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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Escape From Camp Ojibwa

By Terry Hamburg of boomer to you

"I beg you, pleeease don't ship me off again."

My mother would bristle. "You're not being 'shipped off,' young man. It’s a summer camp. Everyone goes to summer camp."

Everyone did. It was a suburban ritual. It was supposed to build character and camaraderie. Oh yes, it also gave parents a much-needed break for a month.

I hated summer camp. This one was 150 miles from home in the middle of a mosquito-infested forest. I never learned to swim and hated the water. I hated sleeping in a funky, smelling cabin or worse, lying outdoors at night as bait for armies of creepy crawlies.

I hated the “food.” I hated the stupid crafts. I hated the heat. I wanted my comfortable bed, my dog, my air-conditioning, my pork chops and mashed potatoes and Hoody Doody.

As a last resort, I played the "concentration camp" card, but it was dangerous. As expected, Mom exploded.

It was a particularly humid, mosquito-infested summer in southern Wisconsin that year. After two weeks on Devil's Island, I plotted my escape.

I brought $2 with me and didn't spend any of my camp allowance on candy bars. I left a note on my bunk: "Gone Home," so they wouldn't think I was kidnapped or lost, and headed to the highway one mile away.

I stuck out my thumb and got lucky. Not only did a car stop in 10 minutes, I got someone who didn't kill me.

“I need to get out here,” I explained. “I’m at a camp where everybody is mean to me and I want to go home.”

The man said he had a similar experience when he was a kid. He was driving a new Hudson, let me listen to any radio stations I wanted and use the push-button changer. I hadn’t seen a push-button changer before.

He was headed to Springfield, Illinois, and drove me all the way home to Joliet. Well, one block away. The man said he was afraid he would get into trouble for giving me a ride and didn't want to be identified. I assured him I would never reveal any details.

Mom was furious. "Go to your room immediately and don't come out till I tell you. You are grounded, young man. You are not going anywhere!"

Just as I planned. Back to the good life.I never went to camp again. And I still can't swim.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a fantastic story! Thanks!

Terry - This was great!

My summer camp days (ca 12 years old) on Cape Cod were a bit different. Always a breeze, thus no mosquitoes. I also hated activities that took place in the water, but I loved the ones hat took place on top of it.

The closest I came to your escape, was sneaking out of the cabin from time to time and trekking a mile down the beach to buy a pack of 'Old Golds'. (Interestingly, except for a brief bout with a 'pipe', I haven't smoked since!) - Sandy

Ah the days of summer camp, something a lot of us had to go through. I just had to sit down after reading yours and write mine down. You jogged my memories, thanks and also for the funny story.

My mom was going to send me to camp one year and I cried so hard she relented and canceled my reservation. I have never regretted my successful teary wails.

The Camp Ojibwa I know of is in Northern Wisconsin, and not on 'Devil's Island' (can't tell if that's the actual name or just a nickname you gave it since you... hated it.)

Do you remember who the director of the camp was?

Wow, always shocked by people who didn't like camp, maybe a month is too long...I was a Herald Tribune Fresh Air Fund kid, three years at a "private family" in Pa..for two weeks each visit..they were Mennonite's, who knew? It was wonderful..they lived in a tiny, tiny town that was getting massive work down for Interstate, it was the 40s..and then for ages 9 & l0, I went to camp...they are some of my best childhood memories..nowadays they cannot get enough parents to occupy private families or camps..fear of strangers, safety, etc..I did learn to swim, make friends quickly with total strangers, trust adults who were also strangers..make beautiful creative art things and sing goofy songs..maybe it's the stranger thing and everyone feels equal or something..best of all in l970 when we bought a brand new $4000 volkswagen camper with tent, we went to Pa..I had told my husband about Elverston Road and family and we went to tiny grocery store and the man hardly looked surprised when I asked about the Beilers..he called them, they said come on over, three minutes away and it wss quite a reunion with my 3 little kids, then 6/5/4..my picture was on wall with hundreds of other kids from the big city..Mrs. Beiler remembered that I had bad allergies but still loved the farming chores and shelling the peas...I never had luck in my social service jobs trying to get overwhelmed parents to let their kids go to camp, not with the Moms and not with most kids either...thanks for reminding me of those peaceful days.."Old Golds" another story entirely...made me chuckle...

I remember a day camp for Brownies & we had to make this gosh awful stew in a coffee can. It was invariably burnt or underdone. Many mosquitos too...

I never had the opportunity to go to camp. Too Bad!

We were not rich enough and, we were also not poor enough. I would have loved to have tried it.

I loved your story. It was a breath of fresh air...

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