October 21, 2009

Back in the Summer of '91

Over the weekend I was looking for a picture. What I stumbled upon was unexpected and brought back so many memories. I found an album full of pictures from Chief Logan Reservation. In the summer of 1991, my friend Sarah and I took jobs as the kitchen staff ("Dining Hall Assistants," if you please) at a Boy Scout Camp. Did I mention we were just 16 and it was an overnight camp? Full of Boy Scouts? It was one of the best summers of my teenage years... and not for the reasons you may think.
I still remember the drives to and from camp. We went home every other weekend... or maybe it was every weekend. We would throw our bags into my parents 1974-ish Ford LTD, pop in the Grateful Dead and be on our way. Every time I hear "Uncle John's Band" I think about cruising along a sparsely populated highway in the heart of southern Ohio.
If you're waiting for stories full of teen sex, underage drinking and other escapades, I'm sorry to disappoint you. Yes, we were the only teen girls in the camp (there were a few other females but they were all "of age"), but things were a lot more innocent than you would expect. For one whole summer I had a chance to learn some valuable lessons.
For the first few days I made sure I was up early, showered, hair in place, maybe even a little makeup. A few days of getting up way too early convinced me that you couldn't pay me to be up before Keith A. Hall started his morning wake up announcement. He would play a cassette recording of Reveille and Sarah and I would throw on our clothes, slap our hair into ponytails and dash from our platform tent across a field to the Dining Hall to help prepare breakfast for starving teen boys.
Yes, I said platform tent. I may come across as pretty high maintenance these days, but I like to think that summer I proved I can "rough it." Our tent sat next to the Ad Building, essentially on a main path that every Boy Scout and their leaders had to trek along each day.
The area was roped off and I can't even imagine what would have happened to any male foolish enough to cross those barriers. Back then I thought our tent was put there because a) the Ad Building was the place where Sarah and I showered and b) it kept us as as far away as reasonably possible from the Boy Scouts' tents. I now think it was placed there to keep us in plain view of pretty much everyone so they could keep an eye on us. (Years later Sarah and I heard stories about how some of the staff apparently sat on the Ad Building porch at night hoping to see our shadows as we changed for the night. Thanks a lot for cluing us in, guys!)
But, I digress. So, we lived in a platform tent for the summer. It was hot. It was cramped. Daddy Long Legs crawled all over the place. For a few days I screeched at the sight of a Daddy Long Leg, begging the male staff to come get rid of them. Then I realized what a waste of time it was to go get a boy to remove the spiders when I could easily do it myself. To this day I am deathly afraid of all spiders, but show me a Daddy Long Leg and I could care less. That tent may have been primitive, but it was home. When the camp celebrated Christmas in July, Sarah and I decorated the outside of our tent with wreaths and other festive items.
I think of that summer as the summer I perfected the art of flirting. I have never been the girl who has boys drooling all over her, but that summer Sarah and I could have had our pick of pretty much any boy we wanted to date. I'm not being arrogant. Let's face it... throw two 16-year-olds at a bunch of hormonal teenage boys and a few of them are going to want to date you. But I was too innocent, too young and really way too ditzy to have had any type of meaningful relationship. Correction for you CLR Alumni reading this post: I was not ditzy, just really bubbly (thought you'd like that!)
I learned some interesting lessons that summer.
  • I can be friends with boys. Period. I laughed with them. I cried and witnessed some of them cry at certain events (the end of sessions, the end of camp). The ones I grew truly close to treated me like an equal and could have cared less that I was a (gasp) girl! Though I've lost touch with some of the staff members who I was closest to that summer, we've slowly started reconnecting. Thank goodness for Facebook.
  • Ralph Harvey is the coolest Hairy Chested Man I know (weren't you officially called Mountain Men?) He landed us those jobs and never once rolled his eyes at our ditziness/bubbliness... at least not to our faces. I've known Ralph since elementary school, but never realized until that summer just how cool he was. Little boys at camp wanted to be him. With his long hair, enthusiasm for Scouting and kind soul, who could blame them?
  • Andy McGinn looks awesome as a woman. As part of the weekly "Ugly Man" contest, Andy agreed to let us put make up on him if he won. He looked fantastic, if I do say so myself.
  • Scouting is more than camping and building fires. That summer I had a chance to witness various rituals and ceremonies, such as The Order of the Arrow induction. Later, a scout invited us to his Eagle Scout Ceremony. (Thanks, Mike. It was an honor to be there!) Sadly, I still haven't figured out what happens when the Mountain Men go up in the mountains for the night... but I know they delighted in returning the next morning and yelling around the flagpole. (I still think they were louder than ever that summer just to interrupt my last precious minutes of sleep).
  • Dreama's ice cream pie should not be eaten on a daily basis... unless you want to return home 10 pounds heavier at the end of the summer. Trust me on this one.
  • Being outdoors is awesome. No, I'm not a diehard camper, but I wish I were. I can't tell you how peaceful it is to find a quiet spot surrounded by pine trees and do nothing but think. I still can't wait until Hubby and I have the time (and energy) to take our daughters camping.
  • They Might Be Giants is by far one of the most underrated bands ever. Particle Man drew me in and Istanbul (Not Constantinople) helped me out in World History.
  • I can Swamp Stomp with the best of them. What's a Swamp Stomp? Exactly what it sounds like. You stomp through a swamp up to your eyeballs. I was covered in disgusting filth. It was fun to purposely become dirtier than you've ever imagined.
  • No matter how progressive an organization may seem, there will always be those who will discriminate against you. I actually had scout leaders, grown men, approach me and tell me that I should "stay in the kitchen" and not be allowed any where else on camp grounds. Classy. Of course, there were other grown men who could only look at my chest when they spoke to me. Creepy. But there will always be more members of said organization who readily accept you and embrace your presence.
Unfortunately, that summer had some ugly moments, too. A Scout Leader had a heart attack and died. I still remember the look of terror on Justin K.'s face as he came tearing into the back room of the Dining Hall to call 911. I remember how Maaike, who performed CPR on him, was a shaken for the rest of the day. Also that summer a staff member went on a "Power" trip and was fired. I don't remember all the details and it happened while the rest of the staff was enjoying a weekend off... but I do remember it made for some great stories and speculation.
Ugliness aside, it was a magical summer. So many memories... so little space write them all down. The following year, Sarah and I took jobs at a 4-H camp. After that we worked at a YMCA camp. For me, none of those summers matched the energy, fun and friendship of Chief Logan.
The other day in an email Sarah asked me what our parents were thinking by letting us spend the summer surrounded by teenage boys and, essentially, no chaperones. I have no idea. I like to think they trusted us to make good decisions. I can't imagine they ever truly appreciated the lessons we learned that summer. Sarah asked me if I could imagine ever letting my daughters work at a Boy Scout camp. My initial reaction?? Hell no! I would never let my little girls do that. But as I wrap up this post, I'm starting to wonder: why not? If they were surrounded by the boys and young men I encountered in the summer of 1991 then I know they would have the time of their lives and learn some valuable life lessons along the way.
In closing, I'll leave you with the most important lesson I learned that summer: A lifetime's not too long to live as friends.


Stephanie B said...

You are so young (I started working at NASA in 1989). Suddenly, I feel a million years old.

I have zero memories like that. I hope you never lose track of yours.

Quadmama said...

Well, it's nice to hear how "young" I am since my birthday is fast approaching. With a summer like that, I'll never forget it!

maryanne said...

Sounds like a magical summer. Thanks for reminding me of Particle Man and Istanbul (Not Constantinople) - fun memories with those songs. Istanbul helped me with world history, too!

I worked at a music camp in the middle of the Colorado Rockies the summer I was 16/17 and learned a lot. Haven't stayed in touch with my friends from that summer, though - maybe I should check out facebook...

Quadmama said...

It's funny because of the three camps where I spent my summers, the staff of Chief Logan are the only camp friends I have sought out on Facebook. I was surprised how many I found, too!

HST said...

How cool! Where I grew up (overseas) it was not common place to send your kids on camps; at any age! I remember my sister wanted to go to a camp very similar to what you would call a Scouts camp. She begged my parents for three years before they let her go; with great apprehension. She had a blast and loved it despite coming home covered in dust from head to toe. I will never forget it, because I never saw her that dirty before in my life.

Sounds like you had an awesome time!

Quadmama said...

I had the opportunity to go to a 4-H camp as a camper and CIT (counselor in training). I can say with all honesty that I had much more fun working at camp than being there as a camper. It was fun to be a camper, but more fun to help the campers.

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