After watching the weather forecast for this week showing daily temperatures near 90 degrees, I said a tiny prayer of thanks for the invention of air conditioning. I really don’t know at what point in my life I decided that I hate extremely hot weather, but it certainly wasn’t in my adolescence. I am therefore dedicating the next few entries to memories of simpler times that took place under the blazing MN summer sun.
When I think back to the summers of my childhood, I am continually drawn to the images of summer camp. I don’t like to brag, but I was a bit of a camp aficionado in my day. Not only did I attend several church/religions camps, but I also participated in foreign language camp of three varieties, youth group national gatherings and even computer camp.
Although all of these gatherings bore the name “camp,” I cannot honestly say that they all involved the same degree of “roughing it.” While church and language camps were located by a lake in the woods with cabins and sleeping bags, computer camp and youth group gatherings took place on dormant college campuses where I slept in dormitories (with air conditioning).
I do not intend to go into detail as to my adventures at all locations at this time, but it may be that someday in the future I will share more of the specifics. My first experience at camp was at age nine, after my first year in a new town and school. I spent that year making new friends and adjusting, which was shockingly quite easy for me at that age. So when my parents informed me that I was going away for a week that summer for Swedish Camp, I really didn’t think too much of it.
Essentially, here is how it went down. I knew I was going somewhere away from home and that my mom had some sort of checklist of items to send with me. My idea of summer camp was centered around sleeping bags, flashlights, bug spray and a lake. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect. My arrival and check-in for my very first camp remains a bit of a blur, but I do remember choosing my Swedish name for the week (Karin) and getting my cabin assignment.
My parents may have been a little emotional, but I can’t remember. I certainly was not. I am not nor have I ever been a clingy child. As an adult I sometimes experience trepidation when faced with meeting new people entirely on my own, but for some reason, at age nine, I was unfazed. I had been given money (in my camp bank account) to spend on my own and I would have no parental supervision for five whole days. Honestly, my parents could have left me there for the entire summer and I would have probably been pleased as punch.
One of my favorite aspects of being away at camp was the fact that I could send out extensive correspondence to any and all of my family and friends. My mother bought me a pad of stationary just for the experience, and I certainly made good use of it. I was so excited about it, in fact, that I took pictures of the completed letters with my brand new teal Kodak Instamatic camera. The picture quality was not exceptional, or I would include it here, but let the idea stand as evidence of one of the highlights of my week.
Another important thing that I learned in this first camp experience was the notion of homesickness. Not for me, in case you were wondering. It just so happened that I was given a bunk mate who was pretty much the opposite of me in every respect. I don’t remember her real name, but her Swedish camp name was “Sylvia.” I only remember this because of the random fact that it was also the name of the Queen of Sweden (and still is, I think). From day one, Sylvia spent most of her time on her bunk sobbing about how she missed her parents and wanted to go home. I believe my reaction to this behavior was utter confusion, so I imagine I was not very sympathetic. Despite my lack of empathy, Sylvia and I became short-term friends.
To be honest, a lot of the details of the week are lost to me now. I have a few poorly centered photographs and some memento trinkets stashed away somewhere that could perhaps jar my memory, but there is one event that stands out quite clearly.
First, let me preface this story with the fact that I have always had a strong aversion to cafeteria style food. Even now, if I am in the vicinity of a cafeteria kitchen (at least close enough to smell) I have to suppress my gag reflex. Up until my first camp experience, my closest contact with mass prepared cafeteria food was in school, but this was only for lunch and could easily be avoided by applying a guilt-trip to my mother for a “cold lunch” from home. Apparently, the camp regimen of all cafeteria food 24 hours overloaded my circuitry because I neglected not only eating at meals, but drinking as well.
The eating problem could be reasonably supplemented by visits to the treat shop during free time. Unfortunately, this did not carry over into my fluid intake. I’m not really sure why I didn’t drink anything. Perhaps it was just part of the whole cafeteria fear, or perhaps it was from my dislike for using public toilets and a belief that if I didn’t eat or drink, I wouldn’t have to use them. Whatever the reason, before the week was done, one of my observant counselors discovered that I was suffering from severe dehydration.
I don’t remember who or how this was diagnosed, but I was brought to the nurse’s office and forced to stay there overnight for at least one of my final nights at camp. They left a pitcher of water next to my bed and I had to drink a sufficient amount of it in order to be released to normal activities. Now that I think about it, this may be the reason I cannot remember much about the week.
When my parents arrived at the end of the week to get me, I was in good shape. I participated in all of the final activities and eagerly showed them around to all of my favorite places. All the way home, I impressed them with my new language skills and camp songs.
I am not certain whether or not the camp nurse had to call my parents about my medical dilemma. Either way, they must not have been overly concerned because the very next summer they sent me away again, this time to Norwegian camp, for two weeks instead of one. I can safely say that I never had to spend another night in a nurse’s office for the rest of my camp experiences. I occasionally still have trouble remembering to drink enough fluids, so I maybe did not entirely learn my lesson.