Summer / Camp Stories: So They Say Camp is Back

Summer / Camp Stories:  So They Say Camp is Back
For me summer camp wasn't fashionable. Nor was it a choice.

A few weeks ago I picked up our copy of Town & Country, my haphazard magazine subscription.

I don't know a whole lot of rich people, especially not ones who wear seersucker suits. And this magazine is usually full of socialites I have never heard of, not to mention sordid tales of pampered pets of the rich and famous. The women within are beautiful and have nice clothes, but smile in photos like they are being tortured to do so. Their husbands don haircuts that suggest their names are "Thornton" or "Chip" and that they probably talk about municipal bonds over cocktails in gilded hundred year-old glasses.

I only subscribed to this rag sort of by accident a summer ago when I thought that T&C was a magazine more full of sunny places that I'd like to visit. I've feigned interest long enough to let the subscription lapse. Yet, they keep sending it to me, probably for the sake of their own laughs.

Nonetheless every once in a while, actually, the cover strikes me. Last month, the latest issue highlighted summer camps and the fact that camps --a great pillar of summer recreation-- are "back".

I grew up during the Reagan Years, and as a strident suburban-American kid I actually dreamed some odd tales that were hammered into my head from Rambo movies I snuck in. One day, when I knew my parents had enrolled me in Camp Cayuga in upstate PA, I surmised weird adventures like capturing a bear. Or, like Chuck Norris, I might meet and apprehend a bad guy --probably a spy from the Soviet Union-- and foil his plan to invade our country. I was hoping they had guns.

But in truth, summer camp isn't really so much about dangerous adventures or even the liberating escape from your suburban subdivision. Rather, the experience should be about one thing: having outrageous fun. The odd part about this is, that kids attend summercamp in their adolescent years, the waking dawn of their puberty. And puberty, for most, is probably the least fun and (ironically) most unpleasantly outrageous time of one's life.

In tribute to camp and its awkward oral history in the American experience, I thought it was fitting to spend a few weeks this summer showcasing various writers' accounts of their lives during summer and summer camp.

Starting this week this blog will cover all of the bases, from sports camps to scout camps. We'll hear stories about why some kids want to escape and just go home, and about breaking free from siblings. Plus we'll hear how some cope by pretending to be ewoks, soldiers, and other characters, and why diabetic camp kids are jerks just like the rest of them.

Most of us who went to summer camp didn't have a choice in the matter. But we all got at least a good story out of it.


Filed under: Summercamp, Weekend

Tags: Summercamp

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  • Really looking forward to reading these upcoming stories! I never went to summer camp so I shall live vicariously.

  • Thanks for the reminders, Andy, of summer camp in all the memorable iterations. I penned this piece in July of 2009 recalling my own summer camp experience. It was sent as an email to neighbors and friends in Porter Beach, the small Lake Michigan beach community I call "home" in northwest Indiana. Read on for a different angle on the summer camp experience.

    July 31, 2009

    Forty-three years ago this week, I was away at summer camp. It was a pretty ordinary camp set on a picturesque lake with cool counselors and cabins, crafts and canoes; the setting complete with communal meals shared in the ubiquitous “north woods lodge” style dining hall. At day’s end, under a sweet summer moon, new best friends shared sentimental songs and connection around the campfire. That I recall this specific date and time is a testament not to the particular camp at all but to that historic week’s seismic change to the world in which we lived.

    In the summer of 1969, at the end of my time at camp, my mom came to collect my sister and me along with our smelly sleeping bags, piles of dirty laundry and lists of new pen pals; forever friends of with whom we promised to correspond. We also carried home memories to last a lifetime. Camp being notably a place to boost adolescent self-esteem, we each also clutched fistful of “sew on” patches awarded for various lauded accomplishments of the week, swimming a very long mile in a short 30 ft. pool among them.

    In the car, I remember a long and winding road, (note: first Beatles reference) as a path away from that innocent moment. Competing with the crunch of gravel under the car tires was a background of music crackling on the AM. It was The Beatles and the song was “Revolution”, fitting I’d say. I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to get home to play the 45. I didn’t much understand that song then, I only knew that on the “A” side of the vinyl disc I coveted was grooved a fave of the time, “Hey Jude”.

    To that fitting musical score, mom took us back to another world, otherworldly one might say in retrospect. Before we even were on the two lane highway to home, before all the week’s stories were composed and edited for the telling, I saw it. There on the wide back seat of the family Chevy was a stack of magazines and newspapers; Time and Newsweek, Life, Chicago’s Tribune and Madison’s Capitol Times all heralding…that man, an American, had walked on the moon.

    So it was, the moon was not made of green cheese after all.

    It would be hard to quantify the parallel changes of that time, for both me and my world. I think little was lost for me having missed Walter Cronkite’s long studied report in grainy black and white film of the Apollo landing and that moonwalk made famous long before Michael Jackson’s. The reading, re-reading and savoring of those pieces of news ephemera saved by my mom contributed a great deal to my ongoing love affair with print and to my early life calling as a journalist.

    As was reported at the time, all over the world there was dancing in the streets and as recently noted by Ken Trainor in my local "other home" Oak Park Wednesday Journal: in Chicago’s Comiskey Park nearly 40,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses observed the lunar landing as a “sign that our universe is in its last days.”

    Ken also recalled that a Trib editorial titled “Ad Astra per Aspera” and published the day after the landing proclaimed: “It is certainly a day for generosity and aspiration, and all of us chained to this planet must now be able to see, with fresh eyes and insight, that we are brothers in spirit and that we should be reaching out to validate what the moon journey has so convincingly demonstrated: that the unattainable no longer exists. In that sense of unity, let us go forward together.”

    Even if we never went away to camp, there is here on our Lake Michigan shore a connection for all of us to summer camp and the moon and Porter Beach.

    There just is no explaining the celestial pull of the Lake and the Dunes on our collective psyche. And that pull is no less enveloping for the short timers among us than for those here charmed with a familial history connecting to generations of Dune lovers past. Whether your own summer memories are colored with tales of time “at the lake”, either THE Lake, as in Michigan, or any other lake, it is true that the long days of mid-summer are utterly different than the other days of the year.

    I like to think of our shared time here in Porter Beach as a sort of summer camp, days begin for some with revelry at sunrise, each morning revealing a sandy shoal of windswept renewal, different than the day before. Yesterday’s sandcastles are a memory, swept away with the rolling tide. Each day is an opportunity to start fresh, like the early morning beach.

    The days are filled with water sports and hikes, languid afternoons beachside, trading stories and the latest good beach read, an evening salute to day’s end and another glorious sunset, and long after the last marshmallow is toasted, the sweet summer night breeze carries with it the smoky smell of campfires glowing in the dark.

    The beach is a really a strong metaphor for renewal. Take it as an offering, a chance for second chances. Revere the beauty all around, share it with others before the creaking screen door slams on summer and

    “…before the frost performs its secret ministry”…

    “….Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
    Whether the summer clothe the general earth
    With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
    Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
    Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
    Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
    Heard only in the trances of the blast,
    Or if the secret ministry of frost
    Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
    Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.”

    Excerpt from “Frost at Midnight”
    …Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    All best, all summer long
    And
    Bless the Beach,

    Jamie

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