Way back in the prehistoric days, in a time known as B.C. (before cable), I recall going to my first summer camp in Texas. My best friend Steve was going to Camp Stewart and I begged my parents to let me go. My mom was hesitant, but I assured her that at seven years old I knew what I was doing.
My father was all for it. He felt camp would “make a man out of me” before I turned the ripe old age of eight; heaven forbid I have some sort of prolonged childhood past third grade. A practicing neurosurgeon and former medic in Korea, he assured my worried mother, “Mary, if anything happens to him, just remember, this country has the finest healthcare in the world.”
Thank goodness my mother didn’t know that the nearest hospital was about two hours away from Camp Stewart.
A true Texas camp, we kids were taught how to shoot firearms every other day. Such an idea seems shocking today, but back then, it was completely normal. In fact, most Texans would have pulled their kids out of camp had there not been any guns. When we weren’t firing rifles, we were learning how to properly shoot a real bow and arrow.
Had camp lasted more than six weeks, I predict we would have been trained in grenade tossing, missile launching, and knife throwing.
For non-violent entertainment, we kids were treated to an old Godzilla movie every Friday night. In those days, before DVDs, they projected the film against a large white sheet. I don’t think we paid much attention until Godzilla started stepping on cabs in Tokyo.
Being addicted to comic books, I recall taking several of mine to camp. The other kids seemed pretty interested, so I opened a mini-library in my bunk, and let them “check out” comics. I never charged money. Payment in those days was “your scoop of ice cream at dinner.”
For me, camp was like living at Baskin-Robbins.
At the end of six weeks, I had gained a few pounds and couldn’t fasten a few of my pants, but my mom, like a true mom, was worried that I “had lost weight.”
Whenever campers got into squabbles they were told to “wait until fight night.” This was the last night of camp, when kids could actually get into a boxing ring and duke it out with their nemisis. Campers wore gloves and protective head-gear, there were still a few bloody noses, but everyone left as friends.
Probably my fondest memory was a camp counselor named “Bo,” a Midwest Joe Six Pack-type who looked like John Mellencamp’s hefty cousin. He used to walk around in full headdress explaining the “ancient ways of native Americans” to wide-eyed campers. His indian act didn’t convince me though; his beer belly and Indiana twang struck me as mighty suspicious. Later that fall, I saw Bo, by accident, at his next job, pouring slurpees at the 7-11. I gave Chief Geronimo a thumbs up, but the transient seemed subdued in his new position.
Fortunately, kids today have far more choices than West Texas weaponry, old Godzilla movies and ice cream (well, they might like that). There are a plethora of specialty camps that offer computer training, movie-making, swimming, dancing, cheerleading, backpacking, gardening, photography, music, various sports, and about anything else you can think of. All these choices can be a little overwhelming for the average parent.
In this month’s Special Section, we’ve narrowed down the best and the brightest to help you find “the camp” that kids will beg to go to and moms won’t have to worry about. Well, some of you will anyways, but that’s part of the fun of being a mom.