Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Boy, How Times Have Changed

Some friends and I were reminiscing recently about "how we spent our summer vacations." I was one of the so-called "lucky ones," because I went to sleepaway camp. I suppose there are worse ways to spend a summer, but at the time, I couldn't think of any.

I first went to camp when I was 10 years old. It was located at Upper Baker Pond in Orford, NH, and was kind of free-style in that activities were neither enforced nor rigidly scheduled. As a child of the '60s (not a teenager, an actual child), that had a certain appeal. I actually enjoyed that camp, and happily returned the next summer. Then the bottom fell out, the camp closed (later to reopen as camping grounds), and I was compelled (read: forced) to go to a rival camp, on the same pond, but with many differences.

The first difference was the price. Camp #1 was about $700 for the summer, maybe less. The facilities were not grand, but we had electricity, toilets and showers in the cabins. A lot of the older boys helped out with maintenance, and I'll never forget how we had something akin to an old-fashioned barn-raising, when the senior guys and counselors constructed a covered pavilion used for basketball and for dances (yes, it was wired for electricity, so we had lights and sound). Older campers were assigned to younger ones to help them do their laundry and we all had regular chores, rotated weekly. "Pearl Diving" meant doing dishes. Other jobs included setting up the dining room tables with plates, cups and flatware, but I don't recall the girls doing anything strenuous, such as cleaning up the pondfront or other physical labor -- that was probably left to the menfolk. If you were a horseback riding fanatic as I was, you could strike a deal with the riding counselors where you could have virtually unlimited horse time if you mucked out stables, helped with the feeding and watering of the horses, and kept the tack clean. As a result, I became a master at shoveling shit (a skill I'm told I've retained, though in slightly different fashion), adept at tossing bales of hay with a pitchfork, etc.

The camp was co-ed, but the cabins were at opposite ends of the grounds, and there were never any scandals that I heard of. The age range was from eight to perhaps 16 years old. If I remember correctly, you could be a counselor-in-training at 16 or 17 and a counselor at 18. A lot of cool kids from all walks of life went to this camp, and I have many fond memories of my two summers there. Then, as mentioned earlier in this post, the unthinkable happened.

My cousin Lynn and I were sentenced to seven weeks per summer at the snootier camp down the pond. It was an all-girls camp (with its all-boy "brother" camp next door, kept separate except for sanctioned events...or sneaky older campers) and cost about $2200/summer (By the way, a visit to its web site revealed that it now costs about $7000/summer. Talk about inflation!). Seven weeks of structured hell, enforced swimming lessons and tennis daily, everything scheduled to the minute. Coming from that freewheeling society that was my previous camp, I felt like I was in prison. The kids were from a much higher income bracket than my former mates, and a lot of them were pretty snotty. I hated swimming, especially in ponds. I hated waterskiing, preferring the zip sled/aquaplane. Regardless, I was forced to attend waterskiing class, but became very popular when I would skip my turn when presented with waterskis. They would give into my yowls once or twice a summer and drag out the zip sled, on which I dazzled those waterskiers with my skills. (You see, at the OTHER camp, if I wasn't horseback riding, I was either zip sledding, playing hoops or attempting tennis, so I had a bit of an edge there.) Many other freedoms were curtailed. When fellow inmates learned where I had previously spent my summers, they would exclaim, "Oh, we always called that 'Camp Sex-In-The-Woods!' Tee-hee!" Well, I'm sure that some of the older kids messed around a bit, but the closest I came to that was a quick peck on the cheek after my 11-year-old boyfriend and I were elected "Prince and Princess" at the end of summer dance. (OK, there was the time I was caught in the hayloft with Richie, but all we were doing was building forts out of bales of hay. We were 11. It was 1973. Trust me, kids our age were far less aware of sex than kids today. It took us a few more years, and even then we were way behind today's youth.)

My first summer there was miserable, and I did not want to return. That didn't matter. In a way, it resembled the situation I'd gone through a few years before: my parents separated and I was moved from a Montessori school to a public school. Similar trauma experienced when transferred from freewheeling camp to jackboots-and-uniforms. Well, I never had a vote before, and things remained the same. I returned to that camp summer after summer. Eventually, I got used to it, and things (and perhaps my attitude) improved. I became an award-winning archer, starred in the camp play my last year, and developed some skills in soccer, softball and canoeing. My social skills improved, too, and I made a number of friends, even in my own cabin. The waterfront was still the bane of my existence, though. I regularly failed Junior Life Saving (not that I gave a shit), and skipped sailing class, as I hated that poky method of travel (the counselor was cool about it and didn't rat me out).

When you were 15, that was your senior year, and that was it. Oh, how I looked forward to that! Unfortunately, they decided to give a CIT (Counselor In Training) program a chance for my 16th summer (for reasons that would probably help you I.D. this camp, so I won't share them, as I prefer not to be sued over any comments I make on this blog!). We helped instruct in the sports/areas we were particularly skilled in, and spent our free time lumped in with the Seniors, taking instruction. Like counselors, we were given two nights off per week, and chose to spend them in the college town of Hanover (home of Dartmouth College). Unlike counselors, we faced the wrath of management when caught drinking in Hanover. (Whoopsie. I'll save that sordid tale for another entry...)

That was my last summer on Upper Baker Pond. Well, as it turned out, I had much better things to do with my 17th summer, filming the movie "Fame" in New York City. Y'know, maybe if my parents had responded to my plaintive pleas, I might have had a film career instead of wasting all those years and all that money. Just shows to go you...