My brother just got back from being a counselor at sleep-away camp in Vermont and as countless children across the United States trade in their friendship bracelets and Color War paint for #2 pencils and marble notebooks, it seemed a fitting topic to discuss. Don’t you agree, Donkey Lips?
Several media outlets have attempted to unravel the mysteries, as well as capture the spirit, triumphs and hardships of sleep-away camp. In my opinion, the most successful has been this 1998 “This American Life” piece which goes deep into the bunk trenches. For many – particularly those who didn’t grow up on the East Coast where overnight camp (and getting your first pair of velour Juicy Couture pants) is a rite of passage – it’s a nice introduction.
But there are several things that the piece doesn’t address, which as a sleepaway camp veteran, I experienced first-hand.
- Religion. Religion is a current that runs through many camp experiences – whether you’re Jewish or Sikh or Christian. As an 11-year old Hindu whose parents only took her to temple once a year (and mostly to visit the temple’s excellent canteen for samosas), somehow I didn’t consider that YMCA camp included the operative word, “Christian”. I was forced to sing Jesus songs every night at dinner and abandoned on Sundays when everyone else went to Church. The kitchen staff fed me ice cream for breakfast to make up for it. Win.
- Hooking up. Actually this has been discussed but should be discussed more. I’ve heard many stories of people losing their “second base” card in a canoe or on the top bunk at camp. Sadly, though I did polish my braces for the girl-boy dance at camp, I cannot report any “wins” in this category.
- Packages. My brother and I recently discussed the subject of receiving packages at camp. There are the kids who get six packages a day, each containing double-fudge brownies or heartfelt mix tapes…and then there are the kids who don’t. We generally fell in the latter category, though my mom sent my brother a sweet package of homemade Indian trail mix (yea, I know you’re so J right now) this summer to make up for it. Our theory is that generally immigrant families don’t really understand the whole “send a package to your child at camp so they can show off to their friends about how much you love them” thing. Then again, I’m guessing most immigrant families don’t understand why their child is choosing to sleep under mosquito netting for a summer either…didn’t they move to the U.S. to escape that?
Did you go to sleep-away camp as a kid? What were your unforgettable camp experiences? Salacious details and your best S’more recipes encouraged.