Recently, Mister E went outside and I caught a whiff of the air on the porch. It smelled like rain, which means that six drops probably hit someone’s windshield and someone was calling it the storm of the century. My crazy olfactory memory kicked into high gear and the next thing I knew I was awash in the relatively distant past and thinking about camp.
For four or five years when I was a wee’un, I went to Camp El Tesoro. Those were some of the best times of my life.
When I was very wee, I was allowed to be out of the house for several hours a day via Camp Fire’s day camp program. It was fun, I earned beads and patches that I then sewed on my little red vest. When I reached fourth or fifth grade, I was able to go to El Tesoro, the overnight camp for two sessions a year.
If it hadn’t been for summer band camp, I would have happily continued until 11th grade, at which time I would have become a CIT (Counselor in Training) and taken all kinds of shit from campers. I might have gone to school in North Texas and been a counselor until I graduated. Thinking back on it, I kind of wish I would have.
You see, I don’t have bad memories from summer camp. Everything I remember is fondly, from drinking gallons of Kool-Aid to singing camp songs as the sun went down, to the cicadas outside, to being sure I had poison oak (it was mosquito bites). I can remember all the buildings; the Health House where I laid down with migraines, the main lodge where we all ate and sang and had our talent show, the screened cabins where I started my camp career, then the larger cabin that was the venue for my middle school Rocky Horror Picture Show medley, then Horizon Lodge where I spent my last summer before I entered high school. There was the building we used for arts and crafts, the stables, the camp store, everything. And judging from the photos I saw of the camp, not much has changed.
I did things at camp I would never be able to do at home, or even allowed to do. Horseback riding, canoeing, and learning to take and develop my own photographs were some of my favorite things, and as blurry as those black and whites were I was so proud of them. I also made beaded bracelets that looked like daisy chains, learned riddles, and tried to learn how to swim. Unsuccessfully.
Memories just keep coming. Getting letters from Big D, shopping at the camp store, wearing my Campfire vest with its beads and badges at the closing ceremony, telling the younger kids that someone had drowned in the deep end of the pool by the lodge because it was a story we all heard as younger campers. I remember having a crush on one of the counselors when I was in 8th grade, becoming a vegetarian for part of the summer after talking to one of the counselors, keeping some of the other kids from teasing my special-needs friends, swearing I saw ghosts. I remember the smell of the ear drops they used to keep us from getting swimmer’s ear – we all had to stand in line to get them after we got out of the pool.
And on the rare occasions when Texas would allow it to rain, it smelled just like it did outside the other day. That smell, of humidity and earth and the very slight coolness that accompanies it, sends me back to the trails between our cabin and the main lodge every time.
Sometimes I dream about camp. Not being a kid and going to camp, really, more like driving up to the front gates just so I could get out and walk around and remember. Often I wonder if they allow tours for alumni, or if we lived up North if they would allow an old lady like me to be a counselor. Then I remember that time’s gone.
This was the bridge that separated the real world from our world at camp. To many adults it just looks like a bridge joining the parking lot to the main camp but even now it looks like a bridge to another world to me.