The first time I went to spend-the-night summer camp I was homesick for the first week and a half — and in heaven for the last two days.
I remember so clearly being 9 years old, lying on my bed and wondering if I’d ever see my family again.
Somehow, I’d been drafted into an army of children I didn’t recognize, who found merriment and unbridled joy in doing things like sweeping a balled-up piece of paper from one end of the dining hall to the other, throwing the broom to a cabinmate and then jumping around and yelling for no apparent reason.
Then two nights before the end of camp, just after lights out, a scorpion dropped from the ceiling and stung me.
A hubbub ensued, the lights jolted on, the counselor came running in prepared to give us hell before he realized what had happened to me. As he stomped the scorpion, he immediately reversed his ranting and launched into a downright poetical ode to my bravery.
I insisted it barely stung me and it hardly hurt – which was the truth. I was not, nor have I ever been, one to understate my pain. But I was deemed tough by my councilor and my cabinmates.
It really didn’t hurt much.
Nonetheless, the next morning word was all over camp that I was a guy who might not be able to take a punch, but sure could take a sting.
The two days of camp were pure bliss, and I wasn’t too tough to cry when I left for home. I was tough enough that no one saw me.
From homesick to camp-sick with one puny sting.
My summer camp became a ritual. I went almost every summer until I was old enough to be a counselor. The summer after high school and before college, I got a job working on the grounds crew and helping with programming and I was there the whole summer.
I spent the whole summer doing things like helping kids use brooms to chase balled-up pieces of paper from one end of the dining hall to the other. And finding it the biggest fun in the world.
My camp didn’t have horses, canoes or any of the other things the kids in the neighborhood or at school bragged about doing at their summer camps. But it had mountains, trails, people I loved and uninhibited fun.
I went back to work at camp during and after college, helping with programming and broom distribution.
I haven’t been back to my summer camp in decades, but the kids I went with are now the people I vacation with. Some of us are married to people who we were campers with.
Most of our kids went to our summer camp. Now our kids have kids who may be going to our summer camp where they will learn how to be independent and make friends they’ll have for a lifetime.
And develop some pretty mean broom moves.