Reprinted from published article, Wednesday March 11, 2015, Vol. 26, Old Bridge Observer:
Send your kids on an adventure this summer! They will benefit greatly from being unplugged for a few weeks. They’ll learn to appreciate a beautiful sunrise and sunset. They’ll bask in the vista earned from a mountain hike. They’ll learn the satisfaction of building a campfire and the joy of paddling a canoe. Friendships will thrive on a different level from the school year and faith will become more than a vague concept.
Yes, sleepover camp is costly, the logistics are challenging, and letting go is difficult; which, curiously enough, is the best reason of all to send your kids to camp. They’ll learn to see their lives from the outside in, and will return home with a new perspective and a new found gratitude.
This happened to me and it changed my life, which is why I wrote “Memory Lake: The Forever Friendships of Summer.” Over five summers, for seven weeks at a time, I entered a thrilling world of autonomy. I gained confidence, meaningful friendships, and a glimmer of the adult I wanted to be. I will always be grateful to my parents for taking this leap of faith and letting me go. If you are curious about a traditional camp experience, or simply want to relive it, “Memory Lake” will take you there. Please enjoy this excerpt…
The Majesty of Nature…
…By the time I reached Sandpiper my sand-dappled feet had completely dried. I nudged my shoulder against the door, mindful of pinching my skin in the outer spring. This coil spanned the middle and creaked in protest while rubbing a small groove in the wood. I slipped through and it banged loudly. I flinched. My eyes adjusted and I searched about to see if anyone else had moved in. The bunk above mine wore a colorfully striped woolen blanket tucked neatly into every corner.
“Hi, I’m Nancy,” a voice said.
I saw her silhouette against the screened window, mirroring my height. She stepped into a golden ray of afternoon sun. Her hair hung twice my length, with bangs, and traces of red among strands of black and brown. Her smile boasted perfectly white teeth, newly freed from braces.
I exclaimed, “My name is Nancy, too! I’ve never met another Nancy my age! Not in my entire junior high.”
“This is my first time at camp. I’m only staying three weeks,” she said.
I understood her hopeful undertone. “Me too,” I gushed, equally relieved to know she would not be running off with some long missed friends from a previous summer. “Have you taken the swim test, yet?” I shivered at the memory. “The lake is freezing!”
A stream of knowing laughter erupted from her chest. I laughed along, believing I had found a friend in this strange place.
“It is cold,” she grimaced distastefully. “I did the test in the river.”
“Did you get dressed in the cabin?” I searched through the screens for stray fathers or more guys carrying trunks.
“Yeah,” she said. “If you hurry, the coast is clear.”
She watched the boardwalk while I changed into dry clothes. I also ditched the rubber thongs in favor of my hip leather sandals. “We drove up from South Bend, Indiana,” I said, hoping for more things in common. “Where are you from?”
“Dryden, New York.” She smiled wistfully. “We live in the country. There is a small lake in front of our house. We have ducks, and geese.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No brothers, only sisters.”
“Me too!” I exclaimed, astoundingly satisfied by our similarities. “I have one sister in Driftwood.”
Nancy answered all the questions I put to her about Dryden while the other beds in the cabin filled up. Their faces have grown vague over the years, as well as the face of our counselor, Leslie, but I still remember their names, Corrine, Mindy, and Franny. Leslie coordinated introductions then herded us out the door to assemble with the rest of the campers around the flagpole.
A creosote log, more of a telephone pole than an actual flagpole, anchored a thick cotton version of the ‘Stars and Stripes’. It flapped noisily in the ever-present breeze. Corrine, Mindy and Franny dispersed into the group to find friends from different cabins while Nancy and I stuck together like glue. I counted roughly forty girls in our circle, some as young as eight and others as old as seventeen. Without warning, a handful of them started singing. They punched each note wildly and loudly.
‘The Cannibal KING with the big nose RING fell in love with the dusky maaaaid.
And every NIGHT by the pale moon LIGHT across the lake he’d waaaade…..’
“Who makes this stuff up?” I whispered to Nancy, loving her soft, encouraging laughter.
My sister waved from across the circle. She stood near the oldest girls. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Infinitely above reproach, they whispered among themselves, casually at ease in their dangling wire earrings, painted nails, low hip huggers, wide macramé belts, skimpy triangle halters, bare tanned midriffs, and full figures. I would be entering high school in a year and envisioned vast halls full of such girls. I wanted to be one of them. I imagined they protested the immature song. So I held my silence and protested it too. I loved music, all kinds, and had been told my voice was nice, but I didn’t believe anyone older than me would want to sing this blather. It belonged in my mom’s pre-school.
The pandemonium expanded as more campers joined in. Eventually my newly anointed idols added their voices to the fray, carrying on and having fun. A couple of them actually dispersed through the circle to teach others! Even Nancy joined in! I couldn’t find a single scornful, arrogant protestor akin to the mute, cool kids in my 8th grade chorus. Happily amazed, I tried to sing along.
When the song reached its long, unnatural end it dawned on me; camp required a different sort of cool.
Editors Note: When we were planning the 2015 Camp Guide, we asked Woodbridge author Nancy Kyme to select one of her favorite excerpts from her book about summer camp to share with Observer newspaper readers.