Summer Camps

Today’s post comes to us from Steve, who is at the extreme left above, petting the dog.

The pattern of sending kids off to summer camp is much stronger in the East than in the Midwest, but summer camps seem increasingly popular here. Kids from cities like New York or Boston might be shipped out to spend the whole summer in one or more camps. The Midwestern pattern is more likely to let kids live at home, perhaps attending one or more camps in the summer.

Camps used to be very traditional and outdoorsy, much like Boy Scout camps everywhere. Kids would play outdoors, swim, do crafts and have bonfire picnics. Modern summer camps are increasingly educational, perhaps teaching computer skills or a foreign language. My daughter has fond memories of Artward Bound, a camp that encouraged kids to engage with the visual arts. Alas, it no longer exists.

My first camp was Camp Matigwa, a Boy Scout operation. I was at an awkward age, shy and reclusive. They taught me to make a lanyard, which later made the Billy Collins poem all the funnier. We were supposed to swim once a day, but the water was cold and I was delighted to learn I could spend that hour at the camp’s “canteen” eating Baby Ruth bars instead.

I wore shorts on the day we took our first hike. I contacted some stinging nettle, which hurt like liquid fire until one of the counselors found some jewel weed, a plant whose sap canceled the nettle’s poison. The obvious lesson was that we should learn all about plants. I now suspect that our counselors staged the whole thing. They obviously knew where the nettle and the jewel weed grew, so I was the dupe they maneuvered to blunder into the nettles so they could showcase their expertise.

My favorite camp experience came in the summer of 1956 when I spent two delightful weeks riding horses at the Larry-Jo Dude Ranch near Boone, Iowa. We camped out, sang around a bonfire, groomed horses and took two trail rides each day. On my faithful horse, Margarita, I twice won the water relay event at our end-of-camp rodeo.

But the big event from that summer was when we played hide-and-seek on horseback. Pardon me for telling a story I’ve told before. We rode south of the ranch to a patch of woods. I had been assigned to ride Diablo, a large white mare that was the fastest horse in camp. But Diablo was lame that afternoon. When we divided up to go hide ourselves, I was stuck riding the largest, whitest, slowest horse in camp. I dismounted and led Diablo into a little gully where we could hide under some overhanging shrubs.

It was so exciting my heart still races when I remember it. Horses thundered all over the woods, kids screaming and tagging each other. I knew enough about psychology to know that time passes slowly when you are hiding like that, so I kept squelching the impulse to come out. Then the noises stopped. After what seemed an eternity, I ventured out of the gully. The woods were empty. Everyone had gone back to the ranch house, obviously unaware they were one buckaroo short.

As a courtesy to my lame horse, I held Diablo’s reins and walked her for half an hour back to the ranch. When I got to a hill overlooking camp, I saw three cop cars near the corral, their red and blue gumball lights madly spinning. And I understood: the town’s cops had been called in to find me.

The camp’s managers were delighted to find me perfectly alive and unharmed, but they infuriated me over and over. They kept calling me “the lost camper.” That was outlandish. I knew exactly where I was every minute of that day. They saw me as the lost camper although I saw myself as the hide-and-seek champion of all time.

Do you have any summer camp memories to share?

83 thoughts on “Summer Camps”

  1. I never went to a summer camp in the classic sense. I went to a day camp one week and the only thing I remember about it was an epic game of capture the flag staged over several acres of woods and irregular terrain.

    I did go to a Boy Scout camp once. I’ve talked about it on the Trail before. This was in the fifties and the leaders were mostly volunteer dads. I suspect their primary experience with camps and camping had been in the military 10-15 years before. Boy Scout camp had a distinct paramilitary flavor. Whenever we went anywhere as a group, we marched in formation. Camp activities were things like an obstacle course where we were expected to crawl through briars and under a barbed wire fence and target practice on the rifle range. It was all orchestrated and fairly rigid, with little free time.

    One of my daughters went to a camp sponsored by Campfire Girls and liked it so well she became a counselor there for two successive summers. The camp recruited counselors from around the world and she became close to a number of them—so close that after her camp experience she went to New Zealand for a year or so and lived with the family of one of them.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I meant to add, the camp where my daughter was counselor was a real throwback—a camp like you seldom see anymore. Picture the camp from the original version of The Parent Trap.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. At one camp, a Boy Scout operation as I remember, I was inducted into the Royal Order of Siam. I think that was the camp where some newbies were sent into the woods at night with pillowcases and ordered to come back with some snipe.

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    1. And at that same camp, in the evening we played Red Rover, Pom Pom Pullaway and Capture the Flag. To everyone’s surprise, I was great at Capture the Flag. People paid little attention to me in grade school. That can be hurtful, but when you’re sneaking in to capture the flag it is a plus.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I went to Lutheran Bible camp at Lake Shetak, and also in the Black Hills. Our church youth group went for a week to the Boundary Waters. Our children went to Concordia Language Camps and Bible camp in Medora. I think son went to Farmers Umion camp on Lake Sakakawea. Husband always considered the Scouts as a paramilitary organization, and discouraged our son from joining.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My daughter spent two weeks in a Boy Scout camp in the Czech Republic. Their scout program wasn’t “paramilitary” but virtually military. This was shortly after the breakup of the Soviet empire. Czech scouts were deadly serious about sneaking around in the woods because they had been rehearsing that sort of thing in case their country ever went to war with Russia.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes. For once, this isn’t a Steve booboo. She had a dear friend who had worked for years with the Boy Scouts. An opportunity arose for several American kids, girls and boys, to travel to the Czech Republic for a scouting experience. It turned into an emotional experience for many who went. The mayor of the town where they stayed told the American girls they were the best guests that town ever had, and he hoped they would return if they could.

          Liked by 4 people

        1. When they got married 9/11/99, Lowell had a contract to go back to Medora for two years. So my daughter took a call in Bowman and three others, one the smallest county seat in America. At the end of those two years she took a call an hour west of us and has been there ever since.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. The only traditional camp I went to was Presbyterian church camp that landed at, I think, Lake Okoboji in NE Iowa. Second most memorable thing was being in a boat watching the water to see if I could “feel God”, as instructed by the camp leaders. But I do remember being at the evening meal, singing “Let Us Break Bread Together”, and feeling a strange calming feeling – I wouldn’t have had the words then, but a feeling of oneness with everyone. The ministers had “missed the boat” – that’s how I got my experienced of god.

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  5. No camp for me. And I didn’t even think about at the time because nobody I knew ever went to camp (although I had seen The Parent Trap). Once I went to one day of vacation bible school with a friend. I don’t know if I was supposed to go the whole week but I remember that I didn’t like it. So either I was only supposed to go for that day or when I complained about it, my folks didn’t make me go again. YA went to a few camps, most of which were daycamp‘s. There was a science camp, a Harry Potter camp, Zoo camp which she really liked. The only two overnight camps—gymnastics and Girl Scouts, both of which she really enjoyed.

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  6. Far as I know, summer camps didn’t exist in England. I saw a film with Hayley Mills playing the same part twice, at what I now realise was summer camp. I had no idea what it was back then, and I don’t think anyone else we knew did. And I’ve learned far more about it in the last few minutes than I ever knew before.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I was thinking one day of the ‘tractor driving competition’ they used to have at the fair every year. Had to back up a 2 wheeled implement and a 4 wheeled implement. (Four is harder than 2). Dad was always making me practice backing things and he really wanted me to enter this contest. I have always hated contests; I don’t know where that started but this didn’t help it. I wasn’t that good and I didn’t want to fail in front of others I guess. THAT’S still true, I mean who does?
          The contest didn’t last long after that anyway it doesn’t seem like.
          These days I am good at backing two wheeled things. And I was pretty good at backing four wheeled things into tight spots. Sort of out of practice these days as I just don’t do it as often. But it’s a good skill.

          BTW, backing up with a tractor is different from backing up with a car or truck. Clyde, Fenton, What do you think?

          Liked by 2 people

        2. The only tractor competition I am aware of happened when a farmer with Bipolar disorder tried to have a combine race with his neighbors. No one wanted to race. I can’t imagine why.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Told you I could rely on you Ben. You somehow gave me an opening, you’re a genius.They’re all different. I mostly only drive my biggish van now, but today I drove Jane’s car, and had to reverse it a couple of times. What a nuisance, though I didn’t alterthe mirrors for that short distance. As a truck driver, I have to be seen to scorn turning my head and just looking. And with my 1951 model aches and pains, I don’t want to. It would be OK on the older tractors I used to drive, they didn’t have mirrors, and you were sat on, not in them. Turning was easier.
          They told me a “semi”, or “artic” as we call them, was easier to reverse than a tractor and two wheel trailer. It isn’t, for various reasons. Much easier to correct mistakes on a tractor, because it’s longer in relation to the trailer. And easier to see when to turn, and when you’re going wrong. I went in for trucks full of confidence, and got knocked back time and again, at how much better than me most drivers were at reversing. Reason is, you’re on a farm because you love farming. You have to drive a tractor, whether you want to or not. You drive a truck because you want to drive a truck (at least, at the start). You mostly don’t want to make a career out of something you’re not good at, as I did the last thirteen years of my working life. Wasn’t fun.

          Liked by 3 people

        4. Rene,if that race had been down our local Umberleigh Hill, half a mile downhill, then a level bit followed by a hump backed bridge, on to a tight right hander, where if you left the brakes alone, you’d get right round and go over the river bridge, down to the main round junction, all “with the stick out”, I’d take the guy on. The big secret was, do not touch the brakes. I did that many times with tractors and trailers, an outstanding memory.

          Liked by 3 people

  7. Growing up, the only camps I knew of were boy and girl scout camps. Scouting in Denmark was a totally different deal than it was in the US, at least back then it was.

    I’ve obviously never been a boy scout, but I can attest to what my girl scout troop was all about, and there was nothing paramilitary about it. It was all about learning useful skills such as reading a map, learning how to orient yourself using a compass, fixing a flat bicycle tire (tyre), identifying edible plants, tying useful knots, and basic survival skills. It also promoted a sense of responsibility toward others, and being considerate. There was a also an emphasis on having fun; lot’s of singing and performing of skits.

    I went on one, week-long summer camping trip, which I’ve written about on the trail before, and that’s the extent of my summer camp experience. I recall it as being lots of fun.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I remember some summer day camps, and then just a few days at Good Earth Village as part of a church camp. I remember getting some sex education from the other boys in the tent at night. Funny how that’s what I remember!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ben, you can’t read or hear much about summer camps without encountering stories–maybe real, maybe fanciful–about sex at summer camps. Just consider the ages of kids who go to camp. At the Larry-Jo Dude Ranch there were rumors that something naughty had happened one night by the horse-watering tank.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. I didn’t know there WAS a horse watering tank. Can you get your name down for these things at 70?

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    2. Ben did they tell you that weird one to ten rating system, where “going all the way” was number ten? I think.

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      1. 10 is too many steps. All I ever heard was first, second, third base and home run.
        Paradise by the dashboard light anyone?

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        1. Seriously Ben, I think that was from the fifties, and it was to do with what you’d been allowed to touch, and whether it was inside or outside clothing. I never heard the whole sequence, but it seemed to go from hesitant fumbling, to what you call home run, pretty rapidly.

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  9. My daughter had an unusual experience at a Chinese language camp near Grand Rapids. Since she would be gone from home longer than she ever had been, I wrote her a letter each day to describe our daily lives. I tried to make the letters entertaining.

    Girls in Molly’s cabin picked up on the fact the highlight of her day was getting a letter from her dad. They mocked her for that, and I guess it got pretty mean at times.

    At the end of camp, Molly was struggling out of the cabin with a full suitcase. The leader of the group that had mocked her ran toward her, sobbing, and she threw her arms around Molly. “Please, please forgive me for how I treated you! I was just jealous. Please never lose your sweet old fashioned ways!”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Girl Scout camp was set up so that you could leave letters for your camper and one would be delivered each day. Those of you who know me know that I went full boar on this with Girl Scout-themed greeting cards and notes from the cats and the dogs. She still has these.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. As an admin, I can go in and fix my voice recognition error but since several of you have already seen it, I might as well just leave it. In for a penny, in for a pound.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I really meant, Bill’s ability not just to spot the error, but to think of a comeback. If that’s the word.

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    2. Steve, you know you followed your sex-at-camp story with one that began “my daughter had an unusual experience at……. etc” Had us worried for a minute.

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      1. If something scandalous happened at that Boone dude ranch in 1955. My daughter was born 22 years later. I think we can safely conclude she is innocent of whatever happened by the horse trough 22 years before she was born.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I used to go to camp any chance I could. I saved my babysitting money, my allowance, and snow shoveling money for this. Church Camp and 4H camp were the most available. I just loved it because I loved to be away from home during the summer.

    My favorite idea for a camp above is “Tractor Camp.” Would John Deere fund this?

    Liked by 4 people

      1. We actually do start them pretty early here in Minnesota. There are small tractors to be riden by toddlers at the Minnesota State Fair at the Kemps Little Hands Farm. I have a picture somewhere of YA when she was itty-bitty on one of these tractors.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. At a “petting farm” where I used to take Isaac, you could put a coin in a little electrically operated back actor, and shift sand about for a few minutes. I could NOT get Isaac interested in using it properly, rather than aimlessly meandering the thing randomly about. But I’m the parent, and must take the blame. If only we had a real farm……

          Liked by 1 person

      1. My cousin is an engineer who designs tractors and other equipment for the New Holland company. One of his brother’s teaches high school agriculture, and another is a farm machinery mechanic.

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        1. Wow! And you and Jacque actually speak to each other?
          You’re evidently above the “us and them” that prevails everywhere I go.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Wow! And you and Jacque actually speak to each other?
          You’re evidently above the “us and them” that prevails everywhere I go.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s what amazes me, again and again. You could give me all day to think about it, and I wouldn’t come up with something like that. Nicely done, Bill.

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  11. Have two large stress factors in my life. Stress factor #2 just hit. So I will enter at least one summer camp story, then maybe the second, as stress reliever. All while doing a PT exercise every ten minutes or so. Forgive my fingers and eyes.
    Story #1 CAMP HOUSE
    The D.M. & I.R. railway, which still hauls iron ore, now taconite pellets, to Duluth or Two Harbors, had an employees association, which owned club houses in Two Harbors and Proctor, and also a summer camp 30 miles up in the forest north of Two Harbors. I was sent there at the age of 10 or 11, I think 10, against my wishes. It cost employees of the DM & IR $6 per week per child. I was sent I am sure to try to make me more social. I was very quiet and shy in those early years. And happy to be so.
    But my first week did not work out that well. At the last minute my mother realized she neeed to buy me a swimsuit. She rushed into the Arm/Navy Surplus store and bought one just before I got on the bus. But, happily for me, it was too small. The error kept me out of the water. I then hated being in the water, and do now, especially since I do water therapy 2-3 times a week.
    I don’t remember how I spent my time. I did not make a lanyard. Had no use for it and it seemed like a necklace to me. Made bracelets for other people and some other crafts I do not remember. Did not do any of the sports very much. My sister the jock had her name on two of the honor boards for atheletic prowess. Not me. So what did I do?
    We were there from Wednesday at noon to Tuesday at 11 a.m. Sundays parents could come visit, which mine did. I was going to ask if I could go home with them. But she informed me that the association had given me a free week, which they often did, so I was condemned to stay a second week, about which I cried, but my mother being Adeline Anne ignored that nonsense.
    Second week went better. I did go in the water but did not take lessons. I know the second week went better. Only a few of my schoolmates were there, which is odd, since more than half of the town worked for the railroad. And I did not get bullied by anyone during the two weeks. That I remember clearly. They did alll of the usual sorts of camp things.
    Jump ahead to age 17. I was hired to be the assistant maintenance man for 10 weeks before my senior year. It went well. Two of the teenage girls who worked in the kitchen quit after four days. I helped the director hire two of my friends who I knew could put up with the nasty head cook, who did serve good merals. Four young women lived in the top floor of a small building. I lived in the basement. Read nothing, well, only a little bit into that.
    When it is humid like now the pressed wood in out kitchen cupboards puts out a smell and when it does I always say, Ah, the smell of Camp House.
    That winter the camp was sold to a Lutheran group who made it a Bible camp. My daughter went three years. Camping, as you will see in the second story has never left her brain stem. My son went two years and also loved it.

    But story #2 will show Camp House reappears in our lives over and over again.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Story #2 Green Lake and More of Camp House
    Near Spicer MN are two Lutheran camps very near each other, which are really one camp in two places. My daughter’s children have been there every year since they moved back to MN. The camp has a pastors’ family week at the beginning of the season as they are preparing for campers. The pastors attend a program for continuing ed credits. The kids loved it. My daughter and s-i-l attneded every year including this year. The kids loved being there.
    Then as they got to camping age they started attending and loved it. One year they were at camp for three weeks and loved it.
    About a dozen years ago, the body running Camp House could not maintain Camp House. They gave it to the Green Lake group to great success. One year pastors’ week was at Camp House (still called that by stipulation of the railroad sell). Camp House became the favorite of the two kids. They went up there as campers once. My daughter has served on the board for Green Lake.
    When the daughter turned 14 she became a sort of unoffical counselor. Many kids just assumed she was. At age 15 they integrated her into the counseling staff for her two weeks. They offered her a job for the next year. She jumped at it. Even taught herself to play the guitar over that winter. Loved her first year as counsellor. Then last year the camp was closed. This year it is open. Lily spent a week back up at Camp House as a counsellor there. She is having a ball.
    At this year’s pastors’ week Mr Tuxedo had a ball with the younger kids. He is a pied piper. They needed a dishwasher and offered the job to Mr. Tuxedo, but as always he hemmed and hawed for a few days and agreed to try it for one week. During the week he found a powerful motivator to stay. A girl of course, who works at some staff job. He is having a ball. Kids come home telling parents how much fun Jonah, kids who did not know him before.
    Last weekend they had a quilt auction as a fund raiser. Whenever a quilt gets a high bid, some of the counsellors jump in the lake fully clothed. Grand daughter and grandson were the first two in every time. Highlight was whem a 77 year old little old lady’s quilt got the highest bid ever, she jumped in with the kids.
    They are talking to Mr. Tuxedo to be a counsellor but he is thinking. He wants to become a cook. Hopes for a job in a local fast food restaurant.
    I am still stressed.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. We haven’t mentioned that summer camps serve as the setting for quite a few movies. The two most obvious are the two versions of Parent Trap. But summer camp movies are almost a genre all their own. I really enjoyed one called A Walk on the Moon. It features an actor I always enjoy, Diane Lane.

    Liked by 1 person

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