My first camp summer was 1948. My parents drove me from Claremont to Boston, where I got on the train at North Station. I spent the next eight weeks at Camp Arcadia on Salmon Lake in Waterville, Maine. “For there’s freedom there, from worry and care,” went the camp song.
I did the same the following two summers, and I loved it. I never did understand, however, why we went to Boston to get me to Maine.
In later years I was a counselor at three different camps. The first was Camp Soangetaha in Goshen. From there I went to Holiday Trail in Hillsborough Upper Village, and then to Camp Arcady on Lake George.
Two years ago, my grandson Soli, then age 9, came from San Francisco to Camp Becket in Massachusetts. We needn’t have worried about homesickness. He did not want it to end and was disappointed that last summer there was no camp. Thankfully, this year there is, and he is now more than halfway through the 2021 camp season in the Berkshires.
The difference this year is that the sessions are two weeks long, and if you get into a second session, which he did, you have to leave and come back. His uncle (my older son) and aunt picked him up and took him to Brookline for the two-day intersession. He called me up to give a mid-camp report.
His first words were, “I can’t wait to get back.” His second words were, “It was so rainy that all my socks were wet by the end of the first week.”
Then he said, “Grandpa, I have something to tell you, and you won’t believe it. I caught a fish bigger than the one I caught in Gilmore Pond.”
“Impossible,” I said.
“It was bigger than my arm,” Soli told me.
We then turned to the subject of the other kids. “In the dining room I go around to the other tables and introduce myself. Now I know everyone in Pioneer Village.”
That got me to thinking about enduring camp friendships. My bunkmate from the summers in Maine, more than 70 years ago, lives in Los Altos, California. We are in regular contact. My co-counselor from Hillsborough, now 90 and living in the woods in a hamlet north of New York City, remains “Herb the Outdoorsman.” He even wrote books on the subject, one called “Knapsacking Abroad,” the other “Paddle Adventuring with Canoe & Kayak.” And the late ‘50s Lake George summers produced friends who have enriched my life. One of them has a place in Harrisville, and a couple of weeks ago we ran into each other at a Keene restaurant.
I learned a lot at camp, including how to make my bed. Hospital corners.
The telephone conversation turned to the subject of becoming a camp counselor. “That’s my plan,” Soli said, “but it’s not easy.” He then walked me through the process.
I’m not sure I got all of it straight, but at a certain point, if you’re lucky, you can become an “aide.” As he explained it, an aide is like a counselor in training, and it’s a lot of work. “Grandpa, you won’t believe it” (for the second time), “but you have to pay to work! They don’t pay you.”
When I was a junior counselor in Goshen, I got paid $50 for the month, which seemed like a lot at the time. I didn’t mention this, but I told Soli not to worry. “If your parents are short on cash,” I said, “I will be glad to chip in.”
“That’s ok,” my grandson said, “you don’t have to do that.”