YMCA Camp Belknap was a boys' summer camp on Lake Winnepesaukee, not far from Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
About 400 boys and 50 counselors attended Belknap when I was a camper, and then a counselor-in-training there. It was a bit of an old boys' club: most of the campers had generations of family members who had summered there, and your status at the camp was directly proportional to how many years you had personally racked up. The Timmy High Five Club was a dark, wooden plaque that displayed the names of all the campers that had spent 5 summers whiling away the days playing Bizou Ball, Lacrosse, Ultimate Frisbee and sailing on fair Winneper. Think an all-male junior J.Crew catalogue (of course, this was before J.Crew sold the upper-class 1950s to the world). The most frequently read books at Belknap were A Separate Peace, and Catcher in the Rye.
Belknap had a subtle Christian slant (it was Young Men's Christian Association, after all). The motto ran something like this:
The other fellow second,
The funny thing is, most kids at Belknap actually bought in to that motto. Even though there was plenty of alpha-male dominance rituals, and other ugliness, for me Belknap was a bit of a sanctuary away from the hell that is junior high school. At least for a while.
Then I became a counselor-in-training. First I went through the hazing that preceeds being selected. It wasn't so bad for me, but it wasn't great for anyone. When I got to college, I realized that all the counselors, mostly freshmen and sophomores at Ivy League schools, were taking inspiration from their fraternity house traditions.
Then I discovered that all the stuff that was confiscated or held by the counselors for the summer, was actually eaten, used, well-used or worn by counselors during their days off. The "dark room" where film was developed and no campers were allowed was actually a huge porn repository. Hey, I was an innocent.
My final disillusionment came when one of my friends, a long-time counselor whose family had something like 5 generations of kids at Belknap just up and dissappeared as far as the camp was concerned. One year I showed up and he'd become an unperson. Something wicked was whispered about him, and yet no one would tell me what it was. The last straw was when the yearbook for that summer came out. All the photographs with him in it had poorly doctored heads over his face (this was before the days of photoshop), and the staff photo had a strange, person shaped tree standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the counselors in the back row.
I don't know if the camp is still going, and none of the above may apply to it today. But that was my Camp Belknap.