A few friends and I went out to dinner tonight to celebrate my friend’s birthday, and we had one of those meandering conversations where we start talking about one thing, which leads to another, which leads to something completely different. Throughout the conversations, we had lots of laughs, learned many new things about one another, and made a few connections to things in our past. One of those things was summer camp, and I had a flood of memories come back to me.
As a kid, I went to a few different camps. In my elementary and preteen years, I attended summer day camps while my parents worked, and when I was a tween and teenager, I went to church camp for a week every summer. But the most memorable camp experience was going to Young Life Frontier Camp when I was 15.
I can remember the extremely long bus ride from Texas to Colorado, the furthest I’d ever been away from home. As we neared camp, the mountains surrounding us, I couldn’t believe I was actually there. Since I didn’t really know anyone at camp, I was open to new friendships and experiences.
I can remember the cluster of cabins, tucked in amongst the pine trees. Naturally, I chose the top bunk. While I can’t remember any of the girls in my cabin, I do remember loving our camp counselor, a college-aged girl with loads of energy and enthusiasm.
What made Frontier Camp so special was that it was full of surprises. No one told us what to expect when we were there (I’m pretty sure it was designed that way), so we were constantly surprised by all the events they’d organized for us. What I remember most was that we had a different theme each night, but because they hadn’t told us about them, we had to get creative with whatever we’d brought with us. Our camp counselor was always good at helping us scrounge up items for our makeshift costumes. Western night was that first night. I didn’t have anything cowboy-ish, despite being a Texan. I remember I wore my favorite grey and white Henley t-shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers. To make me look the part, my counselor braided my hair into French-braided pigtails, tied a red bandana in my hair, and used her eye liner pencil to draw freckles on me. I was ready to go!
Down at the mess hall, we sat with our cabin mates for dinner. The food wasn’t typical “camp food.” It was actually delicious and we looked forward to each meal. Each night, after everyone was served, the counselors would put on a show for us. That first night, one of the male counselors, a pillow stuffed under his shirt and donning a too-tight blazer, started swinging his arms around, saying in a loud voice, “I live in a van down by the river…” The mess hall erupted with laughter throughout the whole of his skit. Now I know he was mimicking Chris Farley’s famous SNL sketch, but as a naive 15-year-old, whose parents wouldn’t allow her to watch SNL, I had no idea and thought that this guy was the funniest man ever!
I’m not sure how to explain how this happened, other than to chock it up to the magic of camp, but I had a week-long romance with a fellow camper from Kansas. I can’t remember his name, and I know I never even kissed him, but I do remember being totally smitten. He was tall, towering over my short frame, and had broad shoulders like someone who played football. His hair was blond and shaved close to his head. On the last day of camp, we cried as we said goodbye to each other. After returning home and developing my photos, I added a photo of us my friend had taken on the last day of camp, where we were hugging one another and I was looking up at him with such a sad face. I remember that we kept in touch for a while after camp, through handwritten letters and a few long-distance phone calls, but you can only sustain a week-long romance over hundreds of miles for so long.