I have a dream about summer camp at least once every couple of months lately. Random – often very weird dreams about athletics, girls or field trips, but taking place in a camp setting that I haven’t been a part of in over 24 years. I find that really fascinating. This time of year is always awesome (beaches, no snow, ice cream, no snow, pools, no snow – did I mention no snow?) but without fail every mid to late June I think back on what the younger me would think about at this time of year – camp. As a grown man (although some would question that statement) summers no longer have that special meaning for me anymore. No – work doesn’t stop for two and ½ months for me to have fun with my friends anymore and even the best weekends or vacations seem to be all too brief. Back in camp years though – this time of year was always something special because I knew I was heading off to my jam – the place that was more than just my home away from home but a place where time seemed to stand still for two glorious months on a lake in Hampstead, NH. There is a reunion at my camp this month that I won’t be able to go to, so I thought this blog would be a cathartic experience for me to talk about why I am so bummed I can’t go.
I know some of you have never been to summer camp, especially an overnight co-ed camp like I went to for many summers. Let me explain why this experience has stayed with me all these years later:
1. Friends 4 Life – I still have friends at 42 years old I first knew when I was 8 at camp. We have all gotten older but the bond of spending two special months together in a bunk will always be there. We would discuss the important stuff – girls. We would play sports together. We would have late night flashlight sessions after we were supposed to be sleeping laughing and joking with each other. We would compete in sports against the other bunks. We would mess with our counselors and they would mess with us. We would tease each other mercilessly. And it was all awesome stuff.
2. Girls – I always say to friends who have never been to a co-ed summer camp that girls was the number 1 without a shadow of a doubt reason why camp was the absolute best. I explain it like this: if in the real world (AKA home) you were average with girls and average at sports, at camp that translated to Brad Pitt with the ladies and Michael Jordan in sports. The competition at camp just wasn’t there like it was at home in these areas and I loved every second of it. My first kiss was a camp girlfriend and my first “relationships” were with girls at camp. If you “went out” with a girl at camp for a week that translated in real world time to roughly 6 months. I used to love the socials (dances) we would have twice a month so I could bust out my finest cologne (Drakkar Noir) and think I was cool with my very lame dance moves that at the time I thought were destined for the break dance battles of Brooklyn. I learned a lot about girls at camp – biggest lesson I learned is much like Jon Snow – I know nothing.
3. Sports – as stated above, I was average at athletics at home, but at camp this became “good” at sports. I played lots of different sports every day – softball, basketball, you name it. We would play as teams against other camps but also against each other and other bunks too. I always felt these were really heated competitions, but looking back it was all just really great fun with friends. The inter-camp competitions were great and we would have rally sessions and crowds watching us. It felt like the world series and I was playing third base. Oh yeah – the girls were watching too.
4. Field Trips – these were the best. Once a week we would leave camp and go to places like amusement parks, beaches, whatever. The best part was not the destination – but the journey. Let me explain. The bus for anyone who didn’t go to summer camp is where young boys dreams come true. We could sit with the girls and try to put our best moves on. We would flirt our butts off. We would sing songs like the “telephone” jam (can’t remember the name of it but that was the joint). We would sing songs about the bus driver that looking back weren’t so kind. Who you sat with and where you sat was like a social pecking order experiment. I can honestly say that I always was more excited for the actual bus rides than I was for wherever we were going.
5. Pre-camp – This was only when I was a counselor but it was the absolute best. Picture 8 – 9 17 – 20 year old dudes, “working” for a week before camp started, setting up the docks, cleaning the bunks, etc. Now – we actually did do that stuff but the great part was when the day ended. We had a little fraternity that had been going on for years, and we would drink our faces off every night and have your typical hazing type shenanigans too. There are memories made there that I can never share except for those who experienced them with me.
6. Confidence – My kids are at the age where they will be going off to camp soon and I am constantly trying to make that happen. My wife was not a camper, so she doesn’t quite get it. I try to explain to her that this is where I, and many kids like me, built their independence and even more important – confidence. Mommy and Daddy weren’t around so I had to figure things out on my own. I had to deal with problems without a mediator, meet new people and do things I would never dare do at home. This undoubtedly help me build my confidence and without the experience of camp I don’t think I would be half as confident as I am today.
7. The Mess Hall – we would eat all of our meals in what we called “the mess hall”. We were assigned tables that was with kids across all age groups – so we were forced again to be confident and step out of our comfort zone. Funny thing that happened though is that, outside of your bunk, your table mates became your great friends at camp. I vividly remember crushing on some of the older girls at my table and being in awe of some of the older dude campers. We would all sing songs in the mess hall together and wait for those camp announcements together of exciting things like where the next field trip was or what the night’s evening activity was going to be.
8. Counselors – I honestly cant say that I never had one counselor I did not love at camp. There were like a big brother and father figure all rolled in to one. They would have your back, bust your balls and be a shoulder to cry on all within one day. These guys seemed larger than life to me while at camp. They would do some awful things like the “Doodie Olympics” to us – featuring wedgie hooks (yes – actual hooks where they hung you by your underwear), pushing tennis balls with your noses on dirty bathroom floors, bat spinning games that made you want to barf and more. That might sound like kid torture to most but trust me when I say me and my bunkmates loved every second of it. Nowadays the PC police would never let that happen in camp. Shame.
9. Girls – oh yeah – already covered it. But Girls.
Yes- I am truly bummed I won’t be able to relive all these memories and more with former bunkmates, former girlfriends and counselors this month at the reunion. I guess I will just have to settle for that random camp dream until the next one.
PS – Yes – that is me in that picture on the far left. I believe I am 14 or 15 here. Check out that mullet! Hair for days.
Camp was a blast. I got into other trouble at camp and, sadly, didn’t get anywhere with the girls at their camp (where Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a camper some years before me) around the lake from our boys camp. But I did discover Frank Zappa and The Grateful Dead, interests which remain with me to this day.
All terrific points, particularly the bit about camp’s ability to change the trajectory of your life and encourage independence as well as confidence. Now I’m reminiscing…
Eddie. Ironically, you were one of those larger than life counselors that you wrote about. You were never my counselor, but in my eyes you were basically at MLB manager status when you came out to AC/DC and announced the starting line up of the bogrim softball team. This was a great post!