This morning, I am getting my stepdaughter Gabrielle ready for Camp Bonclarken in North Carolina, where she will spend the next week with two of her good girlfriends. Signing her up and driving her down has been entirely my idea and, as her mother and dad look warily on, I am hoping against hope that I don’t screw this up. The paperwork alone has been somewhat overwhelming, and the poor receptionist at her doctor’s office has had just about enough of me as I ask her to fill out pink and green forms that assure the camp that Gabrielle is a nice, normal kid.
This drive to send her to camp is fueled by listening to Emma and Elle Gilleland teach Gabrielle the camp songs they’d learned at Bonclarken the summer before. Looking like a cat following a laser beam, Gabrielle watched them with rapt attention as they not only sang but accompanied nearly each verse with adorable hand gestures and jumps. She was instantly eager to know the songs as well and soon was singing right along with them.
Listening to those songs brought me back to my camp days. The first year I went I was 9. I had spent much of my year listening to my best friend Kristin talk about how much fun she’d had at horse camp the summer before, and by the time July rolled around I was frothing at the mouth to join her. The thing I remember most about preparing for that trip was my desperate plea to get Rub A535, an ointment you rub on your skin to help relieve muscle pain. I’d heard again and again it was necessary after spending a whole day on a horse, but secretly I just wanted it because it smelled like Vick’s VapoRub.
Upon arrival, I was a little nervous but after a brief bout of homesickness, I sunk into the rhythm, riding my beautiful horse Alabama, chasing peacocks to try to pluck off a feather, drinking Kool-Aid out of a Tupperware cup at dinner, and sleeping in our screened-in cabin, whose walls were chock-full of graffiti that provided excellent reading material.
The experience was an amazing one, and the next summer I was raring to go, this time open to trying a new bible camp nearby Kristin’s cabin on Moose Lake.
Unfortunately the day before I left, I came down with a serious case of swimmer’s itch, a rash somewhat common in Manitoba lakes that is very, very aptly named. Covered in red bumps, my parents dropped me off, and I immediately learned Kristin and I had been put in separate cabins. Looking around at the room of foreign girls, some of whom seemed to be wearing make-up, I clutched my Bible to my chest, scratched my spotted face and prayed.
Kristin, apparently, felt the same way but we didn’t get to tell each other that until the next day during gospel singing class, the only time during the day I saw her. Soon, gospel singing became our favorite activity and we sang our guts out, in rapture because we were actually together.
The rest of the time homesickness settled in the seat of my belly with such intensity I felt like I was getting the flu.
The yearning for home stayed with me the entire week and swelled particularly intensely on the night we canoed to an island for a camp-out. Luckily, Kristin and I got to be together for this evening, but unluckily we’d just peed in the woods, during which I had gotten about 40 mosquito bites on my already-itchy face and bum. We went to stand on the shore so I could splash some cool water on my bites, and it was then that I saw Kristin’s cabin around the bay, the sparkly boat bobbing beside the dock. Golden light glowed from the windows, and I could imagine her grandparents playing solitaire at the dining room table. Kristin saw it too and we were soon bawling, holding on to each other as much to keep ourselves upright as to prevent the other from jumping in the water and swimming to the cabin.
Obviously, I am hoping Gabrielle’s experience has all the magic of horse camp and absolutely none of the heartache of camp at Moose Lake. Luckily, the Bonclarken application asked me to name one other person she wanted to sleep in a cabin with, so I took that as an excellent sign. And, as opposed to Moose Lake camp, whose activities consisted of little more than bushwacking — a fancy way of saying “walking in the woods” — Gabrielle will be busy with everything from caving to food fights. So, I have a good feeling about this. Now, if I can just get her packed …