I wrote in my last post about my son’s first experience at summer camp. When I was eleven, I went to summer camp myself for the first and last time.
It was 1967, the summer after my sixth grade year. Three fellow classmates and I—girls I liked, but not close friends—signed up for a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) camp somewhere in the Cascade Mountains outside Leavenworth, Washington.
I remember the bus ride through Leavenworth, but I cannot remember the name of the camp. I tried recently to find it on Google, but I was not successful. It might have been Camp Field, which CYO operated from the 1950s to the early 1990s. This location is now a resort called Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort, and the resort’s website mentions that it used to be a CYO camp. But I honestly don’t remember anything about the location beyond driving through Leavenworth.
On the appointed day, my classmates and I met at our school for the bus ride to camp. We sat together on the bus, which was full of other girls from the Tri-City area (the Tri-Cities are Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, Washington). The kids in our school tended to stick pretty much with just classmates, without much contact even between one class and the kids in the other class of the same grade (two classes per grade, at that time). I recognized a few other girls from our school, but the only kids I knew were my three classmates.
When we arrived at camp, they called us by name to assign us to cabins. My three friends were placed in one cabin. Because I was a year younger than everyone else in my grade, I was placed in a cabin with younger girls. I knew no one, other than one girl from my school. All I knew was her first name—Joanne. And since she had just completed fifth grade, she seemed like a baby to me, though we were about the same size.
My heart sank at being placed with strangers. But I gamely took my pillow and my suitcase off to my cabin, claimed a bunk, and headed to archery practice with everyone else.
I had never shot a bow and arrow before. I was lousy at archery.
For dinner we had hamburgers, which shouldn’t have been objectionable, but they put ketchup and mustard on every burger. And pickles. At the time, I didn’t eat ketchup or mustard. And I especially didn’t eat pickles.
I choked down some baked beans, ate a s’more at the campfire, and went to bed.
The next morning we had cereal for breakfast. That I could handle. Then we trooped off on a hike through the woods. It was hot. Blisteringly hot.
Back to camp for lunch. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
But one look at the peanut butter, and I gagged. The oil in the industrial-sized jar of peanut butter had separated away from the creamy nuts. I’d never seen separated peanut butter before. In my family, the jars of Skippy peanut butter my mother bought never lasted last long enough to separate.
I rushed out of the dining hall retching.
A counselor followed.
I cried and said my stomach hurt, which it did by this point.
I was taken to the nurse’s station. A nurse took my temperature. Slightly elevated. I said I felt sick. The beds in the nursing station were full (on the first day of camp—go figure), so I got taken to the local hospital. I hadn’t been hospitalized since I went home after being born.
I was diagnosed with the stomach flu and put in a hospital room with another girl, who turned out to be Joanne from my school. She also had the flu. She had a real fever and was definitely sicker than I was.
I hated the hospital, which was really boring. I didn’t have a book. There was no television in the room. I think they gave me a couple of issues of Seventeen or something, or maybe a child’s book I’d read at age seven.
But at least I didn’t have to eat oily peanut butter. Or hamburgers with pickles. They fed me Jell-O and chocolate milk.
Two days later, a counselor from the Tri-Cities had a family emergency. The powers that be at camp—presumably with some consultation with parents—decided that Joanne and I should be returned to our homes. The counselor drove us back to Richland.
And that was the end of my summer camp experience.
Did I have the flu? Doubtful. Did I need to be in the hospital? Definitely, no.
I probably just had a bad case of homesickness, the problem of a young girl who had never been overnight with anyone but grandparents or close family friends, trying to adjust to a world where she couldn’t satisfy her finicky appetite.
That wasn’t the last of my homesick times. When I went to Europe on the People to People program, I spent my first night sick. Ditto when I went to college. On those occasions, however, I had to adapt. No one was there to let me go home. I learned to survive, and am happier for those experiences.
I’ve often wondered what would have happened if the counselor hadn’t been driving to the Tri-Cities. Would I have been sent back to camp to muddle my way through the remainder of the ten days? Maybe that would have been good for me.
When have you had difficulty adapting to a new experience?