Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Camping In and Camping Out

Last night an old friend called me; I hadn’t spoken to him since January. That was shortly after his son, daughter-in-law and their two boys moved into his house. He wasn’t very happy at that time; I could hear it in his voice.

His son had lost his job in July 2008 and the wife was not making enough money to pay their rent and utilities. The son was drawing unemployment, so they had food on the table. They had a little savings and fortunately they had low credit card (which they stopped using) debt and could make slightly above the minimum payments.

Their lease was up on January 1st, so the son asked his father if they could move back in with him until times got better. It’s hard for a father to say no; so they moved in a week before Christmas.

My friend owns a three bedroom house and he and his wife, of 40 some odd years, slept in separate bedrooms. In January he told me to accommodate the incoming family they would have to sleep together; which they hadn’t done for years. To add some levity to our conversation, I mentioned the fact that my wife and I also sleep in separate bedrooms: hers in Maryland and mine in Florida.

When my friend called yesterday he was elated. His son had been working for the past two months and they (the family) were planning to move out in late July. This time I heard happiness in his voice.

To commemorate the occasion he was sending the boys (ages 9 and 12) to camp for 4 weeks after the July 4th weekend. Peace and quite was his motivation.

Our topic of conversation then changed to going to Camp. I had gone to camp for one year and he had gone for three years (he was a Boy Scout; I wasn’t).

My camp experience was when I was 8 years old. My Mom was due to have a baby within weeks, so my parents sent me off to Camp Sokol in Willow Springs, Illinois. I was there for 5 weeks before they bailed me out. When I came home I had a little sister.

In the Bohemian language the word Sokol roughly means physical health. Most of the camp activities were centered on strengthening our bodies. We had daily calisthenics in the morning after breakfast and gymnastics before and after lunch. This would have been great if I was a teen, but it was no fun for an eight year old. Eight year olds just want to have fun.

I did learn how to swim and how to recognize Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac and Poison Oak; valuable lessons for later in life. They taught me how to shoot an arrow from a bow; although I was never really very good at Archery at camp – if the arrow came close to the target, I was happy. We also learned how to canoe and make a fire using a flint.

At night we would sit around a campfire, toasting marshmallows (these were the only sweets at camp) and singing songs. Bedtime (lights out) for the Peewees (8 to 10 years old) was 9pm; the older kids were allowed to stay up until 10 at night. The teenage barrack’s counselors were up until 11 (probably having sex near the dying embers of the campfire – we were a co-ed camp).

I had a good time at camp, but it would have been better if I were 4 years older at the time. I missed my neighborhood friends and didn’t really make any new friends at the camp. Most of my roommates were from different parts of the city and suburbs; I would never see them again.

The Beach Bum

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