We asked annabelle readers to send us their favorite summer camp tales with the promise that the best would be printed here. Thus, we give you the good, the sad, and the prepubescent angst that is summer camp...


Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Run Summer Camps

The summer camp I went to was called Camp Tomahawk, in Bristol, New Hampshire, right near the famous Old Man of the Mountain. The camp is no longer there. Last I heard, they'd sold the property to build condos. Not bad, but I would have preferred the land was cleansed completely of its evil in the purifying flames of a wildfire.

Camp Tomahawk, you see, was run by a clearly insane ex-boot camp drill sergeant named "Red" Bogart. Imagine Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men in charge of a two-month sleepaway camp for pre-teens and you're only beginning to understand the madness. We were woken each morning with a tape of a military bugle call reveille played over the loudspeaker, and no one was allowed to eat breakfast until after the flag was raised and we all saluted to a tape of the national anthem. At night, they played a tape of taps to indicate lights out.

The funny thing is, Camp Tomahawk was not an ROTC or military camp. It's just that "Red" Bogart thought he was still fighting the Communists. In fact, he swore one island in the camp's enormous lake had been invaded by the Soviets, and another by the Nazis. To this day, I have no idea if he was joking or not. I suspect he saw Soviets under his bed at night, or hiding in the closet, ready to grab him the moment he shut his eyes and drag him off to a Siberian prison for interrogation. ("You will tell us where the submarines are, Comrade Bogart!")

He also made the camp counselors—all college kids, but my God, they seemed so old at the time—cover themselves in red makeup and pretend to be Indians for the weekly "pow-wows," the equivalent of a talent show but with the added attraction of jaw-dropping racism. Even worse than that, if you can imagine such a thing, was the end-of-summer event known as Color War (not to be confused with the impending Race War he no doubt believed was on its way). The camp was divided into the Blue and the Gray and forced to fight each other in a variety of sporting events—though I get the feeling if "Red" Bogart could have legally supplied us with live ammunition weapons, he would have. "It will build character, boys!"

I endured Camp Tomahawk for only four years, from 1978 to 1982, but each summer seemed like an eternity, and each year I was forced to return made me wonder what I was being punished for. "Red" Bogart is most likely no longer alive, but I'm sure his spirit haunts the condos now, waking its tenants with a ghostly reveille and writing warnings on their steam-covered bathroom mirrors about the Soviets and Nazis out in the lake.

-Nick Kaufmann, writer, Brooklyn, New York

Making Leather Bracelets For Our Lord

Yes, I remember the days o' yore at the ole church camp in Cove, Oregon. I must've gone for four summers in a row (1980-83). Friends and I would sit in the back of the bus on the way to camp and do "naughty" Mad-Libs, thinking we were so clever. On one hand, I really enjoyed going because we got to swim in this natural hot spring that was made into a pool with a high dive (even though I was too chicken to jump off of it). On the other hand, I wasn't cool enough to be liked by the popular bigger city girls who whispered in their conceited circles (by bigger, they probably had a population of 9,000 compared to our 7,500).

I remember young love with a boy from the other side of camp (it was coed, but the camp sleeping quarters were separated by some acreage). I loved our leather working class and made a stunning bracelet that has since been lost on the streets of Seattle, Washington, R.I.P. Then there was the time I brought my electric guitar and played power chords for all the unappreciative girls (sixth graders just don't get Heavy Metal).

Lastly, I remember getting a bit of a belly ache which turned out to be hunger pains and I ended up eating the apples for the next day's science experiment (blush). Of course, I couldn't possibly overlook the songs I learned about our Lord and Savior... But, unfortunately, I don't remember a one of 'em. I was too busy gettin' my leather on with the cute boy. The days of camp were only seven days out of the summer, but looking back, they were a precious time.

-Sally "Salvez" Dodd, student, Eugene, Oregon

Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting!

I couldn't resist writing you about my one summer camp experience, where I got into my first and only fist fight with a girl. It was camp Namanu, I was in third grade, and it sucked! I was catching salamanders in the stream, I turned around and this little hussy was pushing me. So I went to throw her on the ground by hurling her over my back (something I had seen on television? I can't fathom what, though—Jackie Chan?), but I wasn't strong enough! So, not only was that embarrassing (and actually quite shocking!) but the circle of amused girls there, laughing at my failed efforts to defend myself, made the whole experience feel that much worse.

I found camp to be unkind and strange. I found the overly enthusiastic counselors, the popsicle-sticks and gods-eyes, the early mornings stationed at the "lookout," and the rest of the endless seven days to be totally insufferable.

-Christy Welch, New York, New York

No One Really Prays In The Prayer Garden

Things I remember most about camp: Learning how to tie knots with red licorice whips. Making "walking salads" out of a cored apple, peanut butter and chocolate chips, and going on nature walks. My mom being my brownie troop leader, and thus going with me to camp, when I was seven. She told our cabin ghost stories, and I was the only one who got scared. (It's NOT cool bringing your mom to camp.) Trying to make daytime s'mores by wrapping up the graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows in tin foil and letting them sit outside for a while to get nice and melty. (We lived in Arizona. It was freakin' hot in the summer!) Having the worst first kiss ever in the prayer garden at church camp when I was 12, by a very slobbery 15-year-old.

-Melissa, American Grad Student in London


Never Eat Deodorant And Then Go Swimming

My parents sent me to a marginally religious summer camp. Fortunately, there was no real religious indoctrination, with the exception of swimming lessons. Nothing put the fear of God into me better than the thought of swimming in that damn frigid rocky-bottomed lake, especially so soon after breakfast. I never had to take lessons until camp, and I sure as hell didn't like the idea of jumping into a lake at 8:00 AM, only to have them criticize my technique honed after years of daily practice [in a pool] with my YMCA swim team.

This was my second year of camp, and I hadn't quite gotten over the previous year's humiliation of being placed in "intermediate" because they insisted I was too small to be placed any higher. "I am a distance swimmer!" I shouted with indignation. "Oh, I'll wow them this year," I said sarcastically, and "I might even manage to pass this time." Hell, even Olive, the girl who ate her deodorant, managed to pass last year.

Things were looking good so far, and I made it into the advanced group, which meant I would be out there on the furthest raft. Unfortunately, it was also in the coldest part of the lake. I tried to get it over with as quickly as possible, swimming as fast as I could to keep warm. I still managed to fail though, apparently I just swam too fast, and they said if I kept that up, I would surely drown with exhaustion. I argued that speed and strength were the whole point, but they countered back with some "pride cometh before the fall" crap. Meh. They were right, as I almost drowned off the coast of Montauk two years later (at another camp), knocked down and held under by a pack of rogue waves. Damn them.

-Taryn, Corporate Drone, Brooklyn, New York

Who Knew There Are Cub Scouts In England?

I was yellow sixer (leader of yellow six) at cub scouts, and had a fierce rivalry with Neil Standish, leader of blue six. We once went on a camp in the North York Moors, and I remember that there was a competition to make a tent in the woods with a sheet of tarpaulin and whatever we could find. We went for a teepee type design, and then camouflaged it with various bits of foliage. It made blue sixes' ramshackle effort look pathetic by comparison, and we won the competition. I remember feeling quite proud that day.

-Rob, Student/Sainsbury Dogsbody, York, England

"I just don't think children should be doing that at that age."

My first camp was Camp Capers, a coed Episcopalian church camp in a pretty, wildflower infested part of Texas known as the Hill Country. My two older sisters went to this camp so I was familiar with the camp's grounds and the way things worked at camp before becoming an actual camper. I knew there would be church services every day (yuck!) and fun activities to make up for all that spirit-building business (yay!). But at the age of nine when I went from little sister dropping off her big sisters to full-fledged overnight camper, all my familiarity with camp went out the cabin window.

I remember my sister Georganna warning me about the little critters that could be encountered at camp, like scorpions in the showers. I think it was my other sister Carolyn who told me about the big event called Capture the Flag, a game in which the entire camp participated. Dances, singing, kick ball, bonfires, I got all that. But no one mentioned to me that I'd be dealing with adolescence and the weird behavior it brings out in kids. For instance, I remember a tomboyish girl asking me to watch her pee one time. OK, fine. I thought she was afraid to go to the showers alone, a fear of scorpions or something. When she sat down on the edge of the toilet, facing the toilet bowl, and said, "Look, I'm peeing like a boy! Isn't that neat?" I realized she wasn't scared, she was just an exhibitionist.

My best friend from home, Jessica, went to camp with me one year. We must have been around the age of 11. She and I made friends with a tall skinny girl named Cassie. She was very tan, very mature, and very obsessed with boys. In fact, she had a boyfriend while at camp and used to make out with him constantly. Jessica and I were disgusted by the PDA sessions, not because we were young prudes, but because we were nowhere near ready to be thrusting ourselves into young love like Cassie was. Jessica swears I used to say, "I just don't think children should be doing that at that age." Sounds like something I would say. Perhaps I was a little jealous of Cassie. I remember the anxiety-fueled dances were horrible because I rarely got asked to dance. Cassie knew how to handle herself around boys and I didn't. But, still, there's dancing with a boy and then there's making out with a boy. Gross.

Then there was the year when a rumor spread around camp that a girl started her period. I remember one morning sitting next to a cabin mate during a church service, looking at her, her looking back at me, and then her whispering to me, "Are you thinking the same thing I'm thinking? That you're going to start your period, too?" Oh my God! We both giggled to mask how freaked out we really were at the prospect of starting womanhood at camp. We prayed to sweet Jesus like we had never prayed before. It was perhaps the single most bonding experience I've ever had with another female, and thankfully, someone divine must have heard us because we survived the week intact, as girls.

After four years, I decided I'd had enough of Camp Capers and switched to tennis camp. At least at tennis camp I'd be learning a skill and getting something more than just fuel for my adolescent anxiety.

-Sarah G. Thurmond, annabelle contributor & editor, Brooklyn, New York

And If You Though Being A Camper Was Bad, How About Being A Counselor. At 30. Read On


Features:
Our Readers' Summer Camp Memories :: My Little Darling :: Summer Camp Fashion Spread :: Photo Essay: The Pines :: Who Says You Can Never Go Back To Camp? Q&A With Author Seth Davis :: Horsing Around in Brooklyn :: Confessions of A 30-Year-Old Camp Counselor :: Tennis Camp, Anyone?

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