When I was 13 in 1984, my parents sent me off to summer camp for a week. The camp was about a 30 minute drive from my house, but it may as well have been a plane ride away, as this was the first time I’d been away from home for that long.
It was a church camp called Kenesserie, a name derived partially for its location on Lake Erie, and run by the United Church. It had a religious connection, which may or may not have set me down the path of believing nothing that comes from organized religion. It didn’t bother me at the time as I was too young and stupid to have an issue with the church affiliation.
With my super fussy eating habits, my mom was concerned that I would have enough to eat during the week. Along with a few t-shirts and shorts, I had an entire bag full of snacks and junk food. Surviving on chips and M&Ms and having parental approval to eat sugar all week is the dream of every teenage kid. I recall the bag containing the junk food as being larger than the bag of clothes. Who needs clothes at a church camp, right?
After my parents left following check-in, I recall walking over to the 10-metre cliff behind my cabin, my shelter for the week. The drop-off to the lake might only have been three metres, but everything seems larger when you’re a kid. Anyway, strung down the steep bank was a large rope to help us clumsy campers from taking a nasty fall. I’m sure my parents thought I might just throw myself off the cliff, because that’s a sure way to start the week off right. And to get out of assigned cleaning duty.
I survived that early brush with death to be able to score the prime bunk in the cabin: the upper bunk right behind the door. It provided the most privacy as long as your hands weren’t hanging over the edge of the bed when someone entered the cabin by slamming the door into the side of the bunk. That was every time. Even with that risk (because a good risk of death or at least broken bones by falling off the cliff wasn’t enough), it was the coveted spot. And it was all mine.
The week consisted of the usual church camp stuff: archery, capture the flag, raiding the hot girl’s cabin. Every day started with a prayer and Rice Krispies cereal. Every damn morning. Either Kellogg’s sponsored the breakfast or the camp got a bulk deal. After a week of eating the same thing every morning, I was about ready to Snap, Crackle and Pop. That was the start of each day. The day ended with the campers gathered around a flag pole for a prayer and a campfire at the outdoor chapel overlooking Lake Erie.
One day the counsellors took us on a field trip down the beach, after descending the cliff rope of doom. The counsellors made us use the rope, rather than just chucking our teen bodies down to the rocky shoreline. That’s just poor leadership. Walking east from the camp, we checked out an old shipwreck. I’m not sure what was more intriguing, the rotting old boat or the bloated dog carcass lapping unceremoniously against the rocks. We weren’t allowed to bring the dog back to camp for some religious miracle to bring the dog back to life.
This happened in 1984, the year Van Halen’s album 1984 was released. In 1984. The two counsellors assigned to my cabin apparently had just one tape with them, as us campers were subjected to ‘Panama’ and ‘Jump’ on endless repeat. It didn’t turn me into a Van Halen fan. I know, I’m amazed, too. Because a “metal” band using keyboards backing a singer that the very next year would sing ‘Just a Gigolo’ should make a lasting impression.
I guess this week at camp left some sort of impression on me as I remember a lot of details for something that happened 30 years ago. And, again, I usually can’t remember a damn thing.