|Youngest, posing under protest yesterday.|
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: In the past few weeks, we've talked about many of the rites of summer; travel, strawberries, weddings, and of course, reading, reading, reading. Yesterday, Ross and I summer ritual that's enacted by hundreds of thousands of families each June, July and August: we took our kid to camp. We've done this every summer since 2001, when we first dropped off our 9-year-old future Smithie. She, the Boy and Youngest have been visiting Bishopswood - alone, together, for one week to three - since then.
Bishopswood, a non-profit run by the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, is an old-fashioned camp. The kids don't make gimp lanyards and wallets, but they do archery, swim, canoe, hike, play goofy games and put on a talent show, in a collection of rustic turn-of-the-century buildings on the forested shore of Lake Megunticook. (I've tried to sell the director on the idea of opening up a week as a writer's retreat. So far, no success, but I'll let you all know if that changes.)
The very idea of kids spending summer playing in the woods and water is beginning to seem old fashioned. Nowadays, if your offspring aren't learning a language or polishing their sports and musical skills or adding an impressive good-works-abroad experience to their college application, what's the point?
As you can guess, I don't agree with that approach. I think enjoying "Harry Potter Week" or "Christmas in July" (to name two of the many silly themes at Bishopswood) is a valuable part of childhood. I hope my children will look back fondly on their time spent away from home. How about you, Reds? Have you sent your kids to camp? Do you have happy memories of your own summer camping experiences?
HALLIE EPHRON: I loved Camp Tocaloma, though I'm aghast when I think about how my parents sent me off for a month at age six. I went every summer until I was 16. Yup, we had Christmas in July.
All the campers took an overnight train from Los Angeles Union Station to Flagstaff, Arizona, where we were loaded (about 100 girls, ages six to sixteen) into cattle truck fitted with wooden benches -- so much fun and, in retrospect, so dangerous, but hey seatbelts had yet to be invented. Up the mountain above Sedona we went via dirt road to the acres and acres of camp.
I still have the riding trophy I earned for falling off a horse during the first week and winning the gymkhana the final week. I can still remember getting on that horse and psyching myself up for going around those barrels. I also learned to make lanyards and mosaics from pinto beans and peas -- more useful life skills.
JULIA: Editing to add I found a site with some pictures and an early-sixties-ish brochure for Hallie's Camp Tocaloma! Just click on the picture to the right to be transported to the past...
ROSEMARY HARRIS: Sounds like fun! I never went to camp. I can remember asking my mother about camp once and she told me "you don't need camp, you have cousins." She had such a way with words.
She was one of eight and my dad was one of nine so I did indeed have cousins!
Of course now I realize we just couldn't afford it. I'm not talking Jeanette Walls but horses and gymkhana? Not in my yout'.
RHYS BOWEN: In England they don't do summer camp in the same way, possibly because we only have six weeks of summer vacation from school and thus not the same compelling reason to get rid of the kids for a while. I went to Girl Guide camp several times and LOVED it. My parents were not outdoor types so I really enjoyed hikes, cooking over a camp fire, singing songs, midnight feasts. And the camaraderie. Once it was glorious and sunny. Once it rained non-stop and the tent got flooded. But i liked it anyway.
My kids went to various sports camps. Our waterpolo playing daughter who was on the Junior National team at the time spent summers at the Olympic Training center in Colorado Springs or working with the team in Modesto CA. (hotter than Hades). I wished we could have afforded the real summer camp experience but they had become so expensive.
LUCY BURDETTE: Nope, never went to camp. I'm sure some of that was financial. But also my parents were very big into family vacations. So we'd trek across country in our station wagon or head down to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with kids, dogs, cats, and extended family. I remember those trips very fondly--big games of Kick the Can and Pounce, days spent lolling in the sun, and lots of good food. Maybe that's why I get homesick easily--if I don't have my entourage with me, it doesn't feel right!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: OH, camp. I was so--timid, and shy, and camp was the good news, because people in your cabin HAD to like you. Girl Scout camp, certainly, and I was assigned to the "Romany" tent. We had a song: "Romany, ROmany, R-O-M-A-N-Y, Romany, Romany, love til I die.) We made lanyards, absolutely, and told ghost stories around the campfire. Linda Katzenberger told us the WHOLE story about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in great detail. And we didn't sleep for the rest of the time. Archery, I learned to love it--now THERE"s a skill you 'll never need. But it was cool at the time.
Then I want to another camp, kind of a--different kind of camp. And on day one they told us blue-eyed campers didn't have to do chores only brown-eyed campers did. ANd they were testing whether all of us brown-eyed people would stand up for ourselves and rebel. Seriously. I would have rather done archery.
Now my grandson is headed off to camp. And he has brown eyes. But it's soccer camp so it shouldn't matter.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I went once for Girl Scouts, two weeks, I think, when I was about twelve. I don't remember that I particularly enjoyed it. There were loads of mosquitoes, snakes, and horrid latrines. In fact, I think I probably quit Scouts after that.
My family were NOT campers!!!! But they loved car vacations, so I saw a great deal of the US growing up, stayed in weird little motor courts, and had super roadside picnics. I loved it. Remember Burma Shave? :-)
I also did a camping/hiking Jan term when I was in college, in Arizona. It was led by one of my biology professors, a lovely man, and that I did enjoy. The only downside was a slip in some mountainside scree that permanently screwed up my right knee.
My hubby loves to camp, so I am a huge disappointment. Sigh.
ROSEMARY: I think Julia meant camp - color wars..lanyards...Marjorie Morningstar..
JULIA: I'm not even getting into that kind of camp, Ro. How about you, dear readers? Share your summer camp adventures with us!
I don't usually plug things other than books, but if any of you, dear readers, live in New England, I can recommend the ACA-accredited Bishopswood whole-heartedly. Though run by the Episcopal Diocese, Bishopswood accepts kids from all denominations, or none - and doesn't try to proselytize. The counselors, many of whom were once campers there themselves, are terrific. And best of all? The cost is only $415 a week, half the rate of most other camps in Maine. Now, if we can only get them to start that writers retreat...