I can still recall my first day as a camper back so many years ago—the sun was shining, the air was fresh—there was so much to do. I can remember breathing in that fresh, country air and thinking to myself, more than anything else:
I wanted to go home to my mommy.
I was overwhelmed by all new faces in this new strange land; the childhood equivalent to culture shock. Thankfully my tear stained phone call home was an exercise in futility. My parents told me to give it a chance. My father reassured me that by the end of the week, I wouldn’t want to leave. He kept telling me these would be the memories I’d cherish the most when I grew older. This is also the guy that once told me spaghetti grows on tress, so I had a hard time believing my stay in the great outdoors would be anything less than pure torture.
Never the less, I was trapped in a strange forest (where nobody can hear you scream) with a bunch of kids I’d never seen before, with no hope of escape. I had no choice but to suck it up, and make the most of it.
My father was right. He usually is. The remainder of my stay was full of so many activities, I didn’t have much of a chance to feel the pangs of homesickness. How on earth could I miss riding my Huffy dirt-bike, when there were horses? I was too distracted by nature hikes through the woods, swimming in the lake and learning about astronomy to miss my puppy dog back home. There were canoes to paddle, songs to sing, and crafts to be crafted. I was too busy falling in love a half dozen times, and fearing the camp dance at the end of the week.
The camp counselors were super heroes. They were cooler than Fonzie, back when Fonzie was cool. They all had nicknames. They knew everything about the forest (leaves of three, leave them be) they could swim a mile under water, and build a campfire from two sticks. I think they might also have been able to out run a speeding locomotive and leap tall buildings in a single bound. The counselors scared us to death with ghost stories by the campfire, then made us feel safe from harm as they reassured us they were just stories. By the time camp reached it’s end I didn’t want to leave. I had made too many friends, and done too many things to go back home to my normal, boring life.
Flash forward 10 years, and I’m back at camp, only this time, I’m the super hero. I’m the one who could swim a mile underwater, and I had the nickname. (Huck)
I traded two summer vacations full of lazy days, a part time job, and hanging out with friends for the chance to sing cheesy songs about crawdad holes deep in the forest with a bunch of kids.
I never once regretted my decision– I was having too much fun. I was getting paid to ride horses, hike through the woods and relax by the lake. It made sleeping in, and mowing the lawn seem a little dull by comparison.
I didn’t have the time to miss my friends back home, either. I was too busy making new friends with the other camp counselors, many hailing from all over the world. I was too busy falling in love, and dreading the camp dance at the end of summer.
I was also learning the wonders of cigarettes and alcohol, but that’s an entirely different stagger down memory lane.
As a counselor, I never forgot the impact my predecessors had on me as a camper. I took it both as a responsibility and an honor. I got to be the role model and it made me a better person. I frightened my campers with tales of the infamous “Rake-Man” who wandered the woods, then spent the rest of the night making sure they felt safe under my watch. I taught the kids about the dreaded leaves of three, and kept their minds far away from puppy dogs and dirt-bikes; I was the super hero.
As a camper I learned how to be self sufficient and how to interact in new social settings. I learned about teamwork, and stayed active both in body and mind. As a counselor I learned a valuable lesson in responsibility. I took the first steps towards adulthood. More so than anything, my experiences both as a camper and counselor will inhabit the warmest parts of my memory, right next to my first kiss and my wedding day as the some of the best times of my life. My father was right, so many years ago as he eased away my tears. I do cherish those moments. Those summers spent away at camp truly were my wonder years.
It’s almost enough to make me believe spaghetti does in fact grow on trees.