.  I don't ever remember that the cabins I stayed in got very messy but there were a few times when a cabin was "raided" by practical jokers.  One evening, I was walking back to my cabin solo and a boy approached me, saying he thought there was someone in his cabin but he didn't want to check on it alone and would I come with him?  I know - this sounds like a lame attempt at a "ya wanna come see my rock collection?" line put on by a 10-year-old Lothario, but if it was I was oblivious to it.  We tentatively pushed open his cabin door and flipped on the light and I exclaimed "oh, no!"  The place was a mess; there were clothes strewn everywhere and it seemed like his cabin MUST have been the victim of a raid.  He said "What?" and I said, "Hasn't your cabin been raided?" He just laughed and said, "No, it always looks like this."  I was horrified, and wondered what went on there AFTER the daily cabin clean-up session, but just chalked it up to "Boys!"

You know how when you were young, you thought whatever reality you experienced must be the same for everyone, because you are too little to know any different?  Well, I thought that everybody got to go away to summer camp each year.  Little did I realize that isn't necessarily true.  Those are some of my best childhood memories and I feel blessed to have them.

Did any of you go away to camp as a child?


  1. Oh, I have plenty of happy camp memories. You have probably just inspired me to share some. Thanks!

  2. You know, Nick and a friend of his and I were just talking about camp, as the guy had just sent his daughter to one for 5 days! Every summer Nick went to a camp that he loved up in Maine. They had no hot water. They bathed in the lake. It got freezy cold at night. These are his best memories, summers at that camp. I never went to camp. I think it would've been a good thing for me.

  3. summer camp memories are always the one we cherish whether we are young or old, i loved to go for summer camps, sleep in fresh air and eat camp food, god, how much i wish those days would return

  4. I've always wished I was a summer camp kid. I think it makes for some good, lasting, childhood memories.

  5. For some reason, the first memory that came to mind when I thought about camps, was the time I had to eat peas. (which I hated at the time). Because I had to eat them, I remember mixing them in with my mashed potato...not good...not good at all!