February 5, 2010
One of my favorite childhood vacations
I'm not content to just write about a fond memory it seems. Is it the period in my life, age, that makes me analyze my past and question why I have a fond memory of that experience? Maybe everyone does this at all ages, but when I stack up memories over so many years, I begin to see a pattern in what makes me happy. And that seems to be why I've unknowingly sought out similar experiences throughout my life.
One of the most fond memories I have as a child is attending summer camp at Camp J.I.M. (Jesus Is Mine) by Brainerd, MN. And yes, the wooden water slide was a thrill at that young age! It was like riding a long wooden roller coaster on a board with metal wheels down into the water. One objective was to see how far we could skip across the water on the board.
As a young boy in elementary school, this place had special meaning to me. After the first year, I wanted to go back again and again. Why? Because it was an adventure away from home. Because It was an experience of independence from my parents, and from the routine that had established itself at home; going to school, doing homework, playing in the already familiar settings. But familiarity wasn't bad, because I loved the familiarity of the place. After a couple of years attending the week-long camp, it became like a second home, and that made it more special.
Summer camp was also where I learned how to swim. Obviously at a summer camp on a lake in MN, swimming is a big part of the daily activities. The older kids were models of what rewards came with learning to swim. The swimmers who could swim well enough and pass a test, could also swim out to the diving tower, anchored not to far out, but far enough that you had to know how to swim. By the end of the first week, me and my friends all managed to get out to the tower. The motivation was to be one of the one's who met the requirements, passed the test, and seen as a swimmer, not a non-swimmer, confined to the shallow end.
I also learned about many other interesting things, like the value of working hard, no matter what the job. We all had to do kitchen duty, which meant scraping the plates into the slop bucket. Even almost 40 years ago, I was thrilled to know that our scraps were not going to waste, but being fed to the local farm pigs. Somehow that made the job more fun for me and gave it purpose. My history has shown me that I am way more motivated by things with purpose. When many kids tried to get out of their duties, I even volunteered.
At Camp JIM, I also had my first exposure to a blind person in a wheel chair. He was an amazing man who played guitar and sang and had the spirit of God in him like nobody I ever knew. His awareness and smile made me feel special and alive. I learned that physical handicaps did not have to be a barrier to happiness. One day I was playing shuffleboard by myself and he came rolling by. I'm sure he heard the whir of the little clay disk zipping across the concrete, because he stopped to talk to me, his head cocked, smile wide, as if he was seeing me with his ears. He didn't ask me if there was anyone else there. He asked me my name, and if I was having fun.
I also learned compassion for other people and the value of friendship. At summer camp the pranks were never ending it seemed. I learned did not want to participate in pranks that embarrassed other kids. I did such a prank exactly once and my best friend was so mortified he would not talk to me. I spent the rest of camp and my life remembering the trust that friendship requires. When we reveal our inner fears and dreams to others, we need to feel like we will not be betrayed to those that would take advantage of us or mock us. Real friendship implies a deeper level of trust than we have with people we work with, go to school with or meet in our daily lives. Perhaps more than anything it was the friends that made summer camp so special.
There are many more experiences at this camp that are good memories, like the campfires, the singing and the learning. Someday I should write down all of my memories of summer camp. Maybe I should revisit this camp some day, since it is still there, giving kids memorable lifetime experiences. I have a feeling many of my favorite memories will be felt by other kids in the same way.