When the year winds down, where do you look back?
Once a month, our blogging group stretches our collective creative muscle with a singular topic upon which to expound—in this case, a favorite childhood memory. Having just walked in the door from watching "Unbroken," I'm hard pressed to think of anything cheery.
(And of course, the book was better.)
At first, I misread the assignment to be "Write about your favorite childhood memory" and not "a favorite"—and immediately, writer's block ensured. How could I pick one? My childhood wasn't perfect, but surely, there's more than one thing to write about.
And then it came to me—cream puffs.
I moved several times as a child—not so much that I was in a new school every year, but enough that as I aged, finding a circle of friends became more difficult. So when asked to think of happy childhood memories, my thoughts often drift to summer camp. For me, that camp was part of a Boy Scout/Explorer Troop experience every August at the Wisconsin State Fair.
I owe a lot of firsts to that camp—some blissful, and some that probably shouldn't be mentioned—but most importantly, years and years later, there remains a circle of friends I've stayed in touch with over the years. That, and the promise of a routine—that every summer, for 10 days, I knew where I would be, well into my college years.
I think, for a lot of people, that circle of friends is often taken for granted. You grow up on the same block, go to the same school, share the same teachers. I was lucky (yes, lucky) enough to live in different places and experience different things—but at the expense of a childhood of permanent residence. That 10 days in the summer was enough to satisfy my craving for some of the same. Some of those "same" favorites were simple. The smell of the animal barns, the disheveled carnies, the music floating out of beer tents, wicked corn on the cob, the giant slide, and of course, cream puffs. But mostly, it was the bonding with friends on the hot tarmac directing traffic, horrible cafeteria meals, rainstorms during which you were pretty certain your tent was going to blow down and your were going to die.
The camp talent show, the Olympics, the sand volleyball court. Walking the perimeter of the camp on the outdoor ice rink that is now Pettit Ice Center, walking the expo halls in search of a pickle on a stick and the best fudge, and trying to buy souvenirs with the remaining $3 in your wallet.
It was looking up to the staff, wishing you could be one of them. And then finding once you were, it was equal parts of awesome and angst. It was life lessons, breakups and makeups. The perfect trial run at relationships should really be just 10 days. Camp was like "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" before there was reality TV. Actually, it was like A LOT of reality TV before reality TV. Think "Survivor" meets "The Amazing Race" meets "Undercover Boss."
I have friends who have kept the campfires burning—still on staff, decades later. And I know that when I take my family to the fair now, I can count on seeing them and sharing laughs, hugs and good conversation. And for those memories, I will always be grateful.
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