I recently read a blog post that made me smile with delight: 6 Things I Learned From Sleepaway Camp. My days at camp were some of the most uproariously wonderful times of my youth.
In retrospect, I’m not quite sure why I loved camp so much. On paper it makes very little sense. If given a choice between playing outside or in, in always won. Unfortunately for me, my Mom rarely gave that choice. I was told to go “blow the stink off” which is a Midwesterner’s charming way of saying “go play outside and quit bothering me.” I had asthma. I hated and was appropriately terrible at sports. I only liked swimming if the water wasn’t too cold, and when you go to camp in northern Michigan, the water is ALWAYS too cold. I was allergic to grass, pollen, trees, and ragweed. The only things I really had going for me was my love of boys and my ability to tan.
Turns out, that’s all I needed. That and the fact that I come from a long line of Camp People. My Mother and Father actually look like this:
They were even Camp Counselors together and every picture looks like something from Wet Hot American Summer. They even had a Camp Toilet Paper Monster named “The Viper.” Camp People are a mockumentary waiting to happen.
I loved camp with an intensity only matched by my early adolescent lust for the male counselors. Not that long ago, I looked at a few pics of said counselors wondering if in fact they were actually “hot.” Answer: they were. And I married a guy that looks like a combo of two of them. I haven’t tested Will’s abilities in Burp Tennis, but we’ve only been married five years in June. We have to save SOMETHING for retirement.
I still subscribe to the American Camp Association Job Update and occasionally consider chucking it all and heading off into the North Woods to be Mr. and Mrs. Charming Camp Director. Will would do it in a hot second. I am held back by the availability of MAC makeup and schmancy cocktail bars. I also don’t really like children.
I think what appealed to me the most about camp was the immediate and intense drama that occurs when 13 years olds live in close and filthy proximity. The only thing I’ve found to match it is Non-Equity theatre backstages and lo and behold I’m an actor. The only thing missing is a 19 year old boy with a guitar. I long to harmonize the works of Ani DiFranco and the Indigo Girls with him, and still being innocent enough NOT to wonder why he knows those songs in the first place. Unless, of course, he went to Goshen College in Indiana, which pretty much explains everything. (If you actually understand my Goshen college reference I either 1. Already know you. or 2. Probably should. And no, I didn’t go there.)
I don’t have anything left over from Arts and Crafts. Mainly because, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think we did anything in there but marvel at the Art girl’s cool name, I believe it was Yaneken, and her armpit hair. I was ambivalent about Waterfront. Waterfront always had the hottest counselors, but if I had my period, it was a total bust. So that week of the summer was ALWAYS hit or miss in those respects. I LOVED music and so did all my friends. Honestly, the top three things for me at camp were 1. Hanging out with friends, 2. staring at boy counselors, and 3. harmonizing. We were children of Folk Music-listening ex-hippy Baby Boomer parents. Harmonizing songs was just what we did. “You Are My Sunshine” was our biggest hit.
I remember that “getting dressed up” involved a shower, jean shorts that were not cutoffs, and a Hard Rock tshirt, with actual underwear on, not a swimsuit. And shoes. We must have looked like a bunch of gangly, pimply hillbillies most of the time. I remember once during the week, we would walk to Lake Michigan in a big long line, roadside, kind of like when all the campers follow Sharon and Susan to the Isolation Cabin in the Parent Trap. I remember the cook in the Mess Hall was humming “Something in the Way” by Nirvana and I thought he was the coolest most aloof and mysterious man I had ever met.
On Sunday afternoon, when we finally arrived after a sweltering many hour trip from the church parking lot in Archbold, Ohio, everything felt so new and fresh. By the time Monday lunch rolled around, it was old hat, everything was routine and I was having the absolute time of my life.
The only thing I never liked about camp and still to this day don’t quite understand is why you have to get up so damn early. Summer Camp seems to have some sort of vague connection to the military in that you get up to Revelle, orders are shouted at you, and you occasionally have to pass “inspections.” One year, knowing our Camp Director Gail spent her off season working at the Gap in Toledo, we spread every Gap item we owned onto our beds as some sort of tribute to her when she arrived for inspection. Having now worked several horrid Joe jobs, I can imagine the gutteral sigh she must have uttered. She did have a really cute navy blue polka dot bikini that I loved and have looked for for years. I assume it was Gap.
I would usually get a couple letters from my Mom during the week, sometimes my Aunt Hope (who would draw very cute animals roasting marshmallows or something), and my Grandma. In that I would usually get my first letter from my Mother on Monday, I’m surprised it didn’t say, “Dear Betsy, You are still at home. I am watching you fumbling around with the washing machine. Why didn’t you unload the dishwasher? Wash your hands. Dinner is ready.” Instead they usually said wonderful Mom things like, “We miss you so much. The cats are lonely. I cleaned your room and found a dead mouse. Finster [cat] must have left it for you. Maybe weeks ago. Dad says we can order pizza when you get home. Love, Mom” I would write one very pathetic and dirt-covered letter to my Grandma Kohart which I would forget to mail. My Mom would then mail it the following week. My Grandma would keep it forever, and then 15 years later it would be returned to me when my Mom was going through my Grandmother’s things, which is weird and surreal. If I had known I would ultimately be writing that letter to myself, I think I would have said, “Dear Future Betsy, Will I marry Joel the hot counselor? I really hope so. From what I am reading in Kari’s YM, this is what I am led to believe. Will I ever have long hair? It’s shoulder length now. I plan on never cutting it. If I don’t marry Joel the hot counselor, do I marry Keanu? Love, Betsy. I sort of wish I could write myself a letter at camp from now. I would say, “Dear Little Betsy, You don’t marry Joel. Just know it. Feel the pain. I think he knocks someone up later, anyway. BUT you totally marry someone hot, so don’t even worry. Put sunscreen on at Lake Michigan this year. I know you didn’t burn last year, but you do this year. Also, don’t make that dirt angel. Everyone thinks you’re gross. A Snack Shop Special is a kiss, so quit bothering Kristy your counselor about it, and also feel free to tell your cabin mates that Kristy is well-stocked with Snack Shop Specials due to her supplier, the Grounds guy. Just FYI. Have a good summer! Also, chill out, you are kind of a spaz. Love, Betsy.
Actually, my first two kisses occurred at camp. One was during an ill-advised round of Suck and Blow. The other was from the aforementioned Greg the Grounds Guy. Before you freak, let me explain. I mentioned above the mythic “Snack Shop Special.” The girls that week were absolutely falling over themselves trying to find out what it was. We begged and pleaded with the counselors, PLEASE TELL US WHAT A SNACK SHOP SPECIAL IS!!!!! I was bothering Kristy and Greg one evening. When Greg got up to leave us for the evening, he walked over to me and smooched me on the cheek and said, “That’s a snack shop special.” Probably the only time I’ve ever been rendered speechless. Certainly when the card fell during the game of suck and blow, I informed the poor 13 year old boy who was responsible how oddly cold and slimy his lips were, but only after a very dramatic EW!!! and much sleeve wiping of my lips. I bet that kid thought I was a real asshole. I’m also just now realizing that a Snack Shop Special is so obviously sex and that the counselors merely tamed it for the ears of children. Very sly. Very sly. Well done.
I remember when I would return home the following Saturday, everything at my house smelled clean and fresh, and it felt like I had been gone for potentially years. Until the next day, when I wouldn’t unload the dishwasher, my sisters and I swatted each other, my Mom shrieked and everything was back to normal. Seeing any non-Camp friends after that week, I would inevitably inform them how drastically my life had changed. How I had matured into a graceful swan, and I was really sorry they weren’t able to experience such womanly transformation. I would inform them that I had met the man I would probably marry. His name was Joel. He played guitar as phenomenally as Burp Tennis. He had obviously tried pot at some point. And really loved Pearl Jam, which had to have been a sign from God that we were meant to be together as, I too, loved Pearl Jam. Then one of us would become distracted by an overwhelming craving for a Popsicle and all would return to normal.