Saturday, March 21, 2015

Summer Camp Part II

My second year as camp counselor was in stark contrast to the first. As much as I felt an outcast and inept the first year, I felt a sense of belonging and (to use a portmanteau one of my co-counselors, "Screech Owl" invented) hardcawesomeness that summer. It was a summer of zaniness and adventure, community and pranks. In fact, Screech Owl was so keen on pranks that I was certain we had gone too far by midweek.

My favourite prank was the day we were in charge of the evening campfire. We marched our campers down to the firepit while the rest of the camp was indoors for the after-lunch siesta. There, we dug out the firepit deep enough for Screech to huddle in, depositing the charred gravel in the surrounding trees and stashing some kindling for later. During evening game time, we concealed Screech in the pit with planks of wood and crumpled newspaper. Anybody could see that it was a terribly built fire, but it wouldn't need to burn.

The perfect disguise
We left Screech in his cramped situation and rejoined the camp, impatiently trying to hurry people to and through vespers (the reverential pre-campfire gathering on a hilltop). He was probably in there for at least an hour. Finally I got people settled around the campfire. As Screech and I had planned, I told everyone we'd be starting with a song before we lit the fire, which was abnormal practice. Between this unexpected pre-fire song, the newly strewn ashes all around the firepit, and Screech's glaring absence from his own campfire, some of the counselors began to be suspicious.

As prearranged, I ran through the song once, and then had everyone join in for the second time through. It was a familiar song, but I had them sing it to the tune of "Solidarity Forever." On the last note of the second run-through, Screech rose out of the fire like a zombie clawing through the earth, with campers and counselors alike gasping and applauding. With a little help, we hastily rebuilt the fire and were back on track before long.

The tune was the second part of the prank; we sang every single song that campfire to "Solidarity Forever." It had been fun leafing through the camp songbooks earlier in the day and determining which lyrics could be squeezed into the melody. There was a good deal of grumbling by the end of campfire, but I think the initial firepit surprise kept people from outright rioting.

Aside from pranks, we also infused the week with as much random zaniness as possible, like the tarp we rigged up as an enormous kite and flew occasionally while the rest of the camp was indoors for the midday rest time.

My least favourite prank was the one that I thought went too far. Most counselors read to their cabins once the campers were settled in their beds, in an effort to keep them quiet and preferably drift off. After lights-out one night, I went to Screech's cabin to tell his campers a ghost story that involved terrifying noises coming from the floor, and the gruesome scene that was subsequently discovered beneath the floorboards in daylight. Meanwhile, my entire cabin of girls was funneled silently into a secret trapdoor that led to space underneath the cabin known only to Screech and his cabinmate. When the campers were safely in, I wrapped up my story and retreated to a nearby bench where I could watch the cabin door.

Horror and ghost stories are anathema to me. As a young camper myself, I would either cover my ears when these stories were told, or endure long-lasting terror whenever daylight faded. Watching the cabin door and hearing the mounting fear inside as my girls scratched at the floor, I no longer felt like it was a harmless prank. Unfortunately, the camp director chose that time to walk by where I was sitting suspiciously in the pitch black of the summer night as if it were a sunny day at the park.

She didn't have to try hard to winkle the situation out of me. I'm not sure how they managed it, but somewhere between the director storming into the cabin and the cabin counselors distracting her, my girls filed out silently and slipped back into their own cabin unseen. They had enjoyed every moment of it.

The next dawn at the counselors' meeting, Screech recounted the evening escapade with a little too much jollity, while I tried to express some of the deep apology that I felt. The director expressed her opinion in a very measured tone before she rose and stalked silently out of the building. I was expecting nothing short of being fired.

By the end of the week, though, the camp director had come around and asked me to come back for an extra camp later in the summer beyond my originally scheduled weeks. I went home with a multitude of fun memories, and the knowledge that this time at least, I had helped give my campers some fun memories as well.

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