Monday, August 2, 2010

A father takes his son to camp

Summers for kids are loaded with all sorts of fun activities, with the main activity centered around camp. Here is a story by JW involving his childhood camp and passing the legacy to his son...

This month, my two older brothers and I took my 12-year-old son to the summer camp that we went to in Maine. This wasn’t his first sleep away camp but it was the first summer at the camp I attended more than 30 years ago. I spent five years at the camp as a young boy and my brothers more than 10 as campers and counselors. Collectively, we had more than 25 years at the camp and I was excited for my son to have the same experiences that we had enjoyed; bunk living, lots of team sports, bug juice, color war, lazy Sundays, bunk nights, college league, dark Maine nights, being in rip during ping pong matches, the cool lake water, the rib splitting laughing, the losses, the wins, and everything else that goes with the summer camp experience. He has been going away during the summers for several years so I wasn’t too worried about him being homesick. Plus, we still have some friends at the camp who promised to keep an eye on him and be available should he need anything.

Within 15 minutes of arriving, he was on the tennis courts where he was in time for the 3rd period instructional lesson. Afterwards he was back to the bunk to clean up for the short walk to the mess hall for lunch. After rest period he was playing basketball in the beautiful new Alumni Hall gym - playing in his first College League Loop tournament (they lost by 1 point). He was a camp boy! When we said good-bye, I could tell he was a bit sad and so was I but I knew he was in a great place and in good hands. I had no doubt about it. He was going to have a blast. There is nothing like being part of it with 200 boys doing what they all like to do – away from parents, teachers, and the stress of the school year.  

As we were leaving, the director/owner said to me "Congratulations". At first I wasn’t sure that was an appropriate comment but after a few minutes I realized that in fact, it was a time to offer congratulations all around. That the camp (which was founded in 1947) is still around, and congratulations that the son of alumnus had returned to continue the tradition. That is not so easy any more with so many summer programs today and so many interests and time constraints, returning to your father’s camp is something special. I have such fond memories of my time there. The anticipation of getting ready to go; haircuts, trips to the store for comic books and candy, to the Sandwich Hut for Italian grinders for the bus ride and breakfast at the Bickford’s for apple pancakes before we got on the bus. Care packages with saltines and cheese wiz, licorice whips, Portuguese sweet bread (which I managed to sell by the hunk) and flag rush, water war, the trampoline, movie night (I saw Live and Let Die for the first time) and the eat-a-thon (it would be years before anyone ever heard of Kobayashi).  The camp nicknames – many simply not appropriate for this column – and everyone had one, it was straight out of that scene in Animal House.

But my time there would be bitter sweet. Between my 4th and 5th summer, the same age as my son is now my mother passed away. The first summer after her death, I was invited to come along on a cross-country trip my friend and his family had planned instead of going to camp. It was a six-week drive around the country in a motor home. We had a blast (most of the time) and hey, have you ever been to the Corn Palace? As soon as we got back from the trip, my father drove me up to camp for the second half of summer but something was broken –it wasn’t the same any more for me - so much had changed - and I never went back after that summer in 1977. I decided to stay home with my father (who was now alone in our house) and work. I try to regret only things I don’t do, not things I do do. Not going back to camp in 1978 was one of them. My wife and I like to think my son is my mother’s gift to us so perhaps things have come full circle – the connection no longer broken – the regret fading away.

JW has his own blog covering great foods and the dining experience. You can find it at


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