When I was eleven or twelve, my parents thought I would enjoy sleepover camp with three of my neighborhood friends. We did everything together, in school and out, from "kick the can" to basketball to making potholders from multi-colored loops on a cheap square metal loom, which we, in our innocence, thought would make us lots of money. We talked about boys, mean teachers, and why our parents wouldn't let us wear two-piece bathing suits, yet they could jump, fully clothed, into a neighbor's pool after cocktails.
I had just rescued a baby bird and was keeping it alive in a shoebox underneath my bed. In secret, I asked one of my sisters to keep watch over it for two weeks while I was away. That didn't turn out well, so yeah, dead bird story.
It was a Girl Scout Camp called Camp Mogisca, not far, but too far for me. Some girls got letters everyday or had money to spend in the camp store for candy and lanyard-making materials or postcards and stamps, or to make phone calls home on a pay phone. I received one package in the mail during the second week from my father of three boxes of dry butterscotch pudding and stale mixed candies, missing the licorice ones which he ate, and a drunken note in sloppy Spencerian cursive. The camp counselors checked all packages sent and pulled me aside; camp policy was we were supposed to share any quantity item of food. The counselors, who were mostly teenagers, were stumped by the pudding boxes, which in front of the whole camp circle, I had to explain that I had a habit of eating dry pudding, usually behind the sofa and then lying about it.
Mortified and ashamed, camp only got worse. I got sunburned, bitten by a snake, was not put into the same cabin as my friends, and I hated swimming first thing every morning in a murky, mucky pond that was far too cold for a skinny girl. I made friends with a pair of fraternal twins, one with shoulder-length red hair and freckles, the other with short brown hair and two different colored eyes. I got by with a little help from my new friends. Their parents specifically requested that they be separated; the result was I ended up sneaking from one cabin to another to sleep, curled up against one or the other.
Everyone else had mosquito netting. I got mosquito bites, nightmares, and poison ivy on the next-to-the-last day. I was the last person to get picked up, but never so glad to see my Dad. And for awhile I did keep in touch with both of the twins, by handwritten letters and occasional sleepovers. There was an odd jealousy and competition between them so eventually the visits stopped.
So it was, years later, with great trepidation as a single parent, that I let my daughter go to a day camp at the age of six, dropping her off at 9am and picking her up at 5pm while I worked. Day Camp Sunshine, a Christian camp that I chose only because it was close-by, cost forty dollars per week, plus there were constant, wholesome activities outdoors, a mid-morning snack, unlimited lunch and a late afternoon snack. Fresh farm food, bread made by the German Lutheran Sisters. A guitar-playing Pastor or Sister greeted us every morning with hymns, heavily folk-influenced nineteen seventies, "Father Abraham", one of the favorites of the camp kids. Unique way to start the day, but oddly uplifting.
My daughter was picked up tanner, tired, and full of tales. (The radioactive cornfield story should have tipped me off to what the future would bring...a Navy nuclear submariner who warned me that any grandchildren might glow in the dark.) Fast forward to the current day. My daughter, who will turn forty this summer, has been married more than half her life to that young man who said to himself at the age of twelve (after she had gotten first place blue ribbons in every event of the summers' end Camp Olympics, for several years, especially the coveted and only boy/girl combination competition triathlon-of-sorts), "If I can't beat this girl, some day I'm going to marry her." He never did do better than her at camp, but he followed through on the marriage, which I consider a major win, and what a blessing and adventure.
On Sunday, we celebrated Fathers' Day on those grounds, a potluck meal, stories for the grandchildren, then an illegal evening swim in the pool, bats circling and a waxing gibbous moon, the first fireflies of the season. Life is good-- summer salads, grilled meats, first fruits of gardens from here and there, cupcakes and love. What more could one person want?