In 1978, I spent the entire summer at Camp Northland B'nai Brith in Haliburton Ontario. 32 years later, I look back fondly on my summer there, but I'm sure if my mom was still around, she'd disagree vociferously, reminding me that I called home collect about 2 dozen times, whining about how homesick I was. If you'll allow me to wear my "revisionist historian" hat today, I'll tell you that I don't remember it being all that bad.
The reason I chose the graphic of the DVD case of Meatballs is because that movie was filmed in 1977 at the neighbouring Camp White Pine. Both camps still exist today, and it is my understanding that the "rich" kids attended Camp Northland, and the "not so rich" kids attended Camp White Pine. I will dispute the accuracy of that statement because my family was far from rich; trust me. Besides, how rich could we be when the cabins had no electricity? I hear that has been rectified, and campers are no longer deprived of that basic necessity. As an adult, I confessed I'm no big fan of rustic living conditions, but as I kid (and a revisionist historian), I don't remember it being that bad. What was worse for me was getting used to swimming in Moose Lake, feeling the silty, muddy bottom squishing between my toes, and dealing with getting eaten alive by the notoriously hungry Ontario cottage country mosquitoes. Other than that, I remember having a pretty fabulous time...between calling home collect and being homesick.
Meatballs is one of my all-time favourite movies. I would never refer to it as "Animal House Goes to Summer Camp...", because Animal House is in a class by itself. It is, however, a very accurate depiction of what summer camp was like in the late 70s. Granted, there were no characters at Camp Northland that came close to "Morty" the camp director, or "Tripper", the character Bill Murray played. But there was a lot of hooking up between the counselors, and other such shenanigans. The one prophetic line Bill Murray does utter, "If you make one good friend a summer, you're doing OK", rings particularly true, because I did make one good friend that summer. Unfortunately, we fell out of touch a few years later, and never managed to find each other. With today's Social Media, it's become very easy to track down almost anyone, but my old camp friend has the misfortune of having a very common name, making her as easy to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack. Unless I want to sift through about 500 pages of people on Facebook, my old friend is still lost to me. Who knows? Maybe one day I will.
Now that I'm back here in Toronto permanently, I have the pleasure of watching the latest generation of my family, and the children of my friends, pack up their trunks and head off to their respective camps. When I see the deep sighs of relief breathed by the parents as they relish the weeks of freedom stretched out ahead of them, I have to think: did my parents feel that way? I'm sure the answer was a resounding "yes". After all the grief I got for those collect phone calls, I think my mom wished she could have sent me away to boarding school for an entire year.
The summer of 1978 was the only summer I attended Camp Northland B'nai Brith. Life took a very different direction for me after that. But, I'll have the memories of that summer in my mind forever (I hope), and I love to reminisce with my cousins who were there with me. To this day, I still cannot stomach Pringles potato chips - they were the only kind available at the Tuck shop; I can still fashion a boondoggle bracelet or two and wear them proudly, and I'll always remember how I hauled off and smacked my cousin Joann across the face, but I just can't remember why. Thank goodness she has no recollection of me ever smacking her at all.
Summer camp is a right of passage I think every kid needs to experience, because it gives you a sense of independence you rarely get to feel at such a young age; plus, the experience helps to shape you into the adult you hope to become. Maybe that sentiment is a bit naive today, but memories of that summer still play a part in my life, and now that I'm here with my family, I can relive them whenever I want. The lack of electricity and the lousy potato chips aside, it was fun. What I wouldn't give to feel the squish of Moose Lake between my toes again.