Tag Archives: breaking the rules

Overnight Camp: A Kiss and Tell Account

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Summer camp was the best gift my parents ever gave me. At overnight camp, everyone shared clothes, shaving cream, stationery, and secrets. There were no locks: only doors that creaked and banged to announce comings and goings. On Friday nights, I sat at a fire-circle facing the quiet lake, chanting prayers and singing songs in Hebrew: songs, which, until then, had felt strange and foreign to me.

At camp, everything made sense, and when I linked arms with my friends, I felt a peaceful connection to nature as if G-d had fashioned a golden cord that started from the sun, zig-zagged over to the stars, dropped down to earth, and connected every one and every thing. All at once, I wanted to stay there forever.

In 1979, I was 11-years-old. Our camp director invited a bunk of boys and girls to his cabin for a “special” evening program. It was dark outside and the yellow glow from a single bug light cast strange shadows over everyone’s faces. I remember sitting outside his cabin, the one with the peeling paint, feeling excited. Expectant.

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Click photo to see other work by Sonia Poli

When the director emerged, he carried an empty wine bottle tucked under his arm. He explained the rules of a game called Spin-the-Bottle. Before that night, outside of relatives, I’d never kissed a boy my own age before.

After what seemed like hours, the bottle pointed at me. Shimmying to the center of the grassy circle on my knees, I leaned in toward my partner and when our lips met, I gave his bottom lip a little tug with my teeth. He pulled away from me, looking terrified.

“What happened?” somebody asked.

“She bit me!” The leery recipient of my wonky kiss moved back to his place in the circle where he checked to see if I’d drawn blood.

Later, when we girls laid in the darkness atop skinny mattresses, we dished about the game, rehashing who had smelled nice and who had the worst breath and who we wouldn’t mind kissing again. If we had to.

Don’t get me wrong.

It wasn’t appropriate.

But it was fun.

Looking back at the summers of my youth with an adult sensibility, I see how the tail end of the 70’s “free-love” ideology contributed to a climate and culture that became unsafe for campers and staff and, in some ways, that carefree mentality precipitated the desire, perhaps even the need, for the tedious forms we parents have to complete today.

But for a little while, it worked.

Once upon a time, overnight camp was a place where it was okay to be a wee bit naughty.

No one cared if we scribbled our names on cabin walls.

Or if we snuck into canteen to eat a few extra candy bars.

If we showered during a thunderstorm.

Or if we practiced kissing.

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Mmmm.

I suppose I’ll always feel nostalgic about the summers of my youth. For a few weeks, we got lost in a kind of magic.

Nature provided the perfect backdrop: the lake sparkled in the sun; blackberries hung from bushes heavy and ripe, waiting to be picked and shared; leafy trees rustled in the darkness as we hurried down dusty roads toward something that felt close to love.

Without television, email or Internet, we really were cut off from the outside world. Together, we pretended time was standing still even though we knew it was racing forward. Is it any wonder we fell into each other with our mouths wide open, without asking questions?

What do you remember about summer camp? And if you didn’t go, do you wish you did?

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{NOTE: Sunday, my son left for 7 weeks at overnight camp. He’d better not do any of the things I did. Also, I’m joining the peeps at Yeah Write. Such a great community. Come check us out.}

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