By Rebecca Root
Glorious summer sunshine in a Pennsylvania valley, a whole host of new friends, amazing kids and a four-month US visa; does a summer get any better than this? As a young person traveling alone, a summer as a camp counsellor was a perfect way for me to see a different place and meet some great people.
I met Aussies and Americans, Chileans and Colombians, Israelis and Dominicans, plus a whole host of fellow Brits. These people became my family for the summer and many of them remain my all-time besties. They were there for my ultimate highs and the lowest of the lows, whether that was dancing on tables in the hillbilly bar or getting caught stashing an un-kosher pizza into the bunk.
New friends and great weather are just some of the perks of the job; there are also the not-so-perky points, like the early morning wake-ups and diabetes inducing food. However, the after-hours adventures made it all worthwhile. Think hitchhiking, skinny-dipping, shot drinking, ER visiting, local chatting, flag stealing… the list goes on.
One night a week we would be taken to a local bar. Outside this wooden shack hung a luminous “open” sign while inside it was small and rustic, dark and dingy. The jukebox sat in the corner, a deer’s head hung from the wall, and chilling at the bar were a few locals sporting heavy mustaches and white vest tops, a major stereotype.
Full of energy we would rock up, run straight to the bar and, high on life – everyone would be dancing on tables to DJ Dennis’s raving tunes in no time. But after a few hours it was time to get back on that bus and there was always one who missed it by seconds facing the dreaded walk back through the woods.
Missing curfew could mean big trouble if you were caught by the camp director, but there’s no doubt that the highlight of his week was watching the nervous, and not-so-sober counsellors stumble down to HQ giving their best performance of sobriety.
Most people managed to conceal the dozen jello shots they had had, but there were always a few whose catatonic state slipped them up. There was the time John underestimated the distance to the bathroom and peed on a sleeping camper; the time James woke the next morning in the wrong bunk, and in the wrong bed; and who could forget the night Sam sat outside bunk 12 wailing as he confessed his undying love to the goat.
These were just the nights off; the days off took such shenanigans to a whole other level.
The days off
Each Saturday a taxi would cram 20 of us into the 12-seater to take us to the nearest town. Here there was only a Walmart, a movie theatre and a McDonald’s, but never underestimate the fun a group of international youths can have. We’d cram in the food, raid the supermarket and stay in the dodgiest motels just to get a lie in.
On one occasion, desperate to relax in the sun and swim in clean water instead of the spider-infested lake, a few of us decided to seek out the town’s outdoor pool. Unsure how to get there we got the thumbs out and hitchd a ride. Stupid idea. A semi-naked 40-year-old farmer was delighted to pile us into his pickup truck.
We got there safely, averting his suggestive comments and enjoyed a day in the sunshine until it was time to return to camp. For hours we stood on the deserted road doing our best to cadge a lift. Just when we had begun to give up hope a family of four pulled up. Tand they couldn’t have been more “super excited” to meet four Brits. The friendly family were so enthused by our accents that daddy driver lost concentration and crashed into a lamppost. Despite the clunking sound coming from the bonnet, he refused to stop, intent on getting us to our destination. Shaken up by the day’s catastrophes we were relieved when finally the green hills speckled with white bunks appeared in the distance.
Other counsellors’ days off followed a similar pattern of chaos. Trips to the ER with trampoline injuries and escorts back to camp with state troopers after crashing golf carts.
But it wasn’t the run-ins with the emergency services that generated the most gossip at camp. It was the summer romances. With little else to talk about rumours flew from bunk to bunk speculating on the latest hook-ups.
The hook ups
The camp director often went on the hunt for out-of-bed counselors only to find numerous couples shacked up in the art room, getting frisky by the lake or canoodling backstage. It became such a regular occurrence that he soon opted out of his midnight walk and left the flurry of summer love hanging in the air.
Of course that didn’t stop the rumour mill. There were the break ups and make-ups, the drunken hook-ups and the next-day denials. Oh yes, camp romances provided a hell of a lot of entertainment but, while a lot of these were just summer time flings born out of proximity and more often than not camp goggles, many a couple have made their “summer lovin” last.
So, while families back home assume that the summer of a camp counselor is spent running after crazy kids and working yourself to the ground, they wouldn’t be wrong but there really is so much more to the summer camp experience. The wild Wednesday bar runs and silly Saturday shenanigans are something we should probably keep under wraps though.