Guest post by Missy Schenck
The first time I went away to summer camp I had just finished the third grade. All first-year campers have nagging doubts about their summer away from home and I was no exception.
I love sharing my very first summer camp experience (fifty years ago this summer) because I was so homesick that I thought I was going to die. It was entirely possible for me to average at least four good cries a day that first week or so. I’ve shared this story summer after summer with our homesick campers.
When I was growing up, parents were not helicopter parents; in fact, they were quite the opposite. Children were put on trains and buses and sent to camp and we said good-bye at the station. Parents did not make our bunks or put away our clothes. Our counselors helped us. If we were homesick, parents were not so quick to come get us. The possibility of calling home was out of the question. We were at camp for the duration; in other words . . . SUCK IT UP!
My counselor’s name was Harriett, but I called her Rebecca. I thought she looked like a Rebecca, and I loved that name, so I called her Rebecca. Now that I know more about counselor duties, Harriett-Rebecca was a saint to have tolerated and survived my homesickness. I’m sure she had stories to tell throughout the summer.
Homesickness can be unbearable! Raining every single day for two weeks makes it worse. It rained and it rained until I thought it could not possibly rain any more . . . and it did. The canvas roofs on the platform tents were sagging from the weight of the rain water and they began to leak. All of our clothes and bedding stayed damp. We could not put things on the clothes line because . . . it was raining. Trekking to the outhouse in the rain at night was not fun!
The arts and crafts supplies had not arrived in time for my session. Arts and crafts could have saved me — maybe — anything creative was fun for me (I even became an art major later), especially indoors on a rainy day. The swimming pool was closed because of the rain, thunder, and lightening. We played a lot of indoor games — we exhausted our counselors. We learned to cook; I learned to make one of my all time favorite trail snacks — a cored apple filled with peanut butter, oatmeal, and raisins. Still love it! Nothing seemed to cure my homesickness . . . it just got worse as the days went on.
Excessive rain, thunder, and lightening yielded to extended rest hours . . . the worst thing in the world for a homesick camper. Rest hour and bedtime are a big catalyst for homesickness and tears. It’s a time for reading, writing letters home, being quiet, and missing your parents. I wrote multiple letters a day to my parents and wrote AIR MAIL all over them. I was certain that this would ensure a speedy delivery for my letters to our home about fifty miles away. I knew once my parents got these letters they would come for me. WRONG!
Finally, after about a week and no word from my parents, I was convinced that I must have done something terrible to warrant this horrible punishment of summer camp or worse . . . something had happened to them! A week soon moved on to a second week and the rain continued. One day, I realized there were only about three days left in the camp session. The end was in sight. WOW! I was surviving. I could make it to the end. I stopped crying. Three days was no time at all . . . I might as well have some fun . . . and I did.
One of my bunk mates brought a baritone ukulele to camp with her. I listened to her play "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" over and over every day of camp. I knew all the words to the song. I loved to sing. I wanted to know how to play her ukulele, so I could sing and play one, too. I asked her if she would teach me, and she did. I was hooked!
Oh, how sad it is to leave camp at the end of the session. The tears flowing at the last lakeside candlelight service is proof you are a dyed-in-the-wool camper for life. These tears are only matched by the ones shed as the bus pulls away from camp.
For Christmas that year, I asked for a baritone ukulele. I thought I would just die if Santa did not bring me one. He did. I was determined to learn as many songs as I could, so I practiced and I practiced and I sang and I sang. I drove everyone in our household crazy with the exception of our maid, Irene, who loved me best of all and just told me to keep on singing and playing.
Peter, Paul, and Mary led the top ten of my repertoire. I was destined for stardom . . . even better . . . I was destined to go back to summer camp and share this new talent of mine . . . and I did. I was never homesick again.
Missy Schenk is the executive director of Green River Preserve in Cedar Mt., North Carolina.
Photo courtesy of Camp Wawenock in Raymond, Maine