I was listening to a program on the plight of the helicopter parent vis a vis sleepaway camp. One would think that summer presents the opportunity for a reprieve; parents might relax and let go just a little. Instead, camps today employ photographers who are tasked to just wander around the campgrounds taking pictures of kids being kids – preferably happy and smiling campers – to be immediately uploaded to said camp’s social media pages! And so the phone calls begin to camp directors: “Why is junior’s shirt so dirty, didn’t he get my care package?” Or worse yet, “Why are there no pictures of my kid?”
For many years, I dreamed of my camp experience. These were my most cherished memories. I attended Camp St Joseph for Girls at the age of ten for a full 2 months, and went back every year until I was finally a counselor-in-training (CIT) and waterfront boating and canoeing counselor on the lake my 16th year. In the years before Title IX, this was the one place that allowed me to excel at sports. It may be hard to imagine, but PE at Sacred Heart School consisted of jumping jacks next to our desk, when we weren’t practicing hiding under them in case of a nuclear attack.
Most school days found me just sitting at my desk, hands folded carefully in front of me, counting the bricks in the wall of a car dealership across the street, and the days left until summer, dreaming about camp. About the first frozen chill of the crystal clear lake water, about the sound of jacks being played on the cabin’s porch floor, about the pungent smell of the auditorium at a basketball game. And about nuns singing Ave Maria in a sun dappled procession to Mary’s Grotto in the woods.
It was a place to forge friendships, to be empowered when I was shuttling back and forth between two homes. I guess I was sent there since the Flapper had to work, because in those days, only kids from “broken” homes or those who’s parents were so wealthy that they were always flying around the world went to sleepaway camp. So it was a mix of the well-to-do with the down-and-out. And at camp, we were all equal, our best and only competition was the color of the team we played for, each year.
We never received phone calls or packages from home. I might have been homesick the first week a little, but I don’t remember that. My only memory is crying my eyes out at the end of each season. I never wanted camp to end. One day was set aside for Parent’s Day, I remember one summer the Flapper bringing her new husband, the Judge. We were expected to perform our duties raising the American flag, horse back riding, shooting arrows, playing tennis or basketball – my personal favorite. The nuns were large and in charge, no one would dare ask for special treatment. We went to mass every morning of every beautiful day.
Camp was a haven, the one place in a changing world that expected the best of its girls, where the rules were clear and laughter was the our constant companion. Here is a montage of the few pictures I could muster up this morning, One at an ice cream parlor, a treat with the Flapper outside of camp. She is standing in the dark sweater, while I’m petting a puppy. I wonder if 11 year old girls today like having their pictures posted all over Facebook from camp? I feel sorry for parents who can’t let go, and let their children grow up.
I am 16 in the picture with the flip, and the confidence you can see is all due to Camp St joseph. Just don’t ask me about the altar boys, and the golf course between the boys and girls camp…