Friday, June 28, 2013

Confession of a Recovering Camp Addict

            Summer is always a bittersweet time for me because it inevitably leads me to thinking about my days at Camp Glisson. Every summer from 1981 through 1992, I spent my time there first as a camper then a counselor. When I look back at all the major life influences, Camp ranks pretty high up there.
First summer.

            I loved working at camp. Between working with kids, living right in the middle of some of North Ga’s most beautiful mountains, and learning lessons on being an adult and how to deal with people/responsibilities, I felt like I was in my element for the first time in my life. The awkward, unsure kid who kind of hated himself and never fit in began to recognize his self worth and began to grow into the very slow beginnings of manhood.

            I think this is why it’s so hard for me to talk and to write about. I’ve mentioned Camp a few times in this blog but I’ve never given it the full attention that it deserves. And I’m not doing it today either. The whole Camp Glisson saga has yet to grow into the story I want to tell and I refuse to push it into creation. It will happen one day but until then I can only offer glimpses.

            This past week has made me understand that my full camp experience wasn’t complete yet either. Up until Sunday, I had just assumed Camp was something you did as a kid and then moved on as adult sharing stories about hobo dinners and hijinks. Boy was I wrong as I learned yet another facet of the summer camp experience.

            Being a camp parent.

            Last Sunday, Kim and I dropped Roni off at her Girl Scout camp. Unlike the hour long trek which Mom and Dad took me over the mountain to Glisson, we only had had to 2 miles down the road to her camp.

            As I drove the minivan over the bridge, floods of memories struck me. I could remember that last staff meeting before the kids came and how Sparrowwood always did skits joking about the parents in their minivans.  I could remember David Dowd and then later, Charles Young, and I would frantically clean up our cabins to a presentable stage only to be distracted by the latest X-Men or Sandman comic.  Then I thought about how I felt as a kid when the Big Guy would drive through the front gates and the rise of excitement and fear in the back of my mind.

Will I like my counselor? Will the other kids be nice? What happens if my parents move away? Was Roni having thoughts like that?

            I never really got the chance to ask and knew better than to press a 12 year old girl on her feelings when other kids are present. For once, I just kept my mouth shut.

            I did do a few “uncool” things that I used to laugh at during my counselor days. I made Roni stay and pose for a picture with me. As I type this, I am laughing so hard at myself and my hypocrisy. During my younger days, I can remember cringing when parents made me pose for pics with their kids during drop-off.

I always wants to blurt out, “Jesus, Lady, you’ll see him in a week!”

            Now I get it.
This may be my new favorite pic of us....
Many kudos to this kid being so patient with me right now.

            I came to this late but still when I first met Roni, she was a little girl. After Roni allowed the picture and a goodbye hug, I watched her amble off to the main area. I watched a young lady who every now and then shows me glimpses of her mother as she grows up. Roni was doing that camper walk which I had forgotten all about but recognized instantly.

The Camper walk is a type of walk which  is a cross between trying to come off as confident but at the same time not wanting to draw any attention until the low down was figured out. I have honestly seen hundreds of kids do this walk to build themselves up to fit in. I’ve done that walk for many summers. Hell, I still do it every first day of school.

 I watched my daughter do this walk and it hit me that I’ve come full circle.

Camper, counselor, and camper Dad. Circle of life..
This Roni's dog, Buddy from a pic that I made into a card for her

Every camper has gotta get a care package, right?

            I have no idea if Roni’s camp experience will be as powerful as mine was but I hope so. I hope she makes friends whom she’ll remain in touch with some 21 plus years later. Friends that maybe she’ll read about daily in whatever her future version of Facebook is or catch up with over beers during vacations.

            All week long, I’ve had the strange urge to go back to my old camp habits. I’ve wanted to  sit in the dark on my front porch with my Dances with Wolves soundtrack  humming in the background while listening to the crickets do their thing, As I drink a cup of hazelnut coffee, I might steal a cigarette which during my camp days would stay hidden in one of those old metal band aid boxes.

Camp Glisson 1989? And mullets were all the rage, thank you...
            At this point, I’ve caught myself and began chuckling. My house is pretty awesome but it’s not set up to relive the Camp experience. Sure I have the front porch but I can’t play music out there at night. It’s in front of Jude’s bedroom which would wake him up.

I don’t smoke anymore (thank goodness) though I do sneak the occasional cigar but if I did,  Jude would give he his cigarette lecture and I don’t want that.
1992 Camp Glisson Staff

 I’d love to scare up a spade tournament like the ones we’d play after lights out but Ben George, Marty, Joe, Charles, and Dave are also all grown up now too living in their own homes with kids of their own as well. It’s a hard fact to accept some days to realize those camp days over twenty years ago. That’s where the bittersweet bit comes in.

I’m quite OK with my evolving camp experience as I drift into the next stage. I am guessing that tonight I’ll sneak a cigar over some hazelnut coffee and tell Kim long drawn out stories during a time when my life philosophy was based on “privileges of youth.” At some point, I am sure we’ll talk about picking up Roni tonight from camp and discuss all the stories she’ll have shared with us.

            Most of all, I hope the day comes when Roni drops her child off at his or her camp. She’ll want to make a big fuss because she is having waay too many flashbacks to her days at Camp Juliette Gordon Lowe but she’ll hold back so as not embarrass Little Robby or Kim only to later give in to her emotions and do the big hug and pictures.

            At that moment when my grandchild looks up embarrassed and says, “Mom please stop this isn’t really that big of a deal.” Roni will catch herself, stop, and to think to herself,

“Oh yes it is…..”


  1. <3 you, Baloo. You inspired me to be the counselor that I was...though I'm not sure if that's good news or not. ;)

  2. I think it's great news. You were a great camper, counselor, and one of my favorite section leaders.