Summer camps are usually meant to bring fun and happiness to a child’s life, but for me, it was not so. I hated camp. My friend Natalie and I were so excited to be in unknown territory; meeting new people and making more great memories. Granted, that was before we were set to head out on our excursion.
When the time to leave my house and head off to Bible camp actually arrived, my 10-year-old mind turned into home-sickness central. I could barely look at my parents’ faces for fear of bursting into tears, and my favorite stuffed animal, Lumpie, was being grasped so tightly by my little hands that her beans may have gushed out.
After we reached the dreaded camp and got settled, my elementary-aged pride tried to hide the tears that wanted to spew out as I said adieu to my parents. What had possessed me to come to this awful and lonely place? The campground seemed like it was overtaken by mean and snobbish children, strange counselors, who at the time were having their own problems with counselor-to-counselor romances, and detestably disturbing bathrooms. I felt like those five days would be the longest of my life, and they more than likely were.
It started out normal enough, I suppose. Orientation time began and everyone was excited, nervous, and full of anticipation. I, however, felt like a visitation of that day’s lunch would soon appear. One feeling I shared with the other children was the noticeable sense of awkwardness which lingered in the air. The face of every child and counselor mirrored each other in judging glances. We then headed over to our assigned cabins once the groups were all formed. My friend Natalie, her friend Kaylee (we never got along), another girl (we’ll call her Debbie) and I stuck closely to each other like peanut butter and jelly.
After the four of us congregated together, we soon met the rest of our cabin mates. One girl reminded me of Joey from “Full House.” Another girl overplayed her maturity and acted like an aged 32-year-old. And yet, another girl reminded me of the Tasmanian devil.
Every night, the whole camp would come together for speakers, activities, and contests in one of the larger wooden buildings. Pew after pew was filled with our camp “family members,” yet I still felt like I was totally alone in this new world. To make matters even worse, all of the other children soon became annoyed with me because of my musical group knowledge. One of the nightly contests during chapel would be to identify which Christian band was being played. They would play a song for a couple seconds and then the guessing would begin. Apparently, I guessed correctly a few too many times.
Towards the end of the week during yet another contest, Debbie said, “Let me guess this time. I know what song they’re going to play and it’s by one of my favorite bands.” I said, “Sure, whatever. Go ahead and raise your hand.”
Feeling very annoyed with her by this point, I still raised my hand, thinking that the counselor wouldn’t pick me again after nights of being the only one guessing. Unfortunately, they did pick me again and not Debbie. This raised havoc on the home front.
“Why didn’t you let me guess,” Debbie said to me with a burst of anger.
“Well, I didn’t think they would pick me again. Besides, you would’ve been cheating anyway.”
My remark caused her to remain silent and I pretended like I was intently listening to the pastor’s message once again.
Another rather unsavory memory from my stay was the bathrooms. As I mentioned before, they were disturbing. They made us kids clean them once that week. I remember wondering if anyone had ever cleaned those dungeons before. Things were falling apart left and right, the wood was decaying, black mold was growing under the sinks ominously, and the floors were caked with a kind of baked-on sliminess due to infrequent and halfhearted cleaning regiments. The stench that radiated from these dwellings was a potpourri of waste and mildew and could be detected 10 feet from the doors. I never showered all week because of these soiled surroundings. I used the daily swim in the weedy lake as my method of hygiene instead. Unfortunately, I still had to visit that coven of crustiness for bathroom breaks and for the brushing of teeth.
The one moment I anticipated was letter time. I remember one boy in particular would get a letter from his “girlfriend” every day. He soon became popular because of those childish love notes. The letter I was waiting for was not from an elementary love, but from my parents. When I finally got the letter, I had a sense of relief. It ended up making me even more homesick than I already was.
On one of the last mornings, a rude awakening greeted two of my senses. I woke up to the sound and smell of sickliness. An unseemly stench entered my nostrils as I heard the regurgitating sounds of discomfort. I poked my head over my bunk and found the cause of my dismay. The wannabe 30-something was obviously suffering from the stomach flu and there was evidence all over the musty cabin. Our two counselors stood there with a bleak expression on their faces while they ordered everyone to stay in their beds. The contorted smell of barf alone made me want to hurl myself, so I went back to hiding under my thin covers to alleviate my disgust and to mentally add to my list of camp memories.
The jubilation I felt when I saw my parents again that joyous Saturday morning was astounding. The sunshine which painted the leaves with light seemed fitting for that day because everything seemed right in my world again. I was on my way towards home again in the safety of our familiar Audi.
When we got back to our home, I felt as though I would never leave my house again. For quite a few weeks, I didn’t. No sleepovers, no trips, nothing. I was content to be amongst my family, the glimmering lake, and my stuffed animals (Lumpie included).