I never experienced the camp summers that many people speak of. We were shore kids, and my mother was firmly against our going away to camp. She did, however, relent one summer and allowed my brother to go away for a week with our cousin. I guess he liked it, but I’m not sure. For me, it was a foreign concept, and I just listened to other kids about the swimming, hiking, cabin life, and all things rustic. I never felt as if I were missing out, and I never had a desire to attend.
During the summer between my second and third year in high school, my girlfriend’s mother decided we should become day camp counselors, and I had my first camping experience. We weren’t old enough to get paid, so we acted as volunteer workers. We’d ride a rickety school bus every morning, being serenaded by the loud talk and laughter of the campers. My job was assistant arts and crafts director – a good choice for me. I wouldn’t have enjoyed all the outdoor activities. I just had to set out supplies and assist each group with their artistic endeavors. We made lanyards, photo frames, pottery, paintings, and other camp-ish stuff. We ate lunch with the other counselors and campers, and I had my first taste of Spam, which to my mother’s horror, I enjoyed. I asked her to make it at home, and she just gave me one of her looks!
It was at this camp that I learned swimming lifesaving techniques, and I got my certificates in life guarding. When the campers boarded their buses at the end of the day, we stayed at the lake/pool for our lessons. My dad or my girlfriend’s father or one of the adult counselors drove us home. I loved those courses, and I enjoyed the competition. Back then, I didn’t have my current nickname, but I made one up for the summer. The kids and counselors knew me as “Missy!” While that summer was filled with fun, it still wasn’t a true camping experience. That came later.
One of the requirements in my college was a Botany course, where we studied the local flora. The professor who taught the course was a gung-ho sort. Despite having a disability that caused him to limp greatly, he still loved roaming the countryside in search of native plants. Part of the final exam was a camping trip to northwest NJ, where we would be expected to identify all sorts of leaves, flowers, and bushes. My assumption (silly me) was that we’d stay overnight in civilized dwellings. Boy, was I ever wrong! We had to bring sleeping bags, and we slept in lean-tos! Ewww! The other students loved it, while I was miserable. It was rainy one day, and my hair was a mess. When food was being cooked on an open fire, there were bugs around. Ewww! I ate candy bars. The bathroom amenities were a hole in the ground covered by boards. Ewww! I held it in. By the third day (the final one and our return-home day,) I swore I’d never go camping again, and I haven’t!
Now, my daughter is talking about taking the little guys on a camping trip. I had one word in response – Ewww!! I’ll never be a camper!