The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Flashback Friday!

Another week. Another opportunity to do a little historical analysis of my life.

With school starting and the end of summer drawing nigh, I've been thinking a little about my summer camp days. (Talk about days of yore!) Not sure where this will end up, but, hey, I hardly ever do on Fridays. So pack your knapsack and grab some calomine lotion, and join me for another Flashback Friday!

Just saying the words "summer camp" can evoke such vivid images and memories for most people. Campfires with roasted marshmallows, pillow fights, mosquito bites in places you can't imagine getting bitten in.

In trying to remember exactly how old I was when I went, I found I had to do some cranial gymnastics. I guesstimate it would have to have been the summer just before I turned 13. My younger sister would have been nearly 12.

By that point, I'd done a little (very little) overnight camping with the girl scouts, but I'd (like most first time summer campers) never really been away from home for a week before. I was pretty excited about the prospect, though.

In my mind, I suppose I was expecting some swimming and archery and arts and crafts, maybe. I really had no idea what to expect as my younger sister and I, and a WHOLE lotta other young girls that I didn't know, boarded those buses to head off to some rural Kentucky wilderness.

Cue the banjo's, please.

As we arrived at lovely Camp Earl Wallace, everyone (myself included) was filled with excitement and anticipation for our week ahead. From the buses, we were herded onto the bleachers around the ballfield for a brief orientation lecture and then we were assigned to cabins where we'd spend the next week.

Pulling a little data from the Department of Fish and Wildlife's current website, I want to draw your attention to the camp activities. For the record, they are virtually the same as they were ::ugh:: thirty years ago, when I spent a week there myself.

Camp Activities:
Scheduled hands-on activities include:

Boating and Canoeing,


Wildlife Identification,

Outdoor Survival Training,

Firearm Safety (rifle and shotgun shooting),

Hold on there a minute. Ten, Eleven and Twelve year old kids shooting guns? Um, Yee Haw! You betcha!!

Now, to dissuade you from thinking this is some kind of scary hillbilly version of summer camp, their list actually goes on to include fishing and swimming as well, and completely eschews whittlin', juice harp lessons and the distillation of moonshine. (Though I find that incredibly hard to believe!)

And, back in the day, our group dabbled a little in the arts and crafts. Though nothing quite as elaborate as this popsicle stick inlay masterpiece. I'm pretty sure we were doing dreamcatchers and picture frames out of our popsicle sticks. Rebecca made a birdhouse, as I recall. But there was noone else in her league.

Our counselors (who were actually college kids and looked nothing like the dashing fellows to the right) got us all settled into our cabins and showed us around to the showers/bathrooms, the dining hall, the "Canteen" (where you could get junkfood and postcards and souvenirs), you know, all that kind of stuff.

I remember meeting a girl named Jill Gilbert, the very first day, and the two of us became the best of buddies that week. We swam together. We learned first aid together. We sang in the talent show together. And yes sirree, boys and girls, we shot guns together. Young girls bonding through firearms. That brand of girl power might be just a little southern. I'm not sure.

Feeling that shotgun kick my shoulder the first time, and knowing the power behind that load of pellets shredding the paper target in front of me was, indeed, an eye-opener.

Now, my father has been a decades long gun collector and recently got his smithing certificate. I was never able to express to him, after returning home that summer, how shooting that gun had made me feel. The feeling of simultaneously being invincible and dangerous and vulnerable.

He loved firearms and I simply wasn't the "radical child" (that I would later become) in those days. Much later, when I became a more outspoken advocate of gun control, he expressed his displeasure by framing and hanging a picture of Charlton Heston (then NRA president) on the wall next to the framed photos of his grandchildren. Thankfully, that picture is now gone. Not so thankfully, it's been replaced by an autographed photo of George and Laura Bush.

But, I digress.

When my oldest two were of age, they brought home literature about summer camp from school. I chuckled to note...

that it was the same camp.

Feeling all nostalgic, I signed them up. Thinking all the while about the fun they'd have swimming and canoeing and singing around the campfire...and about the guns. Surely they didn't still do the guns. I'm here to tell you, folks. They do. At least they did as of about 4-5 years ago when my oldest went the last time. Given that it's still listed on their website, I'd have to imagine it hasn't changed even now.

Surprising to me that, in the aftermath of all of the "school shootings", this wasn't removed from the list of activities for liability reasons by their insurance carrier. I mean, you ARE handing a loaded weapon to an adolescent (and potentially hormonally-charged) child who has had no psychological testing prior to being accepted at camp, and from whom you won't be able to wrestle it until at least SOME damage has been done. A camp full of potential lawsuits is just standing around waiting to be picked off.

As for my summer camp experience, I enjoyed myself. Rather thoroughly, in fact. And I found it quite educational, too.

I learned to drive a motorboat.

Learned to get in and out of a canoe without tipping it.

Learned I'm no good with a bow and arrow and should not apply to the women's Olympic archery team. Evah.

Learned that guys aren't the only ones who need to be careful about dropping their soap in the showers.

Learned that people have the best intentions when they say they'll write and you'll always stay in touch, but life will often derail that train.

Learned that I sometimes talk in my sleep.

Learned that camp talent shows (like the school ones) are most often popularity contests. (Not because I didn't win, but because the kids who should have won, didn't.)

Learned that when you run out of spending money, the guy running the "Canteen" will let you sweep up for a few pieces of candy or a soda.

Learned that bussing 200 girls into the wilderness sucks all the peace and quiet right out of the place.

Learned that I FAR prefer swimming in a "cement pond" than I do a lake full of fish and turtles and algae and other things that I can't see that ::shiver:: touch me under the water.

I learned that sunburn really, really, REALLY hurts and that it should be avoided at all costs. Also, I learned that Noxema feels really good on sunburn, but that the smell will create a lifelong olfactory memory.

Learned that some girls, even in the presence of only a handful of MEN, and no boys, will still stuff their bras.

I learned that no matter how big a crush you had on the counselor who taught boating, he was still 21 and was not remotely interested in a twelve year old kid. Especially one who couldn't even be bothered to stuff her bra.

Learned that, in the woods, the air does smell different and the birds do sound different and the sky does look different. Or maybe that was me.

Learned how to bait a hook on a fishing pole and how to cast a line. I never did get any good at that, though. I was always hitting a low branch or the dock or some innocent turtle.

Learned that getting away from my parents for a week and having fun stuff to do all the time was a plan I could get behind. (Despite missing them just a little at the end of the week.)

Learned that sliding into second will scrape the HELL out of your knee if you don't know what you're doing. (Maybe, even if you do.)

And I learned that shooting a gun is an experience I'm glad I had, but that I never need again.

I learned a lot from summer camp. Mostly, I learned about me. For the first time in my life there was a "me" that was independent from my family. A "me" that had her own feelings and interests and adventures and beliefs. For the first time, I felt like an individual.

When I relived it vicariously, as my daughters experienced it firsthand, I learned just how much I could miss them. And just how much of my heart they always carry with them. But some part of me also took strength (and great pleasure) in knowing that they were experiencing that "me" feeling for the first time, too.

As the rest of you put away your camp souvenirs and sleeping bags (and bandage up those cuts), I'm hopeful that your summer held some fun times and a little time for some introspection. Somehow, I suspect that's what summer camp is really all about, anyway.



Blogger Highlander said...

Wonderful post, baby.

My summer camp memories are of Bible camp, and nowhere near as wholesome or as pleasant, but maybe someday I'll recount a few of those stories on my own blog.

Brrrrrr. That's something to not look forward to...

8/18/2006 9:10 AM  
Blogger MJ Norton said...

No summer camp for me -- happily none of anything resembling a Bible camp -- but my uncle owned 111 acres in upstate PA, so I had some one to two week trips out to the lands of pitch black nights, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, hauling water up from a spring, etc., complete with an impromptu target range setup.

As the man said, good post.

Chances are he's probably also saying "You got a purty mouth," too, but that's for off the screen...

8/18/2006 9:52 PM  
Blogger Highlander said...

She does have a purty mouth. She does, she does, she DOES have a purty mouth.

8/21/2006 9:33 AM  

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