Today campers are arriving at the summer camp where I was a camper and where I spent one very memorable summer as a camp counselor. It has me reminiscing.
6 summers ago, I had just graduated from high school, and I got a job I didn’t even apply for. On the day before I was supposed to leave with my family for a Disney World vacation, I got a phone call from the camp, asking me if I had plans for the summer and could I please consider working as a counselor? Yes, I was a year too young according to the rules, but they were short on staff, and I was an experienced camper. Not looking forward to spending the summer at home with my parents, I said, of course, but I can’t be there until I get back from Florida, which would cause me to miss the first week of staff training.
On the day I arrived, one other counselor was also arriving a week late, because his sister had just gotten married and he couldn’t make it to camp until after the wedding. We were introduced in the dining room and I immediately thought he was the cutest boy I’d ever seen. I schemed to sit next to him for CPR training, during which time we got into trouble with the instructor for talking too much. That evening the staff had a cook-out in the Outback Adventure Area, where we would be spending the night in cabins and learning how to do cook-outs as we would with our own campers each week of the summer. I remember that we tossed a frisbee. I remember that I loved his laugh. We started chatting around a campfire with several other counselors, but before too long, we were the only two still up. I saw three shooting stars, which he claimed were really just fireflies, but they couldn’t have been. Because I made three wishes. And they came true. (I KNOW! Totally cheesy and ridiculous but absolutely true!)
Over the course of the summer our instant attraction proved lasting, and we spent almost all our free time together. I have no idea what counts as our first date. We did hold hands when we went and saw Charlie’s Angels with the other counselors, so maybe that counts. Or maybe it was the first time we left camp alone, had lunch at La Hacienda, and watched “Waiting for Guffman” at his place. Either way, we don’t really have an “anniversary” in the sense of a first date. We did have one wonderful summer filled with campers and cookouts, hiking and hobo packs, canoeing and yes, canoodling, energizers and just plain chemistry.
At the end of the summer, I have to say, he tried to dump me. Part of it was just pragmatic– there were 5 years between us, I was starting college and he was starting med school in towns 100 miles apart, and who needed to be tied down? I say “part of it” because the rest of it was silliness, which I’m sure he’d now tell you! It didn’t really matter though, because as school got underway, we were still talking every single day, either online or on the phone. I happened to be in his neighborhood on an errand one day and I called him up. We sat on his front steps and agreed that not being together wasn’t really working, and I asked him if I could start telling the boys at school who were asking that I did in fact have a boyfriend. He said absolutely. We’ve been together ever since.
Three years after we met, he took me back to camp one Sunday afternoon, to “check out the new construction.” We walked around, remembering where we’d first been introduced, where we had our first kiss, where we sat to do crossword puzzles together over breakfast, where we snuck extra ice cream sandwiches. After a little while, I thought we’d seen it all, so I asked him if he was ready to head out. He insisted that we had missed a very important place, and hand in hand we walked to the Outback Adventure Area, the place where we’d spent that first night talking beside a dying campfire, me wishing on stars.
Now, I wish I could give you a vivid retelling of the events that followed, but neither he nor I have a clear memory of what exactly transpired. Maybe it was the haze of happiness that rendered us temporarily amnesiacs. But he said something surely romantic and sweet and asked me to marry him, to which I replied YES and started crying and hugging him and gazing at my glittering new engagement ring, shining in the shafts of sunlight filtering through the trees’ spring canopy of leaves. A whirlwind three months after that, the camp director, our dear friend, performed our wedding, giving his homily on all the ways time at summer camp prepared us for marriage. And now, as our third wedding anniversary rapidly approaches, I think he must’ve been right. We were pretty well prepared and now we’re happy as clams. Maybe the secret is FOB time and smores.
If you want to have your own little camp experience, nuke a marshmallow and listen to This American Life’s Notes on Camp.