Your tales from summer camp

Back in May, we invited Home Forum readers to share their stories of summer camp. We asked for "funny, poignant, or otherwise compelling tales," and we were not disappointed. Deciding among them was decidedly difficult, but we hope you're as pleased with the final choices as we are.

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to write us a camp memory. We regret that we weren't able to include more of them here. Please watch for more opportunities to participate in the future.

Meanwhile, we'll be sending a $50 honorarium to those whose camp tales we've published here, along with a certificate of appreciation and extra copies of this issue.

Thanks again, one and all!

Cheeriness is relative

By Mary Ellen Killeen

The two-week session at Girl Scout camp was to be my respite. Sandwiched as I was between a baby sister and an older sister ready to go to college, I could not wait to get away from them. At 12, I was at just the wrong stage.

But that year the magic of Camp Pattagansett failed me. I just could not stand that perky counselor with her incessant cheeriness. "Come on, girls, let's head to the lake! Time for a campfire - won't that be fun? Oh, don't you just love these s'mores!"

The other campers loved her. I disliked everything about her. At times, I wished I had stayed home. How would I manage two straight weeks?

One afternoon at mail call, Miss Cheerful was busy handing out letters from home. She had one final letter in her hand, already open, and she passed it to me. "Mom hopes you are having a swell time," she said. "I read the letter first because she addressed it to both of us."

The girls stared at the smiling counselor and me, the grumpy camper. Sisters? The secret was out.

A few days before camp started, my sister had received a frantic call begging her to cover for a sick counselor. She said yes. I was so mad she was following me to camp that I vowed not to own up to being her sister - and certainly not to like her as a counselor. I almost pulled it off.

The response was heroic

By John H. Harris

During the summer of 1970 Steve Timberlake and Tommy Bell, two Camp Maxwelton counselors, diligently studied the baseball box scores in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch. They soon noticed that a journeyman player named Bob (Hawk) Taylor was slumping at the plate in his role as a pinch hitter for the Kansas City Royals.

Steve and Tommy convinced the Maxwelton campers, most of whom were not familiar with Hawk, that letters of encouragement to the major leaguer might help him turn things around. Hundreds of words of reassurance on dozens of sheets of camp stationery were funneled through the tiny post office at nearby Rockbridge Baths, Va., and sent to Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

On July 18, just as the camp was gathering for the usual Saturday spaghetti supper, the telephone rang in the office just off the dining hall. Telephone calls during meals were not unusual, but this one created a hush in the room. The caller wanted to speak to Steve Timberlake and Tommy Bell. Sure enough, it was Hawk Taylor calling from Kansas City to thank the boys at Maxwelton for their letters. A deafening cheer burst from the campers and counselors. So loud was this outpouring that Steve and Tommy could barely hear Hawk's words of gratitude.

Soon, a package arrived at camp from the ballplayer. The next day, during the camp's closing exercises, each boy received a manila envelope containing his NRA marksmanship patches, the final issue of the camp's mimeographed newspaper, and a glossy autographed photo of the grateful ballplayer. Each was inscribed with the words "Lots of luck, Hawk Taylor." I still have mine.

Credit where credit wasn't due

By Meg Anderson

In the early 1960s, I was the director of a large Girl Scout Camp in Westchester County, N.Y. On Sundays, a guest minister would hold a nondenominational service on the waterfront. The girls sat on terraced steps that led down to the lake.

One Sunday the minister came to me after the service to express his surprise and delight at the rapt attention his sermon had received. Little did he know that more than 100 girls had watched spellbound as a snake struggled to swallow a frog on the lakeshore behind him.

Not wanting to spoil his satisfaction, I didn't tell him!

Our guest was a real ... boar

By Fran Wagner

While camping in Big Sur in California one summer, we had settled in for the night in our tents. My oldest sister Nancy and her family in the big tent, and me by myself in a little pup tent. In the middle of the night I heard Nancy calling, "Fran! Look under the table at the wild boar wallowing in the mud!" I made no reply.

The next morning, Nancy asked me why I hadn't looked out my tent at the wild boar. The reason: One of the other boars had been sitting on my tent - and on me inside it. I was so scared! I didn't want to disturb it. I ended up falling asleep in that uncomfortable position.

The moose who came to dinner

By Anna Suechting

One of my most memorable camp experiences came during a two-week jaunt from a base summer camp, backpacking on an island in Lake Superior. We had planned a "duff day," a day of rest, on the Fourth of July.

When the day arrived, we had a beautiful campsite. We had thought out every detail of our holiday meal. We prepared homemade cornmeal tortillas, refried beans, rehydrated vegetables, and salsa. We tore slices of cheese into tiny bits. We lined up the dishes of tortilla toppings and prepared to serve ourselves. But as we set the last bowls on the table, our counselor ran over to us. A moose was standing right by her tent, she whispered excitedly.

We watched in silence and awe as the beautiful creature came closer and closer to our campsite. We couldn't believe it! We had our cameras at the ready. Our jaws kept dropping as the moose kept coming - all the way up to our picnic table. "What if it eats our food?" I asked fearfully. "Don't be silly," the counselor scoffed, "those things won't eat human food."

But as she spoke, the moose sniffed the pot of beans and then snatched up our serving spoon! We laughed and snapped photographs as the spoon disappeared and reappeared as the moose tasted its curious prize - and repeated the routine with several other utensils.

Then it started in on our food.

When the moose finally left, there was little left to salvage, but we didn't care. We had seen a moose up close and had the pictures to prove it.

We hiked out next morning and were amazed to see another moose standing in the middle of the trail. Or was it the same one? My trail mates insisted it was smaller than our Fourth of July moose, but I could have sworn I saw a spot of salsa on its nose.

The chemistry was spontaneous

By Tami Nelson

One summer, someone at our sister camp decided it would be OK to have two 16-year-old counselors work together with a group of kids. The counselors - I'll call them Dick and Jane - decided to make plaster hands with their kids. It's a fun and easy project. You just mix up plaster of Paris, pour it into latex gloves, and let it dry.

They mixed up the plaster they had, but soon realized it wouldn't be enough. Dick remembered he had two boxes of baking soda in his car he could add to the plaster to thin it out. He ran to his car, grabbed the baking soda, and added it to the plaster mix.

Dick decided to mix the plaster with his hand. All of a sudden, the mixture began to bubble. What was happening? Curious to know, the camp's assistant director read the list of ingredients on the box of plaster box. Vinegar was a key ingredient. He explained to Dick that the acidic vinegar was reacting chemically with the alkaline baking soda and creating carbon-dioxide gas.

Dick yelled, "A chemical reaction?! It's acid!" He grabbed his arm and ran around camp yelling, "My arm is burning! My arm is burning!" (He was never in any danger.)

Jane, meanwhile, noticed that the plaster mixture was bubbling over. Not wanting to waste it, she grabbed the box of latex gloves and quickly started filling them. Since the baking soda and vinegar reaction wasn't complete, the plaster-filled gloves began to expand from the carbon dioxide.

But Jane wasn't paying attention. She kept filling gloves. She got about two dozen gloves filled before the stretchy rubber gloves reached the size of a person's head and then started exploding. That's when the assistant director stepped in and quickly put all the plaster-filled gloves in a garbage can.

For the rest of the day, campers could hear gloves exploding inside the metal garbage can.

'You did what with your underwear?'

By Willma Gore

I was delighted when my No. 2 son wanted to attend camp. His older brother had shied away from such experiences, but Jim, age 9, really wanted to go.

I coached him through the personal hygiene ritual, showing him the toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and washcloth I'd included in a plastic bag. I especially called his attention to two packets of new undershorts, three pairs in each.

"Put on clean shorts every day," I instructed. He nodded, knowing that Mom was a stickler for cleanliness.

When I greeted his homecoming, I was delighted with his enthusiasm. He'd enjoyed the experience and, apparently, camp food had agreed with him. In the week away, he seemed to have gained weight. As I unpacked his bag to collect his dirty laundry, though, I found no undershorts.

"Jim, what happened to all the new shorts I sent to camp with you?" I asked him.

"You said to put on a clean pair every day," Jim replied, "and I did." He peeled back the belt of his jeans to show me the elastic bands of layered briefs.

What a kid. He'd obeyed Mom's orders, and I'd learned a lesson in being specific.

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