Ah, Facebook — the ultimate documentation of seasonal shift. As I scroll past scores of smiling kids dressed in matching t-shirts and clean shorts, posing in front of Greyhound buses and overstuffed duffel bags, there’s only one time of year it could be.
Once upon a time, that ecstatic face belonged to me, the result of counting down 299 days until that moment. I look at those happy children and a warm wash of nostalgia comes over me, like peeing in my bathing suit during second period swim class. And just as quickly, that pleasant sensation gives way to a consciousness that underneath my calm surface lurks a deep, murky feeling as green as the muck in the lake.
Is it so wrong that more than three decades later, I would do anything to go back to camp and despise those happy children who have taken my place on the camp-bound bus?
My parents shipped me off every summer for two months from the time I was ten. Today, that seems like a long time, particularly by West Coast standards. But back then, that stretch was almost not enough for the Witness Protection Program of my youth, aka camp. There in rustic cabins, around dining hall tables, up at the stables and down by the lake, all sins were forgiven, as campers’ true identities were erased, and with a fresh slate we reunited with friends who knew and loved us in the best possible way: just as we were.
Nerdiness was replaced with DIY artistry at Arts ’n Crafts. Landlubbers who could barely walk straight won lake regattas and joined the water ski team. Klutzes became Olympic-level contenders when it came to oddball games like crab soccer or Capture the Flag. Well-behaved children painted camp mascots and punk’d sleeping counselors. Tone-deaf singers belted show tunes in camp plays, and non-musical kids rocked air guitars in endless talent shows. And outright dorks revealed themselves to be the most adept cat burglars, breaking into locked kitchens and inventing intriguing late night dining combos (peanut butter right from the jar with a chaser of Lipton Cup-a-Soup, anyone?).
I know, because I was all of these things. Back at home, I was an awkward kid with her nose in a book and a sad sack addiction to afternoon soaps. At camp, I morphed into someone who was exactly as I wanted to be: loud, eccentric, sporty, theatrical, and as I got older, someone with a boyfriend. And by boyfriend, I just mean that by the time I was 14, I got at least one cute guy to dance with me at a social. There was nothing sweeter than a stolen kiss in the dimmed lights during the last, sweaty slow dance to Piano Man or better yet, to the longest, horniest song in the history of rock ’n roll — Stairway to Heaven.
Who cared if I only showered once a week, truly believed I got clean in the lake, didn’t always brush my teeth or change my underwear? Half of it was destroyed by the camp laundry anyways. I lost my innocence the day the hot water ski instructor who wore the banana sling bathing suit gave me a soggy, yet strong, hug for getting up on one ski. And I rocked camp plays. Thanks to my faint but mannish mustache (and no, bleaching it in Bunk 15 didn’t help — it only made me look like Tom Petty), I landed leading, albeit male, roles. I pigged out on whoopie pies and Sunday night buffet, and then repented at the Diet Table. My friends and I made an endless stream of friendship bracelets and BFF collages, blew fuses getting ready for socials, and hugged each other for every little accomplishment, at least 50 times a day. Camp was way better than any other therapy in the world for chasing away the blues and building self-esteem.
And oh, the singing, the cheering, the chanting! At mealtime, during Color War (College League) games and meets, day, and night. There’s nothing like a good campfire to make me weep, partially from the smoke but mostly from singing one too many James Taylor songs like Fire and Rain. I made friends for life and from around the world. I had a British boyfriend and a French tan. And come visiting day, I found I truly missed my parents and also realized that absence gets you a lot of great things, up to and including a giant bag of pistachio nuts, a stack of Tiger Beat magazines, and enough candy to rot my teeth for the next week until it was confiscated by counselors who polished off the remnants. (I know this because as a counselor I loved the post-Visiting Day bounty, especially after a few late-night beers.)
These are just a few memories, and if you were a camper like me, I’ll bet you have a billion more (and please, COMMENT – I love hearing them all!). The bottom line is that in the magical sanctity of camp where the community is kids, all kids, I came into my own as the person I’d always wanted to be. And that’s who I am still to this day, with camp to thank.
So imagine my joy when I got an email last fall from an old friend who knows a camp junkie will do anything for a hit. He reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in helping launch a camp program out here on the West Coast that’s been successful on the East Coast. Would I ever! I can already taste the bug juice and have been frantically cutting off all of my jeans and stocking up on Herbal Essence shampoo, Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion, and bug spray — when worn all at once, it’s the official scent of summer.
This camp program isn’t just any program: it is FREE CAMP for boys who have experienced a significant death-loss, such as a parent or sibling. It’s called the Manitou Experience, and it’s one week in the stunning Big Bear Lake area at Camp Whittle, August 12 – 17, 2012. There are still spots available, so if you know a boy who has experienced a significant death-loss and is in grades 5-7, contact the Manitou Experience for more information and to apply.
So the good news is I am going back to camp this summer, to visit, to help, and to share all of the joys of camp with kids that really could use a shot of confidence, a shoulder to lean on, and some good old fashioned camp fun. And games. And swim time. And Color War. And campfire. And lots and lots of love.
For those of us who have to suffer at home this summer, the following recipe is a genuine camp gem, created by my BBF from Camp, DeDe Lahman and her divine, I-should’ve-met-him-at-a-social husband, Neil Kleinberg, owners of the insanely amazing Clinton Street Baking Company. Make these cookies (which DeDe & I always called “Cookie of the Day”), consume before bedtime with a big glass of milk, and have yourself some sweet camp dreams!
Kilk & Mookies “Brand X” Cookies
Makes 18 to 20 cookies
2 sticks + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
2 cups plus ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ¾ cups M&Ms (buy a giant bag and save whatever you don’t use to eat late at night with a side of Lipton Cup-a-Soup)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. If using a convection oven, turn the oven to 275 degrees.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugars, vanilla and cinnamon on medium speed, making sure to stop and scrape the bowl down. This will take 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the egg and mix on medium – low speed until combined.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl and add all at once to the batter. Mix the dough together on low speed until combined, making sure to stop and scrape down the bowl so that all the flour is incorporated.
Fold the M&Ms into the dough with a spatula or spoon.
Coat two cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line them with parchment paper (we do both at the bakery to prevent sticking). With a 2- ounce ice cream scooper, scoop cookies onto each sheet.
*Do not put too many per sheet as they will spread.
You should have 18 to 20 cookies. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, until golden and just set on top. Let cool.
Note: Do not flatten the scoops of cookie dough. Allow them to keep their round shape and they will flatten naturally in the oven.
Ooma, zooma, pata-watamee! (That’s fake Indian chant that was a favorite at my camp — Matoaka — and that now sends you on your way for another joyous week of summer.)