Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer Camp

I think that someone should print a bumper sticker that says “Old campers never die, they just become adults who can’t stop talking about the old days at summer camp.” Perhaps that’s a little long for a bumper sticker, but the point is that a summer camp, if done well, can create some of the best childhood memories. Silly counselor antics, fabulous activities, enriching experiences, new friends and the absolute promise of fun are the things that I remember from my camp experiences.
It’s not often that a thought or memory can create an out loud laugh, but that’s what happens when I think back to summer camp. There was the time we went rowing and during a particularly intense session of giggles, the oars fell out of the boat, far from our reach and we had to use our hands to paddle a very heavy wooden boat back to shore . . . a hard thing to do when convulsed in laughter. Anyone with common sense would have paddled to the oars and reinstalled them, but we were 11 and I prefer to think of the situation as a very entertaining learning experience. Another memory that comes to mind is the time we were washing our hair in the lake and an ornery goose attacked. When all was said and done, my friend Nancy finally got her bathing suit bottom out of the goose’s clutch and we were left, once again, laughing the kind of laugh that cleanses the soul. When I sit back, as an adult, and think about camp as a life experience, I realize that it had an impact on who I am today. Many of my camp experiences formed lifelong interests and friendships. My social skills were finely honed as a camper. It’s where I learned to make friends with other campers and the adults. It’s where I began to understand differences in people, and work as part of a team. And believe it or not, I learned to have fun . . . at camp!
This summer, on the first day of camp, wearing a silly cardboard spaceship, a silver colander headpiece with antennae and awesome space glasses, I found myself reverting back to those days at camp. While singing one of my favorite camp songs in front of a large group of wide eyed campers on their first day of what I hope and pray will be a host of happy memories, I could feel their anxiety – those nagging inner questions. Will I make friends? Will I ever learn the words to those songs? Will I pass the swimming test and be able to swim in the deep area? Will my counselors like me? As those questions passed through my mind, I realized that as a leader I had the ability to help make the answers to all those questions a resounding “YES”. It’s an awesome responsibility, but armed with my crazy get-up, some great and silly songs, and a group of amazing counselors I was up for the task.
So off I go, loudspeaker in hand. . . “LET’S SING AND HAVE SOME FUN!” Of course, as campers near and far know, camp songs add to the lasting memories. Who said that singing had to be in tune, in the same key the whole way through and in some sort of rhythmic order? What happened to singing for the joy of singing? At summer camp we break all the musical rules. Not only are the songs silly and funny, but in the end, it really doesn’t matter how well they are sung. It’s about the happiness they create. It’s about the feeling of being part of a group where everyone is singing the same song, if only in a semi-similar manner. It’s about the funny words and the counselors dancing. It’s about fun.
The campers are learning the songs I sang at camp and I find it funny that while popular music changes faster than the continuum of generations, camp songs NEVER change. It does, however, take time for the silly songs to reach a state of coolness, especially for the older campers. As one particularly stubborn preteen shared, “These songs are weird!” That did not stop the camp song extravaganza each morning after the pledge of allegiance and the obligatory announcements. The first morning we sang “Ravioli” to the tune of Allouette.
“Do I have it on my chin?”
“Yes, you have it on your chin.”
“On my chin?”
“On your chin.”
OOOhh, oooh oh oh. . . . “
The younger children took to the songs immediately, at first struggling with the words, but loving every minute of them. During the school year I encourage their very best in the classroom, but I don’t care one flip about the way they sing at camp as long as happiness is in the mix. By Thursday of that first week, after introducing several other songs, among them my personal favorites Zippity Doo Dah and Do Your Ears Hang Low?, I overheard the older campers doing their own rendition of Ravioli. I say it was their own rendition because their “sauce” was not just on the chin, nose and cheek. They took it to another level – “on my arm,” “on my neck,” “on my ankle.” I wonder why it took so long for the older campers to catch the song spirit. In any case its obvious that camp songs aren’t cool until they’re cool. When they make the switch is a mystery. I do know, for sure, that once they are under your skin, long drives in the car and cool evenings in front of the fire are never the same for a camper, young, old or in between.
Next week I’m going to introduce another favorite and I’m expecting huge, out of tune, just for the joy of it. . . participation. I can’t wait!
John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmidt. . . . . . DA DA DA DA DA DA DA!

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