Looking Forward And Back

By Silvana Clark

Many Camp Business readers weren’t even born when I was a counselor in 1972 and 1973 at Forest Home Christian Conference Center in Southern California. I worked in Indian Village, complete with teepees, a council fire and my Indian name, Silver Moon. For two summers, my life revolved around my new identity as camp-counselor extraordinaire. (I really was in my element!)

Fast forward to the summer of 2009, when my daughter (formerly known as Sondra) officially joined Forest Home staff as Moonbeam. I was fortunate to spend a few days with her at camp, inwardly laughing at how similar we were as counselors. Thirty-five years after I made my debut, my daughter enthusiastically led games, handled counselor squabbles, and cooked dinner in aluminum pouches, just as I did. There were, however, a few changes from when I was a counselor (and had fewer wrinkles.)

Safety Precautions
Silver Moon’s experience:
In the early 1970s, we covered the basic safety issues and had a lifeguard for free swim. We expected counselors to know where their campers were, but things were fairly relaxed otherwise. We took evening hikes over rocky terrain without flashlights, and never carried a first-aid kit. Of course, the campers wore flimsy flip-flops! Lunch frequently consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with no thought to peanut allergies. If we remembered, kids were urged to wash their hands before meals. No one wore safety helmets when participating in adventure activities like climbing logs and swinging from ropes.

Moonbeam’s experience:
Safety is a prime concern. Moonbeam has even had to pull lifeguard duty when campers sat around the pool for underwater basket weaving. Safety helmets and harnesses are used on any type of rope swing or adventure course. Industrial-sized hand sanitizers are attached to trees, and Moonbeam wears gloves to serve meals. Camp is totally peanut-free, so kids get sandwiches with sunflower-seed oil. Moonbeam even had to get a food handler’s permit.

Camper Medication
Silver Moon’s Experience:
What meds? Every camp needs a nurse, and Indian Village was no exception. Our nurse kept busy treating scraped knees (because we took evening hikes without flashlights) and tummy aches due to homesickness. A stockpile of Band-Aids and a friendly smile were her two “meds.” Only a few children required any type of medicine on a regular basis. If I remember correctly, the nurse occasionally dispensed pink, chewable “baby” aspirin, which isn’t even on the market today.

Moonbeam’s Experience:
The nurse’s teepee resembles a well-stocked pharmacy. Along with handing out Band-Aids and smiles, she dispenses a variety of medications throughout the day. Extensive record-keeping assures parents their child receives the medication he or she needs. Most surprising is how little stigma is attached to taking pills. During group gatherings, frequent announcements of “Would the following campers go to the nurse’s teepee to get their meds …” I remember being at a conference recently where a camp director said that during some weeks, one-third of his campers are on medication.

A Break From Technology
Silver Moon’s Experience:
Our one telephone--which we seldom used--had a rotary dial. Long-distance calls were expensive, so we treasured writing and receiving actual letters in envelopes.

Moonbeam’s Experience:
“Mom!” exclaims my astonished daughter. “There’s no cell-phone coverage here. We don’t have Internet access! What will I do?” The one land-line phone requires a calling card, which again is a new experience for cell-savvy teens. She survived.

Separate The Sexes
Silver Moon’s Experience:
I lived with seven other female counselors in one cabin with two bedrooms and one bathroom. Boys were strictly forbidden from being inside our cabin, except for our weekly coed staff meetings. It wouldn’t have occurred to us to have a male in our cabin living room. That just wasn’t done.

Moonbeam’s Experience:
She lives in a cabin with seven other female staff with two bathrooms. The first time I called the cabin and a boy answered, I asked (rather curtly), “What are you doing in the girl’s cabin?” He explained he wasn’t doing anything wrong, since guys were allowed in the main living area of the cabin. Male counselors hang out in my daughter’s cabin! Shock! “We’re not allowed in their bedrooms, though,” he assured me.

Some Things Never Change: Silliness Rules!
Silver Moon’s Experience:
Camp would not be camp without counselors performing skits involving slapstick humor and gross elements. My specialty was the “Banana Bandana Skit.” Each week, I’d pretend to do a magic trick with an incompetent assistant standing behind me. He was supposed to pick up a bandana and cut it in half. Instead, he picked up a banana and cut that in half, to the delight of the screaming campers. Let’s just say the skit ended with my assistant smearing a banana all over my head.

Moonbeam’s Experience:
Moonbeam appears in front of the group and announces she is going to do a magic trick. Her incompetent assistant stands behind her. He’s supposed to pick up a bandana and cut it in half. Instead, he picks up a banana and cuts that in half, to the delight of the screaming campers. The skit ends with the assistant smearing a banana all over her head. Thirty-five years later and that skit is still getting rave reviews.

And the last thing that hasn’t changed in 35 years:
As parents drop off their precious campers, they say, “We love you. Now be very careful!”

Counselors, on the other hand, say, “Go for it! You can do it! Climb higher! Run faster! Swim deeper! Do that skit! Jump off that blob! Swing on the giant rope! Hold your breath for the Polar Bear swim! Take that risk!”

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at silvanac@msn.com.