I was thinking a lot today about Camp Sealth. Every summer, between the ages of 6 and 17, I went off to Camp Sealth. I think I started with three days and by my years at a CIT (counselor in training) I was there for three weeks (with a one week break in there to go home and do laundry, have caffeine, etc.).
Seems kind of odd now that my mom sent me off for three days as a six year old, although that first year I did go with a buddy (was it Tanna? I think it was Tanna). I, of course, always wanted to go to camp for longer, but mom was either smarter than me or we couldn't afford it. Probably a combination of the two: I always couldn't wait to go to camp each summer, but until the summer before 9th grade I was always pretty miserable while I was there. See, I was a big ol' crybaby for a good part of my childhood. Unfortunately, I'd have to say my childhood lasted until was about 24. I know now that it's a chemical thing -- I had my first bout of clinical depression at age 7 plus my ovaries don't work properly -- but that's a whole 'nother blog. I was also effectively an only child and therefore very much into getting my own way. Plus I had an emotionally and verbally abusive stepfather and.... well, a whole 'nother blog.
Anyhow, I can say with confidence that it was a chemical thing, as evidence by about half the problems going away when I was 24 thanks to one medication and the other half going away when I was about 30 thanks to another medication. But that didn't help much when I was a whiny, crying, bossy little bitch of a child that most other kids really didn't like all that much. Let's just say I've burned a lot of bridges in my time. I came to expect other kids not to like me (a problem that does still exist to this day) and it was generally a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Moving on, as a consequence I both loved and hated camp until my 9th grade year at which time I had an epiphany. Nobody at camp knew I was a whiny, crying, bossy little bitch. I could pretend I was really a cool and awesome kid with the fabulously crazy ideas, the one that was stuck behind all the bad moods and overreactions. And you know what? It worked.
That year, I was the one everyone in the cabin looked to for fun and for guidance (by that time, I'd been coming to Sealth for eight years and I knew everything about that place; I eventually became a "lifer" which means you've been coming for ten years and you get a ceremony and a plaque and everything). I was the instigator of nude Jane Fonda. I was the one who pointed out that the ice cream we were making really did need eggs (unfortunately, they didn't listen and we ended up with soft serve ice cream). I was the one who knew every camp song they did, better than the gal whose job it was to lead us in songs after meals (she was like Julie, our Cruise Director). They pulled me up onto the stairs to lead songs while we were waiting for meals. I was a star. I have a friend from that year whom I am still in touch with. I kept the mindset in later years and each year got better and better. My last two years, I was a CIT, discovered I prefer little boys to little girls (not in that way, you dirty people), and kept some of those friendships alive for years (another blog on that one some day). And of course I gathered a billion happy memories to me that I pull out on days when I'm feeling blue.
There was nude Jane Fonda, as I've mentioned. Okay, not nude -- we were wearing bras. I don't think they really had sports bras in the mainstream yet. I was the only one who would've even been close to needing one anyhow (C cup by end of high school, baybee). Unfortunately, our aerobics coincided with the spotting of someone on camp grounds who didn't belong. I'm pretty sure he was skulking around before all this, but apparently we could be seen to some extent from the orchard below. Party poopers.
Oh, and in the nude Jane Fonda year we girls were so disappointed because instead of having one cabin of girls and one cabin of boys in our session, the other cabin was chock full of Japanese exchange students. Granted, they were all boys and one girl (she was so traumatized by us, I'm sure) but hmm, not the summer experience we were looking for. Did learn how to say "air raid" in Japanese (no PC in 1984, folks) and we were extremely amused by one guy we dubbed the Japanese Billy Idol. It was the hair. Those guys used more hair products than Elvis. Or Brad Pitt. Or Vidal Sassoon.
There were all the times I've looked back at the camp counselors and realized that I really have no gaydar. I'm sure one of my first counselors was a lesbian. Or heavily into the feminist movement where you don't shave. Then there were the camps we visited as CITs. Apparently after Sealth became co-ed in the mid-70s all the lesbians went to work at the Girl Scouts camp. There is a disturbing incident that comes to mind where we visiting CITs had to run the gauntlet of welcome through many cheering Girl Scout campers and counselors. Many bottoms were swatted and not one of them belonged to the two very cute male CITs or the very cute male driver (Chark! Tweet tweet, get out of the water!) we had with us that year. Nothing wrong with anyone's persuasion, whichever way they lean. The moral of the story is just that I have no gaydar and I never have. I'm still convinced Barry Manilow is straight.
There was the time I ended up at second base with another very cute male CIT in a squeaky camp bunk while five other CITs slept around us. Good kisser that guy. Another Scorpio. We stayed in touch for several years. I still have a piece of his pants on my camp tie from that summer.
Then there was the time I did a live-in as a CIT with one of the boys' cabins. A live-in was part of being a second year CIT where you spent a whole session (five days for this one, I think) shadowing a counselor with their cabin. I had started out with a girls' cabin (cause I thought I preferred working with girls) but some of the campers didn't show up and they disbanded my cabin so they moved me over to one of the boys' cabins. I became the darling of the Milky Way unit (four boys' cabins, at least 40 boys that session). All the Village girls (7th and 8th grade) were in love with my boys. I was the only girl allowed (by the boys) in any of their cabins in the unit. As part of the live-in, we did an overnight in the woods. It was me (couple months shy of my 17th birthday), two male counselors (probably about 19 or 20 years old), and 20 little boys age 6 to 12 in the woods. Somehow, practically every counselor in camp found a reason to do a walk through at our site (a few counselors, usually the leaders of a unit, were assigned to walk through each of the sites being occupied for an overnight to see how they were doing, if they needed anything -- kind of like a performance review combined with a what-did-you-forget-to-pack). We found it fairly amusing, the two counselors and I, mostly because this particular site was set up so that the sleeping shelter was some distance away from the main fire area. In other words, me and two guys are in sleeping bags hanging out by the fire and gossiping about counselors while all our campers are out of our (and their) sight, although we could still hear them if they needed us. So a counselor comes strolling up, sees we're off by ourselves and chats us up as long as they possibly can. They leave, then about 15 minutes later here comes another counselor. I think at least five of them came by our site that night. Really funny part, as I found out later, was that one of the counselors in that unit -- although not on the overnight with us -- was very interested in me. Wonder what ever happened to him?
I learned a lot of things at Camp Sealth. I started to learn that I could be who I was, not who anyone else expected me to be (or tried to force me to be). I learned to cook just about damn thing you could imagine on a camp fire. We're talking five course chinese meals here, people. Dinners cooked in foil. Dinners cooked in mailboxes. Cakes. This stuff was fantastic that we cooked. I learned to eat salad at summer camp (you always had to take at least three bluebird bites of anything before saying no). I learned how to sucker punch a guy. I learned you can smoke the leaves of some random bush in the woods wrapped up in toilet paper (aka "Shippy's Retreat"). I learned that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. I learned that fairies are real. I learned that singing songs from the movie Grease 2 on a 45 minute hike through the woods will not endear you to anyone. I learned that the secret to a really fabulous camp fire is to use a plate. We nearly set the woods on fire one night. But it was a really fabulous camp fire.