If You Really Need To Get There

I am a huge advocate of summer overnight camps for children. Tech has been going since he was 9 years old and he recently hopped on the bus for a 1-month stint. Here is something I wrote when I was longing to go back to camp. In the name of research, I actually had to go and make the trip. It was fabulous.

• • •

If you really need to get there, get on the New York State Thruway and drive pretty fast. Get off at exit #42. Go through the tollbooth. This may take a little while because there are only two lanes, and one is for E-Z Pass users only. In front of you, you will see a Mobil station. To the right, you will see a motel. A few years ago, it was called Gus & Nancy’s. I don’t know what it is called now. It doesn’t matter. The place looks exactly a it did in 1978.

Take a right onto Route 14S. Drive for a while. See Northrup Plumbing, Heating and Cooling. See the Rollerdrome, boasting a new blue awning. If it is summertime, see the yard sales brimming with glass.

See the sign that boasts Geneva is the “Lake Trout Capital of the World.” I used to laugh at this sign, but these days, I suppose it’s as good a designation as any other.

See the houses that sandwich the Sunoco Station that was charging $4.26 a gallon for gas on the day I last passed through. If it is hot, see folks sitting on their porches. And on chairs under trees. See the shirtless boys riding bikes in the road. See the babies in sagging diapers standing on the sidewalks.

If you haven’t been on Route 14 in a while, brace yourself. The old ice cream stand that used to be on the corner of North Street has been torn down. Kentucky Fried Chicken is gone, too. It’s okay. Keep going. Pass “Family Dollar” and a furniture store called Aaron’s. Remember Alice’s Restaurant? It used to be on the left, just before you’d cross over the railroad tracks? Alice is gone, but Nonna’s Trattoria is there, so the décor hasn’t changed much. There are still red, white and green flags flapping in the breeze.

A little further down the road and you are in the epicenter of Hobart & William Smith’s night-life. How do I know this? Because I am a graduate from William Smith. Friends joke that half of the reason I chose William Smith is because of its proximity. They are not wrong. I knew where I was, how close I was. How fast I could get there. Take a right. Any right. They’ll all get you to the right place.

If you are idling in front of the First Methodist Church at Main and Seneca, prepare to take a left. See the multi-colored row houses that flank the left side of the road. Good. Now look quickly to your right.

Pulteney Park, Geneva, NY

Pulteney Park, Geneva, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you don’t look quickly you will miss her: the Lady of the Lake, kneeling in her fountain. If you get close enough to her, you will see that her nose is cracked.

How do I know this? I used to live in one of those faded green apartments behind her. In 1989, my address was 1 Park Place. If I opened my bedroom window and craned my neck, I could see the road.

The road that would take me there.

If I needed to get there.

Keep going. Pass the fraternity houses with their fat pillars, the Deltas and Betas and Gammas and all the other ancient Greek symbols.

See the benches on the left.

On a clear day, it is there that you will catch your first real patch of blue: Seneca Lake stretching out before you. I spent a lot of time on those benches. But in a car, things happen fast. The lake is a blur.

Keep going. Pass Geneva on the Lake on your left, promising waterfront lunches on the porch for $15.99. Pass the American Legion Hall, situated right in front of the historic Belhurst Castle. I ate at The Castle once, with someone I loved. A bat flew about the dining room as the waiters haplessly tried to catch it by throwing tablecloths over it.

See the Seneca Lake Country Club. See Geneva Rod and Gun. A little more blue, a place where the sea gulls cluster. See Kashong. Say it a few times aloud because it feels good, the way it holds in the back of the throat. Suddenly, there are wineries, stalks attached to wires training branches to go this way or that. There are the old wineries — Fox Run and Wiemer — which have been joined by Seneca Shore and Anthony Road and Prejean. The buildings are huge, a little industrial, and you can feel their newness. Just when it starts to feel uncomfortably new, pass Darryl’s Garage. Little Green — the camp truck — had lots of sleepovers there. But Little Green is gone too.

See the ‘T’ in the road. Mr. Twistee’s on your left. And that light. That flashing light. You have a choice. Only there is no choice.

You know where you are going.

You could go left to Dresden. You could go right to Penn Yan. Maybe stop at Lloyd’s for a free poster and some chicken wings. But you don’t.

You know how close you are.

If you are a die-hard, your heart, you’ll feel it. It pumps. It pumps.

If you wait to see the mailbox, you’ve almost passed Camp Road, that beautiful, awful, bumpy road. The road that separates real life from camp life. If your windows are open, close them. Because no matter how slowly you approach, your wheels will kick up dust that settles everywhere. And if you are lucky, that crazy, magical camp dust will surround you, envelope you, get inside you and make you fall so in love with a place that, upon leaving, you will weep for missing its dust.

See the bee boxes. See the Mennonite children running in the fields, the girls in their long blue dresses and thick black boots; the boys in their white shirts and suspenders. See the corn. Notice how short it is in June. Remember how tall it will be in August. Pause at the railroad tracks. (Everyone knows someone who knows someone who almost got hit by a train.) Turn down the music. Look to the left, to the right. Cross over to the camp side of the tracks. Pass Gypsy camp. Bear left. See the green fence and the slightly ominous sign that reads: “All Visitors Must Check In At The Office.”

Am I a visitor? Am I family?

My heart. It pumps. It pumps.

You can’t tell me I’m not home.

What do you think about the idea of sending your children to summer camp? Have you ever gone back as an adult to visit a summer camp that you loved? How did it feel? What did you remember?

(For more on why I think summer camp is fabulous read THIS and THIS.)

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51 responses to “If You Really Need To Get There

  1. I don’t have any children to send to my childhood camp, but I have often wanted to go back for a visit. Because it is pretty far from where I live now, I haven’t been since my last summer as a counselor (1986). I get a vicarious thrill these days by following Camp Alleghany on Facebook & Twitter – I see pictures posted of campers participating in the same activities I enjoyed and read about the traditions that continue to live on in that little slice of Heaven in West (by God) Virginia! I spent 11 summers there on the banks of the Greenbriar River, and will always and forever be a ‘Ghany Girl.

    • Hi Chrystal: It is interesting how much more connected people can be to overnight camps these days. Back in the “old days,” folks couldn’t see what was going on, but now there are websites with pictures and blogs. It does make it nice for those of us who are alums! I love the idea that you will always be a ‘Ghany Girl.

  2. I only went to camp one summer as a kid, but have been along for four as an adult leader of my son’s scout troop…. this year’s visit was the best, I could really tell our first year scouts were getting the most of the experience – away from mom and dad for the first time (maybe) and loving the quasi-independence – swimming with their buddies in free time, learning, having fun, making memories, and planning next year’s visit. Every kid should be so lucky! I have not been back, but it is still there and I visit in my mind – I remember the pool, the shooting range where an armadillo walked across the firing line and the ranger halted shooting until it passed – I swam the mile as a kid and have swum the mile the last two summers as an adult – this year my kid beat me, I just knew it was coming! Every kid should experience a week or two at camp.

    • Clay! I love that you get to experience overnight camp each summer as an adult. And that memory of having to wait for the armadillo to pass on the shooting range is a great one. That little vignette has so much to it — obviously, most camps no longer have shooting ranges (mine did back in the 1960s, but it is my understanding that ended during Vietnam), but the story marks time so well. I love that your ranger made you all stop shooting. These days, with the wrong supervision, the armadillo might have become the new target! I hope that camping always teaches kids to respect nature.

  3. I never went to a summer camp when I was younger. I wish I had. I did attend “Redwood Glen” camp for a week with my 6th grade class. It was located in the Redwood forest of Northern California. I remember I fed a chickadee out of my hand and licked a banana slug. I think I would have much preferred a month there. Knowing how hormonal I was at that age, my family may have preferred I was gone a month, too. Just as I did then, I ‘ve always felt far more at peace when I’m “communing with nature.’

    Though mine never attended “camp”, I have found opportunities for them to be away from me/home for more than just an overnight. I think it gives children an opportunity to discover themselves and to have/do something that is “just their own”.The create their own memories to carry with them, form them, and to share as they move through life.

    I loved this post! I felt like I was sitting on a dusty porch with a tall glass of lemonade, watching the cars pass by, sharing stories with a friend about the good ol’ days. Fabulously written!

    • “I remember I fed a chickadee out of my hand and licked a banana slug.”

      Oh gosh! That is so lovely. It should be in a book. And like you, I was that girl with the hormones. I am sure my parents were relieved to have me head out to summer camp. I went for over 20 years, if you count the years that I worked as staff and then went back later to work at the Ladies Camp that occurred at the same location. That place holds my heart. I agree with you that summer camp teaches children so much about themselves. I know my son comes home a little more independent each August. And I know he holds some secrets — good ones — that he doesn’t have to share. I’m okay with it. Plus, I have my sources… ;-)

  4. Whoa, What a cool post. I have memories very similar to this post. My camp days were in the foothills of MO. I use those memories today here in Texas. Every time I drive through a small town, I try to see what that town had to offer back in its hay day. Oh how good that feels. Thank you Renee. I hope Tech is filling his mind with the same.

    • Hi Ray! I have a feeling that this experience is similar to many who camped. That was my intention anyway. Driving through those small towns to get to a favorite secluded place, well.. that was part of it, wasn’t it? I am sure Tech is digging his time at camp. He’s been gone for 11 days now, and we just got his first letter yesterday! He claims he can’t find his stamps and had to borrow. LOL!

  5. I feel as if I have just taken a wonderful, leisurely, exciting road trip. Beautifully written descriptions of a place that obviously holds many memories for you :-)

  6. Ah summer camp. How I miss thee. Actually, how I miss working for thee. While going away to summer camp as a camper was tons of fun, it does not beat working there. My kids have been going to camp since they were little, and will continue to do so. They will also be working at camp just like I did. It’s too good an experience to pass up.

    We drop off Thing 1 and 2 for about a month the last weekend in July. Thing 2 stays for a week, then comes home for Boy Scout Camp, then goes back for another week and a half. I know they are going to have some of the best times of their lives during this time. I know I did. I am hoping that next summer they, along with The Boss, will spend the entire summer up in the central Adirondacks just like I did as a kid.

    • Hi Eric! I loved both the experience as a camper and staff member. There was certainly a lot of romance in the air when I was a staff member that I was oblivious to when I was focused on water-skiing!

      I hope your Things have a wonderful time at camp this summer. It’s wonderful to feel like you are passing along a family tradition, even if it is a simple one like camping.

      Did you know that there are studies that show kids who have successful experiences at summer camp generally have an easier time transitioning from home to college? It’s true. And it makes sense when you think about it. They’ve already left home and dealt with all the nervous stuff and (hopefully) conquered it. Something for hovercraft parent to think about. ;-)

      • Don’t get me started on Camp romances. I’ve had more than my share. Actually, my parents met while working at camp. My brother and his wife met while working at the same camp. My family has a long tradition of meeting our spouses at camp.

        THANKS!!

        I believe it. I try to be as unobtrusive as possible to my kids. Not to say that I neglect them at all, but I think they need to try things and learn how to do things. My kids have always been the kind to not have a problem going with other people. They were the freaks in the nursery at church who actually WANTED to go with the “teachers”. Thing 2 learned how to use a sander and circular saw the other day. He wanted to give it a try. Who am I to deny my kids a learning experience? We’ve always been big on pushing our kids to do more and to learn as much as they can. We try to introduce as much culture as we can. We take them to DC to the Smithsonian, we’ve gone to shows on Broadway, we take day trips to Boston, New York, Providence, etc just to walk around.

  7. First off, this was fabulous, a perfect description of Americana, and anyone of us that has ever lived in a small town can relate and picture our own landmarks and restaurants and businesses. My kids have never gone to camps longer than a week. A month away will be an amazing experience for him!

    • Hi Steve. I have a feeling that most people who go to summer camp experience this. After all, you have to travel to get away from it all. I don’t think you have to go away for a month to get a lot out of the camping experience. You can make amazing memories in a week. I’m sure your kids do. And thanks for your kind words. I kind of love this piece.

  8. I can’t go back to the camp I went to as a kid. I’m too freaked out by the ghosts I “knew” were real. I think camps are great options for youth regardless. :)

    • August! We had three ghosts one year: Nola, Nilly and Nelly. But they were not real. They were designed to torture our counselors as we all screamed each time we “saw” them. It. Was. Awesome. I can’t believe you are going to ThrillerFest! Wish I had known! Have fun with Kristen and all the other fabulous bloggers!

  9. Excellent post! I only went once for two weeks when I was around 10. All I remember is some girl in our group stepping on a nest on the ground and suddenly we were swarmed by bees. I got stung on my leg and one of the counselors dragged me to the river and slapped mud on it. The girl that stepped on it ended up rolling around in the mud, screaming. So yeah. That was the last time I went to camp.

    My kids have never been but I’m sure they will soon enough. (Just praying there’ll be no bee incident)

    • Hi Darla! It’s amazing how a negative incident can color one’s experience. My husband had a canoe dropped on his toe one summer when he went to overnight camp, and that was it for him. I had to sell overnight camp to him for Tech. But now he loves it too, as it gives us time to reconnect with each other. I hope you’ll encourage your kiddies to give it a try.

  10. You made me cry! I miss camp oh so much.

  11. Love the post. Oh how I miss CSL. It has been quite a while since my last trip up which was eight or nine years ago. And actually on my last visit, I did stop at Lloyd’s and finally got my t-shirt. :) I have fond memories of the ride to camp. When we turned down Camp Road on the big yellow school bus, it was my signal that I was finally leaving the real world and entering the magical world of Camp. I looked forward to it every summer. Renee, is the fruit stand still there???

  12. I would LOVE to send my children to camp, have never been able to afford it. My kids went to a few hockey or soccer day camps, but never overnight. I went to overnight swim camp and Girl Scout camp, but nothing to die for. However, during college I worked at a summer camp a few years for wealthy NYC & NJ Jewish girls in the Berkshires in Mass where the same girls stayed for 8 weeks. Now THAT, that was home. I haven’t been able to go back in the 27 years since, but if I get in the vicinity on the Mass. Turnpike I get goosebumps and giddy. It was the most amazing time of my life. Just magical. That’s why I always wanted to send my kids. :(

    • Hi Madge! My camp offers “camperships” which help offset the cost of overnight camp for people who really want to send their kids but have financial hardship. I know many people who would not have been able to send their children were it not for this assistance.

      It sounds like you got a taste of camp many years ago. I know you aren’t Jewish (you said so in another post), so CSL might not be the best fit for your family, but I wonder if other camps don’t offer the same kind of thing. I know Frost Valley does, for sure. Google it! ;-)

  13. I bet after posting this the road is jammed up with blogger’s cars! :)
    Love the photo of you! I have not been back to any of the camps, but it would be a blast. I bet all kinds of memories would rush back…

    • The road will be jammed on Sunday for Visitor’s Day. That’s for sure. I got a letter from Tech, finally, in which he has listed his demands. “More shorts. And lots of candy, like Twizzlers, Mike & Ikes, Gummy Worms and anything you know I’d like.” ;-)

  14. This is such an amazing post, Renee! You took us right there with you. Except for the part where you didn’t stop at the wineries. Then you lost me. ;)

    As I mentioned to Tech, I never went to sleep away camp because I was too wimpy to leave home (and I’m not sure my parents would have paid for it – they spent their money on joining the pool club all my friends went to, LOL, and I spent EVERY DAY there swimming!).

    • You would have been so awesome at overnight camp. We would have sat on each other’s beds and exchanged stationery and laughed a lot. I’ll bet you would have had way better stationery. It probably would have had chipmunks all over it. But I would have kicked your butt in jacks. Just saying. ;-)

  15. I went to day camps a lot, but I only went to summer camp once when I was a kid. I’m not sure why. I was the total cliche. Didn’t want to go, hated it, then didn’t want to leave.

  16. I went to a one-week overnight camp when I was 10, 11 and 12. I got my period for the first time at the last one (see? my life is a cliche). I’d like to attend a one-month writing camp with all my writing friends. Can you arrange that? Will someone send me to camp?

    • You got your period at camp. That. Is. Horrifying. Although, one of my campers got hers and I taught her how to use tampons. That. Was. Truly. Horrifying. There is a very inappropriate story there which I’ll leave for the day I meet you in person. As far as sending you to camp, I just went to Florida. So now we have beds. Soon we will have places to sit. What do you think? Does that sound campy? ;-)

  17. I went to Boy Scout camp for a week one summer and hated it. I’m not really a camper. Give me something with a king-size bed.

    • There are king-size beds at summer camp. The mattresses are lumpy and smell like mold, like all the other beds They are reserved for the most important people, like the director. I’m not kidding.

      I think you mean “Give me a 5-star hotel, like The Ritz.” ;-)

  18. Okay, I was with you every inch of the ride. Even though it’s been 30 years since I last worked at camp (the one you mention on Seneca Lake) I know every inch of the route. I used to get excited as soon as I got into Geneva but now when I see the Thruway exit I have happy feelings inside as well. I will always, always, always “look at the corn” as Paul U. used to say, noting how the summer goes as quickly as the cornstalks get taller. And I realize what a lucky kid I was because my parents sent me to CSL! (Beautifully written, by the way.)

    • Hi Boots! I know you know that route. By heart. Sending me to camp was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me. Look at the lifetime friendships that come out of that place. Seriously. Do you think that happens at every overnight camp? Or is CSL just magic?

      • I’d like to think that CSL is the most magical of all camps but I have no proof. And what does it matter? Every child should get to spend time in a place they love, without parents, in the summer. And if they can’t afford it, the parents should look into camp scholarships because they are out there.
        BTW, I showed Jacki this blog and she loved, loved, loved it. It’s so neat that she gets it too. :)

        • I LOVE that you have such a deep connection with Jacki both as her mother but also a connection to such a special place that you both love so much. Tech and I have it, too.

          By the way, I looked for her today. I didn’t see her, but there were soooo many people. And everyone was in little nooks and crannies. Wish you were there, but — only four hours. So. Um, no.

  19. I worked at day camps for years (even up to the level of director) and absolutely LOVED them.

    But I never considered sending my kids.

    And as for overnight camp? They have no interest AT ALL which is a good thing since I kind of wouldn’t want them to go.

    I know. I’m lame. They’re missing out.
    Still. I have them for only a relatively short period of time and I want to keep them here as long as I can.

    Have I mentioned my kids will probably live at home until they’re 30?
    Yeah. I’m a total enable. Oops.

    p.s. I love the way you crafted this post with the directions, Renee. Just perfect.

    • Julie: I’m surprised that you never sent the kids to camp. There are all kinds of studies that show kids who go to overnight camp have a more successful transition to college because they have already done the whole, “Omigosh, I’m leaving home. I might die” thing. And then they don’t. Usually.

  20. We went to Girl Scout camp every summer for 2 weeks when we were kids, and I don’t know if I want to go back. Because of that whole “You can’t go back again” cliche, which happens to be very true. I don’t want to tarnish the memories.

    Besides, child-Peg thought the place was at the other end of time, instead of where it really is, not even 2 hours away.

    • I went back for a reunion which was beyond fabulous. But, you’re right: it isn’t exactly the same. and in my life, I’m surrounded by my closest camp buds. Which is fabulous. I’m pretty lucky in that wecareca pretty tight community.

  21. I didn’t go to summer camp when I was a kid. But then I grew up in a tiny town in the Adirondack mountains which was kind of like living in summer camp anyway. I have one son who is now 23. I did send him to day camp in the summer which had a one-night camp out. He loved it.

    Oh, and BTW, Susie sent me. I went to her party yesterday and saw your post. This was fun to read, especially since I know the area – my sister lives in Palmyra. I’ll be back!

  22. My fondest memories of childhood include summer camp! There is no place or experience like it. Some of the best friends I have in the wold were made at camp, and I can honestly say that it’s the place where I felt like my most genuine and true self – even visiting as an adult.
    I’ve been singing camp songs and telling camp stories to my kids (3 & 5) since they were born….I would LOVE for them to spend summers on Lake Meta in the great north woods!

  23. I don’t have any children, but if I did – and if there were camps like this in the UK (there might be a few, but it’s not a tradition here like it is in America, to send your kids away in the summer or whenever) – I probably would let them go. To my mind, the more natural the activities the better these days with kids so glued to the internet and online games.

    • Val! Did I know you are in the UK? So is Penny, one of my most beloved commenters who has been with me from the start. I’m with you: kids need outdoor summer camp more than ever to unplug! Mine looks forward to it each summer. He counts the days, and he doesn’t consider it punishment! I hope the connections he makes there last a lifetime! Mine have. I got your email, by the way. Soooo happy you have started a new blog!

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