I am part of a cult.
I know it’s hard to believe. Me being so strong-willed and independent.
But they sucked me in at the impressionable age of 14 and I’ve been a part of it ever since.
Outsiders don’t get us. They scoff at the bond we have. Think it’s weird. But I don’t care. I am loyal forever to my cult.
My cult…also known as camp.
At the age of 14, I was done being a camper and ready to jump to the other side, but there weren’t a lot of options in my area unless you were 15. So my mother, being my mother, started researching, and found a place a little bit north that fit the bill. I filled out a real application, had a real interview, and then landed my first real job.
My uniform consisted of a staff shirt that was colored-coded in a way that clearly pointed out the fact that I was among the newbies and I began to navigate my way through the inner workings of camp. In the blink of an eye, I went from 14 to 37, where I was sitting at a reunion of more than 150 of us this past weekend. It. Was. Awesome.
Except the bartender’s/waitresses’ “uniforms”. Those were not awesome. They made me physically uncomfortable and I was in constant fear that a floppity boob would make its way into my drink. And if I wanted that, I would have skipped the reunion and gone a few doors down to Pure Platinum where that kind of thing is normal.
Every summer, I would dive head-first into camp friends and my “regular friends” would get so annoyed. “Ugh, Rachel, enough with the camp friends. We get it, they’re totally awesome.” But I couldn’t help it, I was hooked. And it wasn’t long before the lines started to get blurred and camp friends became regular friends. As a matter of fact, my best friend, my “person”, is a camp friend I met at 16. I wrote a blog post about her a while back actually.
And if you’re a camp person, you’re a camp person. You just understand. It doesn’t even matter which camp. And if you’re not, you think we are all annoying. But you know what? Camp is awesome because it’s like an alternate universe, where you do things that are not really socially acceptable in other places and would NEVER happen in real life. Don’t believe me? Here’s a short list.
1) It’s totally acceptable as an adult to eat ice cream twice a day.
2) You don’t really wear makeup or do your hair.
3) Summer flings are the norm and there’s not the same weirdness that would happen if you dated or hooked up with someone in real life for 30 something days and then quit cold turkey when that time frame ended.
4) You eat kid food like mac and cheese and pizza at least twice a week for lunch.
5) You wear a one piece bathing suit.
6) You bond ridiculously quick with fellow staff.
6) It’s a cool thing to be in the camp assemblies/plays. They are highly coveted spots that people actually want.
7) You wear ridiculous things like bright yellow sneakers and tie-dye shorts.
8) There are lots of themed days where it’s actually encouraged to wear apparel like PJs.
9) Carrying a clip board is a sign of power.
10) There are days you are in full costume. Lots of them.
God there are so many more but I have to stop.
I spent well over a decade at the same camp as a counselor. It was my summer home and I even came back as an administrator for a couple of years before I took my current job. I got to watch my own child attend as a camper, which was mind-blowing. As a counselor, I used to walk into the cafeteria with my campers, take one look at the “administrator table” and wish I was sitting there. And when I finally was, it was a surreal feeling. I made it to the other side.
Went through all the rites of passage and now I was the one with a walkie-talkie, taking shopping trips to buy inner tubes, whipped cream and balloons for whatever shenanigan-packed assembly we had coming up. I was getting paid to do it. And instead of being on the stage, I was judging contests or behind it, with a cordless mike/headphones – another sign you had made it big.
When you bring up camp to my mom, she gets just as excited because she has fond memories of my fond memories. When I told her I saw James and Phil (below) at the reunion, she asked me if we talked about the time my hair got stuck (up to the root) in the tiny bus fan as I was taking attendance. She’s really good at remembering stuff I have blocked out. Coincidentally, Phil had no recollection of that, but had vivid memories of her…yelling my dog’s name in her thick Fran Drescher-esque drawl every morning as she ran out the door…”PRECIOUSSSSSSS!!!”(the same dog that ironically had the same name as our housekeeper from my previous post)
The funny thing is EVERYONE thinks THEY had the best group or camp era. (Sorry guys, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that the 90s killed it at my particular camp). We had fun in and out of camp.
And you don’t just develop bonds with fellow counselors. I had one with a little girl I fell in love with (and definitely showed favoritism to). And I still talk to her. It makes me nauseous that she’s old enough to vote, drink, and have a boyfriend, but I love her to death.
And in sitting at the reunion this past weekend, you can tell everyone shares the same camaraderie regardless of when their time took place. It was interesting how the room organically separated according to camp eras. My group was toward the middle and flanked by folks older than us on one side and MUCH MUCH MUCH younger than us on the other. And at every edge there’s a little bit of crossover.
We shared stories, laughed, reminisced and picked up right where we left off. Of every job I have ever had in my life, nothing will ever beat this. Ever. You learn things you don’t even realize you are learning until later in life (not counting the hallway chants like, “I said a boom chickaboom” or “A little birdie in a tree”).
It’s just special, incomparable and incredibly cheesy. And these people will forever be my summer family, even if I no longer spend my summers there.