It would take me an entire book to give you every wonderful memory that I have from working summer camps for two summers during college. It would take me more than a book to tell you about the people I’ve met through camp, and the people I love, and the people I still write letters too, or still talk to, or still wish I was sharing a bunk with. Or just the places I’ve visited because of the people, ambition and adventurous spirit that camp has given me. In order to tone it down for a single blog post, I’m just going to try and describe it for you so that one day when your child is five, and you want to strangle them with the kitchen towel you’re holding, and you’re wiping beads of sweat from your forehead in the heat, and your baking pies, and you’re over it – you’ll send them to Camp. (Maybe even Camp Hanes in the lovely little town of King, NC. Right near pilot mountain).
Oh summer camp, where counselors go to find hot summer flings and get a one-piece tan and children go to play on giant slip&slides and make speckled tye-dye shirts. If they’re lucky, they might even receive their very first nickname. Unfortunately, Tide has ruined a few of my tye-dye shirts, including my “Curly-Q 09 LIT Leader” one, but at least I still have the Pack of Bears tye-dye shirt from 09 as well.
Summer Camp makes me feel warm, maybe because I think about the countless burns I’ve experienced, or how much weight I lost in pure, unadulterated sweat. Obviously, I also received and gave a lot of bear hugs (and I’m short so I was often picked up off the ground – I’m looking at you John Philpot) and so that aspect is quite warm as well. Anything involving bears seems like it could be warm. But more then that, summer camp makes me want to scrap book, take a kayaking trip, road-trip straight to Winston-Salem and throw a water bottle at Tommy McGlaun’s head (co-counselor, entire summer, toxic and loving relationship).
But more than that, summer camp just gave me a lot of first time experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. What nineteen year old gets to rappel down mountains, go caving, white water rafting, kayak down rivers in West Virginia AND get paid for it. (Oh, and did I mention this was my first time ever doing anything adventurous. Before this, I’d much rather paint my nails and dance around my dorm room to some bad pop music).
So, let me start there…how I went to Camp. I had this boyfriend, who became an ex-boyfriend and so I decided that my first summer after college I needed to get out of my hometown (where I lived my whole life and continued to live throughout college – thirty minutes from my parents). So, I e-mailed this summer camp and they only had positions in Adventure (which is the best job at camp, just FYI). Furthermore, on the day of my grandmother’s funeral, with my entire (important) extended family shoved into a van and lost looking for a place to eat (in the middle of all the Spanish Moss of Gainsville) I had an interview with the Adventure Program Director. He was a bit sleazy to be honest and so I think he liked that my only form of exercise was shower-dancing, hallway-dancing, dorm-room-dancing, car-dancing, pretty much any compact and compartmental space I could find – I would dance. And so he hired me, along with a really shy girl from Virginia (who ended up dropping out of college after Camp and becoming a flight attendant) and one of my closest friends still to this day, Ivy. A college-level Volleyball player who is taller than 6-foot and can beast anyone in most sports. She’s freakin’ fantastic.
And there I was, a pretty-much small town girl, with small-town breasts, and pale, freckly skin, standing in a circle of forty other counselors trying to undo a human knot, or telling them how I got one of my scars, or playing some game of tag (probably toilet tag because it can be the most awkward). And I will never, ever regret any of this, in my life, or ever.
I mean there is no job better than summer camp. You spend your summer tanning by the side of a murky lake (that you know is infested with giant cat fish), watching children under the age of 9 squish up their face right before hitting the water on the water slide, and then stand up and pick out major wedgies – the kind you imagine bullies give in high school gym class. You inhale the smoke of camp fires and exhale the sweet sounds of Camp fire songs like Boom Chicka Boom and Linger. You might even get lucky and meet the love of your life (who may or may not twirl you around on a Myrtle Beach Boardwalk on your week off. Just sayin’.)
I feel like I’m not completely giving you the full picture, and how could I? Camp isn’t like the movies (well it might have a little bit of Wet Hot American Summer in it), and it isn’t like a giant mosquito extravaganza like you think when you see your children, or your nieces and nephews, or the kids you babysit after they’ve returned. Maybe you see that little sparkle in that child’s eye, or you notice that they still have paint behind their ears from playing Tuesday night games, or you notice that all of a sudden they’re really fond of a certain type of cereal. If you do see paint behind your child’s ears it’s because we try to make them shower, but some children just like their own stench, and who can tell a child that their stench isn’t appealing and benefiting the world in every possible smelly way? No one, no one should de-stench a child.
Once I had a little girl during mini-camp (which is a three-day stint at camp where five to six year-old’s can come and try camp out)…who hid her snacks from after dinner rec-time to give them to her mother when she got home. Obviously, there’s homesickness, but it can’t possibly smell as bed as three-day-old-locker-Flinstone-popsicle. And it can be overcome, just like my campers fear of the giant swing, or rappelling, or hiking for a full week (just the eight of us) on a trail filled with wild horses through the Appalachian Mountains.
Yes, I did get paid to carry a pack of my own food and clothes on my back and scream through a rainstorm in a tent filled with four girls, huddled together and clutching one another.
Yes, I got paid to stand atop “Pride Rock” and model like an America’s Next Top Model with girls I never though would come out of their shell, but who modeled on top of mountains by the end of three-weeks. I’m lookin’ at you Kayla-girl, my little blond and braces fairy.
Yes, I do have a giant knee scar from tripping over a rock when my co-counselor got us lost for the third time. (Fortunately, to this day, this kid is like a little brother to me, and YES, I said LITTLE BROTHER, Thomas).
Yes, I saw wolves red beady eyes staring at me at night when I got up to pee.
Yes, I wrote letters to each camper (and still do).
Yes, I ate wild blackberries and trusted myself that I wasn’t going to die.
Yes, I have paintball bruises, hiking bruises, wrestling bruises, bunk bed climbing-bruises, dark-dance-party bruises, side-ponytail kinks in my hair, and a huge hole in my heart for all the people I miss that I don’t see very often, but love none-the-less.
Yes, you should have the camp experience if you haven’t already.
Volunteer. Send your kids. Learn a song about a frog that’s been ran over or a goldfish that ends up floating on his back with his eyes bulging. My nephew, likes the song about the gorilla who’s in love with the elephant and exclaims “don’t give me none of that bonk-e-bonk, just wanna hug your trunk-e-trunk!” It’s one of the many he’s learned and sing back to me before nap time.
I’d tell you what the Hanes High-Five was, but it’s kinda a have-to-be-there-kinda-thing….
Here’s a poem I wrote with Camp Hanes in mind (it’ll probably never be finished and/or published so I feel like it’s adequate enough to share with my readers to just give them my sights in the woods, by the lake:
They tinkered around the lake,
late night little bulbs, winking.
I had a flash light and dirty feet.
Pinching wings from the air
we pretended fairy tails
illuminated our mason jars.
At twelve, we squished everything between
fingers. Each, flat, between my thumbs.
The soft sound of our nails scratched across our
t-shirts, littering lighting flashes over our chests.
Catfish waved to the top and opened
their wide mouths over the still of the water.
You pulled me up by the palms, dusted dirt off
my ass and laid your flat, flute lips against mine.