I Think We’re Alone Now

How many American children, between the ages of 10­–15, are subjected each year to summer camp?

I’m guessing more do now than in the past, and that you can slice the data by a family’s economic status, education and the longstanding trend toward hyperactive Soccer Moms and dictatorial Little League fathers.

My brother and I were introduced to summer camp in 1972. Congregants of Calvary Memorial Church often sent their children to weeklong retreats on a tract of land the church owned west of Lake Minnetonka, on a remote lake (more a pond in my memory than a lake). There was a main lodge tucked among the pines, surrounded by tiny cabins with wooden bunk beds. They called it “Camp Kingswood.”

However, some backstory is in order.

After summer break from junior high, our parents let us run wild for a couple weeks. But balancing workloads (and their private lives) with two kids at home for over three months must’ve seemed too much. Mom and Dad were branching out. They were entertaining new friends (Dad, with his colleagues at the University of Minnesota, and Mom with neighbors and other housewives at the church).

During the day, we did kid things: swimming, fishing, boating, crawling around on the embankment, building forts and tree houses, playing football in the field opposite the curve in the street that lead down Casco Point. We stayed out until the blue-white streetlights flickered on, whooping through the neighborhood playing Kick the Can or Smear the Queer. The ringing of the front door bell was the only way I knew we were wanted home, a sound we could hear from blocks away. Once in, it was “wash up and get ready for bed.”

I was a summer-worshipping kid, carefree.

That is, until the eve of summer camp. Mom and Dad must’ve been relieved to have a break—some “we’re finally alone” time.

In December 1975, in what must’ve been a fit of early winter nostalgia, I typed up a “report” of summer camp experiences from 1972 until the previous summer. I “rated” the experiences, which, looking back, must’ve meant they affected me in such a way that it was more important to preserve the experience than shrug it off as just another thing we were subjected to. Something must’ve gone amiss with Camp Kingswood in the summer of 1973, because we were sent to another camp in Wisconsin called “Fort Wilderness,” where I, as “the camper” reported, was “suffering of many mental and emotional changes.” Wet dreams, erections, mysterious remarks by my mother’s friends? In other words, puberty had finally struck.

The following summer we were back at Camp Kingswood. I was there from June 15 to June 22, and brother Brian attended the following week, so we were never at camp at the same time. Apparently it was a banner year—I was awarded a prize as “being the wittiest,” (a copy of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), played ping-pong and table hockey, and made new friends, one of which was Peter Martin, the son of a local advertising bigwig at Martin-Williams.

Peter was slight and nebbish, but like no one I’d known since we’d moved to Minnesota. He introduced me to smoking cigarettes and an attitude that centered around ruing the fact that we weren’t adults. If we were adults, we’d get laid. I had no idea what that involved. “Did your penis feel different when it was ‘in there’?” “What were you supposed to touch first? The breasts? Or did you kiss first? Tongue? How much?”

Man, this was heady stuff. How was a kid supposed to keep it all straight?

On June 21, 1974, I worked up the nerve to ask a girl to the final dinner at camp. Her name was Debbie Gravelle. She was blonde and shy. I think we kissed. Later there was a bonfire and people stood up to speak. Couples, their faces shining in the firelight, concealed their hand-holding from the pastor and camp counselors.

The Saturday night before we all left Camp Kingswood (which would be my last year, since our family moved to the Methodist church in Mound, we attended another summer camp—fodder for another post) the camp leaders got us all up at 3 a.m., took us through the woods on a wild goose chase, only to feed us pizza in the main lodge where we played table hockey or conked out until dawn. As I wrote in my diary, “Toward morning, others napped, but I didn’t.”

Arriving home that Saturday night, I found Mom and Dad were having a house party. I sacked out on the couch and didn’t awaken until close to midnight.

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~ by completelyinthedark on May 8, 2011.

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