On this blustery snow day, I’m reminded of summer camp….
In my early teens, my parents sent me to Camp Farthing, a church camp in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, about four hours from our home outside of Montreal. During those two weeks every summer, I never saw one unhappy camper. Everyone smiled and laughed.
I went for several years. Two years into it, one of my good friends asked about the camp and became one of us even though she didn’t attend my church. She was more popular than I, of course, and continued as a camper until she was old enough to become a counsellor herself, which I never knew until it was too late for me to emulate her.
We were bedded eight girls to a rustic cabin without running water or heat, four bunkbeds in four corners, and one female counsellor who slept in a nearby cabin with the rest of the counsellors. One of my cabin mates often lounged on her bunk naked from the waist up save for her white bra. From what I could see, her breasts were about the size of mine, and I copied her until our counsellor yelled at us to don our shirts.
Saturday nights were bath time: skinny dipping in the lake. Thankfully it was at ten o’clock. On the dot. Thankfully, too, the nights were pitch black. Towels wrapped around nakedness, we proceeded in single file to the water, where we tossed our coverings and barrelled off the long wooden dock. The cold assaulted me. The boys’ camp was across the lake. Were they there, behind the trees, spying on us?
We showered in a large communal shower room, which was worse than Saturday nights. When we brushed our teeth and washed our faces, we lined up like cows at a trough. The long narrow, shallow sink was the length of the washroom. Spiders and other bugs and insects descended from the taps when the water was turned on.
A separate cabin existed for arts and crafts. I enjoyed crafts but only went once. Supplies galore lined numerous wide tables in the room that was larger inside than it looked from the outside. The craft that day was to make a gift to be presented to another crafter. We picked names. What to make? Use your imagination, the leader said. I roamed the forest for inspiration. I wracked my brain. Time ticked. We had two hours. More time ticked. My stomach heaved. My mind was blank, a sort of “writer’s block.” What was I to do? With minutes to spare, I glued moss and leaves to a piece of thick bark. What was it? A funky work of art?
The evening’s event reminded me of the Academy Awards except we were lowly campers without fancy clothing. My turn to present a trophy arrived too soon. A wave of horror flashed across the recipient’s face. Mystified looks on the faces of the other kids in the room made me want to slither through the cracks in the floor. I received a lovely book of blank paper. A diary or a journal. Talk of my abominable gift spread throughout the camp. Fingers jabbed at me like tree limbs.
Mail was distributed during dinner. Letters. And packages: tins of cookies and squares and fudge. My mother wrote about the ranger tower they’d bought for the backyard. I couldn’t wait to get home to see what a ranger tower was. I wrote back, “Could you send me some treats?” and “What is a ranger tower?” Mom mailed a tin of her yummy brownies that arrived in crumbs, the pieces too little to bother with.
Campers received letters. From boyfriends. The excitement on their faces was contagious. I wanted letters! One year, about a month before the start of camp, I mailed two letters: fake return addresses, fake boy’s names. My boyfriends. But I was excited! I waited and waited for my name to be announced, so I could walk to the front of the room and receive my booty. The other girls would be so jealous! Two boyfriends! And I waited. And waited. When camp was almost over, a counsellor handed me two envelopes. “These came early. We forgot they were here.”
We took turns at KP (kitchen police). Plates and silverware were placed on a table. KPers cleared off plates, washed and dried dishes and utensils, and neatly replaced the items. One day a fellow camper snatched a plate from me. “I want that.” She smiled. “It’s a game I play. For luck.”
“How do you mean?”
“Like if I dry that plate, I’ll receive mail tomorrow. It’s like bargaining with God or skipping along the sidewalk and not stepping on the cracks because something bad will happen if you do.”
I played her game the following night and tried to swipe the bowl before someone else did. She laughed. “You need that bowl, do you?” I grabbed it from her, but nothing good came of my plea.
In the evenings, we hovered around the proverbial blazing bonfires, singing “Kumbaya, My Lord.” The mournful tune tore at my heart. I couldn’t sing, but I mouthed words, shivering and praying wayward sparks didn’t ignite my hair.
I pretended to like camp. My siblings and I had been taught to respect our elders. My brother, a year younger than me, went to the same camp but different weeks. He didn’t like it either. I don’t remember my three younger siblings going.
I sent my kids to camp. They loved it.