My parents first dropped me off at summer camp when I was eleven years old (almost twelve) and it’s safe to say I loved it from the very first day. I finally felt like I was with my people — my crazy, enthusiastic, constantly singing-and-dancing-and-yelling people.
For eight glorious summers I was either at Camp St. Croix or Camp Widjiwagan, often times both (THANKS PARENTS). I was a Wrangler (horseback rider), Frontier (canoer), Windjammer and Mariner (sailors), LDP (counselor-in-training), and finally, a counselor.
I canoed the Boundary Waters and the Namekagon River.
I sailed Lake St. Croix and Lake Superior.
I backpacked the Rockies: the Bighorns for eight days, the Absarokas for ten days, and the Wind Rivers for twelve days (that’s twelve days without a shower, twelve days of GORP, gaiters, and moleskin, twelve days of packing out every single piece of toilet paper and tampon I used — so believe me when I say I only look high maintenance).
When I came home, my mom says, I was like a new person. Confident. Friendly. Positive. I even emptied the dishwasher without complaining.
There’s just something about camp. It has its own mysterious power. It’s like what they say in the classic TAL episode: “no one back home understands it, nobody. There is just a gap between camp people and non-camp people.”
Camp Mannahatta, the party I’ve been daydreaming about since spring, bridged that gap.
It was a second chance for anyone who didn’t get to go — my Camp Co-Director Jane chief among them — and a welcome trip down memory lane for those of us who will never forget a single word of the Titanic song.
Here are a few of the details that made it so fun….
Bug juice … on tap. At camp, it’s generic Kool-Aid. At Camp Mannahatta, it’s a Mayur Subbarao original (what! I just said his name!): gin, Bittermens Citron Sauvage, Croft Pink port, lime juice, and grenadine. Dangerously delicious.
Retro snacks & boozy watermelon. Tater tots, mini pigs in a blanket, chocolate chip cookies, and Andrea’s nostalgic contribution:
bumps ants on a log (those brought people back). The watermelon was — stop the presses — actually good (I’ve been burned by boozy watermelon before). We soaked it in half a bottle of Appleton rum, juice of six limes, a big handful of minced basil, and a generous pinch of cayenne. Picante!
Camp fire. Plus hot dogs, hamburgers, and (duh) s’mores. Pro tip: when the smoke gets in your eyes say white rabbits white rabbits white rabbits over and over again. Don’t get me wrong — it doesn’t make a lick of difference. It’s just one of those Camp Things (TM).
Care packages. Year after year, my parents spent a good chunk of change to send me to camp — and felt so guilty about it they donated enough money for a less-privileged kid to go every time I did. So I’m not resentful that they weren’t the care package type. I’m just glad there was at least one mom in every cabin that was. :)
For the record, I’m pretty sure Jane and I are gonna kick ass, mom-wise. Classic candy, Reese’s, Mad Libs, and Lifesavers that shoot sparks in the dark?? Future kids, you better be grateful.
Merit badges. Oh man, these were a HIT. It was something we came up with in a planning session at Dram (I try to do all my serious party planning over cocktails) and after some deep-track Amazon searching, we found this out-of-print book, which promised 60 custom merit badge stickers … for women. Whatever, we can work with it.
After Devon earned the first badge of the night for showing up with that saweet Boy Scout style, people kept coming up to us. “So, um, I’ve heard about these badges,” they said, a little shyly. “How do I earn one?” It was pretty adorable — and also happened to be a great way to get people to refill the ice bucket … and start the fire … and make the burgers….
Arts ‘n Crafts. We had no idea how this one was going to go. Would anyone even touch the lanyard supplies? Who would have enough patience to make a god’s eye?
Well this was another surprise hit. Peter led the lanyard charge, taking it upon himself to not only re-learn how to start them (harder than it looks) but helping his fellow campers start their own — that’s badge-worthy behavior if I’ve ever seen it! — while others wrapped yarn around sticks to their little hearts’ content.
Awesome campers. Without them, camp is just a bunch of lonely cabins in the woods. We couldn’t have done it without their infectious enthusiasm and can-do spirit.
And finally … the World’s Greatest Camper. Everyone’s a winner at Camp Mannahatta, but one camper really gave it her all. Not only did she come early, bandanna around her neck and tasty snacks in her bag, she taught her fellow campers how to make god’s eyes, kept the dance party bumpin late into the night … and didn’t even so much as roll her eyes when, in the space of about a minute, both Camp Directors ordered her to “handle the hot dogs — now!” That, dear campers, is what we call PMA — Positive Mental Attitude. And that’s what we like to see.
Thank you, Camper Andrea!
So, until next summer….
Jazz hands and mosquito repellent,
Camp Co-Director Sherman, signing off.