15 May 2017

Camp

"I'm a Red Red Raider
A health crusader
March on boys and girls 
Follow me!"

Half the counsellors at Red Raider Camp lived in the local area. The other half lived on site. I found myself sleeping in a big red cabin in a clearing in the woods with just one other counsellor - Chris from Poland near Youngstown. He was the specialist art counsellor and he was pursuing an arts education degree at Kent State University. Our cabin could have accommodated six others but happily there was just me and him. It was very peaceful there with a toilet block and hot showers just a few yards away.

That first Saturday night we drove out to a local bar - Skip and Ray's - in Chris's Ford Mustang. We downed a couple of pitchers of draught beer and when I crawled into  bed back in the red cabin I believe I muttered, "God, I'm pissed!" A few days later Chris said he had stayed awake for a while that night wondering what had made me so angry ("pissed"), not realising that in Britain "pissed" simply means drunk. When we are angry or annoyed we say "pissed off".
Cheese!  In 1976 with The Wyandottes
On the Monday morning the campers arrived in big yellow school busses. The weather was lovely and warm as it seemed to be throughout that summer. Former US marine Roman and his wife Rosie got all the kids lined up in front of the outdoor stage above which a star spangled banner hung limply in the summer stillness.

He made a few logistical announcements and welcomed everyone back to camp. Then, much to my amazement, all assembled counsellors and campers put hands on hearts and uttered in unison The American Pledge  of Allegiance:-
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for 
which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
It all seemed very alien to me and again I wondered what the hell I was doing there. Such habitual declarations of national commitment are almost non-existent in Great Britain. It had been years since "God Save the Queen" marked the end of BBC television broadcasting each night.

With my co-counsellor Randy, we gathered The Wynadottes together and led them to their base in the woods. There were a lot of excited little boys - mostly happy to be at summer camp though one or two of them were quiet and anxious. Our base was an open-fronted wooden shelter with pegs where the boys could hang their coats and bags. When no specialist activities were timetabled we would always come back here.

In the weeks that followed I watched the boys swimming and horse-riding. They learnt to play tennis and went canoeing. Back at camp in our free time, we tidied up the clearing in front of our  shelter and brought in logs that would act as little stools. We built a tree house together with a ladder we bound with strips of bark. And we went off deep into the woods to play hide and seek. Behind the camp's buildings and lake there were many acres of natural woodland - hardly explored since Native Americans padded there in moccasins long ago.
Summer of 1977 - with The Arapahos
I don't remember the names of all the boys but there was CJ and Billy and Peter and Ricky and identical twins - one of whom was also called Chris. They were mostly good, healthy lads with nice manners - not spoilt American brats. We had lunch together each day in the camp's dining room - sloppy joes with cartons of milk and hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches followed by water melon or ice cream. Sometimes there were hamburgers or bowls of cheesy macaroni.

I found myself relaxing into the job and enjoying the rhythm of those summer days. It was great fun and at the end of every day the kids went home. However after a month or so, Roman told me that it was The Wyandottes' turn to camp out overnight in the back woods. We would take tents there and food for a cook out. It would be a great learning experience for the boys.

We set up our camp about a mile from Red Raider deep in the woods by a little stream and all was going well. Evening was approaching and Randy and I were in the middle of making corned beef hash over the campfire. The boys had been give a little free time and I could hear a few of them laughing and yelling down in the hollow where the little stream ran.

Then there was a sudden quietness followed by shouts of alarm. I sped down to the hollow and discovered that one of the identical twins in the group had been hit by a stone right in the middle of his forehead. A little stream of blood was gushing out like a jet of water from a tap. It was shocking. I pulled my handkerchief from my pocket and pressed it over the wound to staunch the bleeding.

Understandably the boy, Chris,  felt very faint. We didn't have a first aid box and in my panic I knew we had to get the lad back to the main camp as quickly as we could. Of course in those days nobody had mobile phones (American: cell phones) so it was impossible to call for help. I got two big straight branches and we tied coats and towels to them to make a stretcher. Then, leaving Randy in charge of the camp and the corned beef hash I carried little Chris back to the main camp buildings with John who was  our assigned teenage helper and a couple of volunteer Wynadottes.

My arms have never ached so much but we managed to stumble back to the camp telephone with our makeshift stretcher and our injured warrior. I phoned his parents and they sped out to camp to pick their son up. There was no blame, no legal recrimination. The parents were grateful about the way we had acted and accepted it had just been an unfortunate accident. Little Chris recovered and was back in camp the following week sporting a couple of stitches. This made it easier to tell him apart from his identical sibling.

Next instalment - "Leisure" in which I write about things that happened in my free time - when not in my counsellor role

26 comments:

  1. This is great! I can't wait for the next installment!

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    1. Pleased you're enjoying it Jennifer.

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  2. what a handsome young man. lol
    Briony
    x

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    1. Hang on - what's the "lol" for Briony?

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  3. Those were the days YP - it all sounds so lovely with none of the accompanying red tape there would be these days.

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    1. You're right there Mrs T. Our only target was to give those boys a good time.

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  4. I wonder what all those little boys are doing now. I bet they remember their English camp counsellor. It all sounds a lot of fun.

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    1. I hope they remember me. Back then very few foreigners made it to the back woods of Ohio and for nearly all of them I was the first European person they had ever met. It was the same with my fellow counsellors.

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  5. Well, thank goodness the rock-throwing injury wasn't more severe! Kids can find ways to do the darnedest things to themselves. (And each other.)

    The Pledge of Allegiance, as you probably know, is routinely said at the beginning of nearly every school day and every public meeting in the United States. It IS very weird. I used to do it automatically as a child and only when I became an adult did I realize how strange it is to demand that children recite a loyalty oath every single day. When I was a teenager and acknowledging my atheist tendencies I began omitting the "under God" phrase -- my own subversive personal protest. But funny that it never occurred to me not to say the pledge at all!

    That kid in the baseball player shirt in the top picture -- my brother had that SAME shirt. JC Penney!

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    1. Being an alien, I never made the pledge but if I had I would have finished it with -"with liberty and justice for SOME."

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  6. Very much enjoying this!

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    1. Thanks. That makes the effort of writing it worthwhile "e".

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  7. It sounds like you truly enjoyed that job, YP. It wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea but you were the kind of leader that little kids need. Did your experiences at camp lead to (or solidify) your decision to teach?

    Very resourceful to make a stretcher from things at hand. Well done.

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    1. I already knew I was going to be a teacher. Being at Red Raider simply confirmed that I was good with kids and enjoyed their company.

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  8. Genuinely interesting accounts and enjoyable reading. (Commiserations by the way for the other thing).

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    1. What other thing Philip? You have confused me.

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    2. A reference to Association Football.

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  9. Thanks for this YP - very interesting.
    In my teens I had an American pen-friend who seemed to spend each summer in a Camp. I had absolutely no idea what she meant, other than assuming she spent a few nights under canvas - like Girl Guides! She could never grasp that in the UK we didn't have such things, and never explained what Summer Camp actually meant. It was some years later that I saw a film set in a typical Summer Camp, and realised what it was all about !

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    1. For wealthy Americans it used to be taken as read that their children would visit summer camps each year. It was just part og growing up.

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  10. I enjoyed this... And the photos of you in your gay t shirts!

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    1. You need to visit Specsavers. Those are butch Clint Eastwood T-shirts!

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  11. Adrenaline certainly would have been flowing and concern at a fiver pitch when that little kid was hurt. But, thankfully, from the quick actions, all ended up well.

    It was a terrific experience, not only for the kids, but for you, too; one I'm sure left you with many wonderful memories.

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    1. You are right there Lee. I felt very much at home in America and I have often thought I could easily have lived there but it wasn't to be as the next post will indicate.

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  12. The pledge of allegiance is one we don't see in Canada although I know we have a pledge of allegiance. The pledge of allegiance wouldn't be for me as I take it as automatic that I live in my country and I support it.

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    1. It's the same in England. We don't need to make a pledge. It's automatic as you say.

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  13. So, I enjoyed the retelling of this wonderful story, Mr. Pudding. But how did you get to be camp counselor when you were from the UK? I would have liked to have known you then.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.