Friday, March 27, 2009

happy camper

I went to camp for the first time the summer after fourth grade. It remains a magical highlight of my summertime memories--a week of living in a cabin with a bunch of other girls. We swam, canoed and rowed in the lake. We learned useful skills like how to stay afloat beneath a capsized canoe. We studied oil painting and drama. We perpetually smelled like OFF and campfire smoke.

I spent my week of camp at Lake Ellen, and I fondly recall the good food served up in the cafeteria--the buildings looked just like the ones in the original Parent Trap movie--all pine floors and beamed ceilings. A little camp store sold t-shirts and candy bars where each camper could blow the $20 their parents had packed in their suitcases. I slept in a bunk, shared my cabin with 7 other girls and a teenaged counselor.

According to my mother, my first nights there were terrible--I sent a letter home begging her to pick me up. In the olden days before text messages and cell phones, that letter mailed via the U.S. Postal Service didn't reach her until the day before they were supposed to pick me up. It couldn't have been that bad, they figured (correctly) and when they did arrive on the assigned date to retrieve me, I was tanned and happy. Camp was good.

Idyllic memories indeed. I listened to Mary Lou Retton win a gold medal at the summer Olympics on a radio through a window screen at camp. I remember packing my suitcase, each neatly folded outfit laid in with anticipation of a nature hike or a skit I'd participate in while at camp. I returned home with that same suitcase--all the clothes as neatly packed as when I'd left because I'd spent the entire week in my swimsuit. I still have a rock I painted with a scene of pine trees and mountains. I still recall the songs we sang at night around the fire. My family eats caramel sticky buns* on special occasions--the recipe? From camp. Friendships, homesickness, gossip, adventure--under the blue mosquito-infested skies of Michigan.

When I started high school my family moved to a house on a lake across from a summer camp for wealthy Jewish boys from Chicago. I'm not certain that it was actually called that, but all summer they overran their side of the lake with kayaks and waterskis. Some of those boys spent their entire summer break at that camp--they had horses to ride, an archery range and even a computer lab (it was the mid 1980's so it must have been a pretty nice camp). They'd take trips into town and watch movies at our local one-screen theater--I'm sure it was quaint and exciting for city boys. While I'd outgrown summer camp by then, I was filled with nostalgia whenever I thought about those boys going through their own camp rituals and traditions every summer.
(Holy crap! It's still there! But it's co-ed now, I guess.)

Mr. T is begging to go to camp this summer--I've paid the deposit for his spot at a camp in northern Wisconsin with anticipation that he'll love it as much as I did. I didn't know about the Spy/Secret Agent Camp until I saw this website. Shhh! Don't tell him! I'll never hear the end of it!

Reader, were you a camper? Will you send your kids away for a week or two this summer?

* Bundt Caramel Rolls from Lake Ellen
In well-greased 12" Bundt pan put 24 (or fewer) frozen bread rolls. Sprinkle on box of regular (not instant) butterscotch pudding mix over rolls. Melt 1/4 C butter or margarine and mix with 1/2 C brown sugar and 3/4 t cinnamon. Pour over rolls. Let stand overnight. Bake @ 350 for 40 minutes. Turn out of Bundt pan onto serving plate right away.


  1. I never went to camp, but I do remember vacations I spent in a swimsuit...that was heaven!
    My son is going to sixth grade camp next month and I hope he loves it.

  2. Oh man. I never got to go to camp, but reading this, I wish I had!!!! I always wanted to, there just wasn't the money.

  3. One of my first jobs was as a counselor at a girl scout camp. But we moved around so much when I was little (every year and a half) that my life was already full of adventure.

    I remember really loving those girls and being amazed at their growth over just a few weeks. It was so rewarding.

    - Julia

  4. Beautifully written post.

    I never went away to camp either. My mom was a single parent and first generation immigrant from China. I think that's the main reason she never sent me--- She worked full-time and I guess, there was no such thing as the "mom-network" for her, so she never thought to do it, and even though I knew other kids went, I never thought to ask to go.
    And I suppose that's why I've never sent my kids.

    I was a counselor for a Y-camp on Catalina Island when I was a freshman in college. I had an absolute blast! Making up for what I'd missed... :)

  5. I went to camp once when I was only 7, so it was not a good experience because I was not ready to go away for six nights. I never went again.

    My girls get a week with my sister at the camp she directs. It's not a sleep-away camp, but they get to stay with their aunt and uncle, so it's just as good. Better, actually, since there are no outdoor latrines to deal with. My girls went to Girl Scout day camp a couple of years ago and decided that they're not interested in going to a camp like that again.

    Otherwise, they'll get an absolutely two week day camp here in our town. They get to choose four different topics of interest to learn during that time -- nature art, fencing, sign language, woodworking, French, baking, etc.

  6. Oh lordy YES! I started going to camp after third grade. I was never homesick a day. The last camp was two weeks in the Rocky Mountains at a remote sailing/canoeing camp. We pitched our own tents, dug our own latrines and bathed in the lake.

    My girls both went to camp. Precious Youngest only twice; she HATED it and cried every day. Precious Oldest loved it and went on to become a counselor at a “Horse Camp”. Those days are long behind us now but the memories linger on.

  7. I never went to camp and never wanted to go to camp.
    Then I turned 18 and went to Community College so I could continue to spend every night in my own bed.
    The thought of sharing a bathroom with anyone outside of my family was traumatic.

    Our family also didn't have the finances to swing camp. There were inexpensive summer programs through our town recreation dept, so my sister and I learned to sew, type, paint and swim on our summer vacations.

  8. Those caramel buns sounds delicious! A lot like Monkey Bread.

  9. I never went away to camp, but all my kids did. It was a great experience for them to have under their belts when the time came for them to go away to college. They knew they could trust themselves to go out on their own and survive.

  10. I went to church camp with my friend from a denomination slightly more evangelical than my Lutheran heritage (God's Frozen People) and I always thought camp would've been a lot more fun without all the church (may lightening strike me!) But I liked it and went for a few years. I remember getting a letter from my mom telling me about Nadia scoring the first 10's ever in gymnastics--camp is always during the Olympics!

    J1 went to ballet summer programs for 6 weeks, BalletMet in Columbus OH and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet at Dickinson College--she would not be my nature girl.

    J2 went to Concordia Language Villages Lac du Bois French camp at Hackensack in N. Minn for a month three times, then went for a month on their Voyageur program out of Bemidji, camping and portaging the Boundary Waters, following the path of the French fur traders for a month.

    J3 played travel baseball, only had time for wrestling camp at a college.

    J4 went to French camp in Savannah (CLV) twice for two weeks. I think he'd like regular camp without the pressure of speaking French all the time!

    A lot of the girls here go to Camp Skyline in Mentone, AL. A couple of J2's friends are still counselors for the whole summer.

  11. Mmm, those rolls sound divine. I think I'll need to give those a whirl this weekend.

    I never went to summer camp, but I always wanted to. I loved "The Parent Trap" & used to play elaborate games with my Barbies pretending they were at camp.

  12. I went to several camps but my favorite was the week I spent at a Girl Scout camp on Catalina Island. Snorkeling, sailing, archery--plus, their were Buffalo right outside of camp. It was amazing.

  13. WOW!! I'm SO jealous!! My grandparents never let me go to camp. :(

    My oldest has been to church camp two years in a row now, and she'll most likely go again this year.

    What wonderful memories! Thank you for sharing!

  14. I wasn't a camper, but Shortman used to go for a week of soccer camp every year. He loved it. After the first year, that is. ;-)

  15. The way you tied into PARENT TRAP was just perfect; your experience totally resonates with it.

    And, okay, spy camp? My kids may go away one day, after all.

  16. With 9 kids in my family I never got to go to camp - except a day basketball camp - and that was a blast.

    My kids all went to camp though and loved it.

  17. I went to a "rustic" camp in Oregon, IL the summer after 4th grade. We slept in hogans (think covered wagon w/o wheels) and outhouses with huge wolf spiders. I loved that camp! Sadly I had to change camps to one in Bloomington, IL because my cousin/best friend refused to go to a place with outhouses! We both gleefully attended East Bay Church camp every June through summer after 8th grade. Two years later we were invited back a CIT's and later counselors. We both have incredibly fond memories of camp. I will gladly send my daughters to summer camp when they get older. I hope they will prefer the rustic route like mom.

  18. My camp experience was so similar to yours! I went to 4-H camp at Allerton Park in Monticello, IL, for several years and loved every single second of it. Well, except for the communal, outdoor showers. I still sing camp songs with my sisters and I would LOVE an opportunity to "make rain" with a large group again.

    Happy, happy memories. :)

  19. Only a church camper...which was a poor substitute. I loved Parent Trap as a kid and always thought such an experience would have been wonderful.

  20. Never went to a summer camp. Stayed home and played little league baseball and went fishing a lot.

  21. Great memories and I want to try that sticky bun recipe. I went to girl scout camp once, and threw up outside the door of my tent in the middle of the night. My cousins (and future husband) all went to Camp Turner and Camp Mary Glen, Catholic camps for boys and girls, respectively, and my mom went there too, but my parents never sent me to camp.

  22. I was supposed to go to camp the summer after 4th grade but I broke my collar bone and had to skip it. I didn't get to go again until I was in high school and by then it was all about why the boys didn't pay any attention to me so it wasn't so much fun. I wish I had been less boy crazy.

  23. We had dozens of cousins to spend summers with, at various venues, so no camp was ever necessary. Maybe I will someday let my boys go to camp, but so far our summers have been packed too!

  24. I always dreamed of a camp like that but never went. What great memories you have!

    We have those sticky buns every Christmas morning. They're delicious!

  25. My parents sent me to camp almost every year, which I could never figure out since we lived in the northwoods of Wiscosnin as it was. I went to day camp as a Brownie, Girl Scout camp, YMCA camp (the only co-ed camp I attended), and two years at Camp Vista which was for Catholic girls and above and beyond my favorite experience. Lots of fun memories about camp days but between my four kids I think we only had two weeks of overnight camping. They're just not the outdoorsy types.

  26. I have the best memories of camp too. Each summer, I went to the George Williams Camp on Lake Geneva and wish I still lived close, so I could send my own kids.

    Such great times.

  27. Oh my gosh, I LOVED camp! Loved it! I may have to write about it at some point. Great memories. Yes, I will and have sent my kiddos to camp (which they also loved!)

  28. Camp was the best! I went for three weeks for 6 years. Ended up going to college with several of the girls.

  29. I went to girl scout camp at Camp Ehawee. Six screaming girls and one giganormous spider.


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