Given the theme of the magazine that I’m sure you’ve come to expect thus far, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve actually never been to summer camp. Then again, I grew up in the farmlands of western Kentucky, where the abundance of wooded fields, muddy creeks and giant lakes made the whole idea of camp rather redundant.
All those iconic camp activities? They were just a part of life. I learned a bit of leatherworking in fourth grade. I did ceramics with my mother in a small shop in a nearby town. I learned to shoot BB rifles in sixth grade.
Yes, we shot guns in school. I already said it was Kentucky.
I’ve never to my recollection made a god’s eye, though I made an enormous number of potholders during one of my crafty phases (just after macramÃ© and just before rug hooking). I never used a bow and arrow, mostly because I had no desire to hunt deer. But the options for all that and more were always there.
So the idea of summer camp as a place your parents sent you to get you out of the house for a month and expose you to the wonders of the non-urbanized world seemed rather decadent to me. Summer camp was something for the Richie Riches of the world. Given that I considered Richie Rich one of the worst comic book characters in the history of mankind — who wouldn’t want to engage in a little class warfare after reading the parentally-financed adventures of that little twit? — it was not something that I aspired to.
That’s not to say that camp was unheard of. With the advent of junior high school came band camp. Unfortunately, aside from some mercifully abandoned guitar lessons, I had no musical talent or desire. Though the rumors of American Pie-style band camp shenanigans did lead to a brief toying with the idea of taking up an instrument. A triangle, perhaps.
The other possibility would have been Bible camp. Every summer, a bunch of kids from my church — ”bunch” being a relative term in a town of just a few hundred people — would pile onto a bus headed for Gatlinburg, Tenn., or some other exotic and pious location for a week of wholesome, God-lovin’ fun. Ned Flanders didn’t exist yet, but it darn doodly tootin’ would’ve been right up his alley.
Of course, there were some band-camp-like tales that came back, surely apocryphal but still titillating. But tales were all I got, as my parents never shipped me off and I never begged to go. I had my moments of faith as a pre-teen, but never moments that big. I preferred staying home and working for my dad fixing cars at the body shop, where I could occasionally sneak some peeks at the copies of Hustler and Penthouse that were not-so-well hidden in the paint room.
This, of course, was back in the day when Hustler and Penthouse were really dirty, and had ads for gay porn in the back. It was way better than the underwear ads in the back of GQ.
Where was I? Oh, right, summer camp.
The closest I’ve come to a summer camp experience would be vacation Bible school — known to the cognoscenti as ”VBS,” which in retrospect sounds disturbingly like a disease involving unnerving secretions and reproductive organs.
Vacation Bible school was simply a week of going to church all day long, but with Kool-Aid and sugar cookies. Brother Pettit would give the morning sermon. One sermon I remember dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah — not the sin of the cities, but the power of God in his destruction of them. See, scientists had actually found the cities in the desert and they had been pounded down into the very earth by His wrath.
Luckily for my tender behind, I hadn’t yet developed the agnosticism and bravery to do the ”bullshit” cough.
The rest of my Bible school memories really revolve around crafty, summer-camp type things — macaroni art or making a ”television” out of a cardboard box and a scroll of paper that told the story of Noah (I was a bit of an overachiever on that one). There was lots of singing about Jesus loving the little children and the circuit-ridin’ preacher who rode across the land, ”with a Bible in his pocket and a rifle in his hand.”
And church people wonder why some people think religion is scary.
Anyway, all those traditional summer-camp moments — boating on a lake, going on hayrides, exploring the woods — were just part and parcel of my everyday life. Any night I wanted I could step outside my house, lie flat on the grass and stare up at the thousands upon thousands of stars, all crystal clear in a sky unfettered by city lights.
I never knew how much I loved that until I didn’t have it anymore.