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May 13, 2024

Camp Songs

By Harvey Silverman

The building, the bunk, was rectangular, long and somewhat narrow with a central hallway running its full length. Rooms opened onto the hallway opposite one another, five pairs, each room with three simple metal bed frames, atop of each of which was a thin and uneven mattress. The rearmost part of the building was supported by heavy wooden posts and was thereby suspended over water when the tidal river was at its highest rise. Bare light bulbs, each operated by a pull chain, were in plain ceiling fixtures in each room and in the hallway. At the front of the bunk was a small screened area the width of the building and little used. On the wall of that screened in space was a small fuse box with two fuses.

It was that fuse box that made the building vulnerable to our attack. Summer camp was more than fun -- it was experiential. How could it have been otherwise at the end of the 1950s; sailing, swimming, playing ball all under the direction of young men in their twenties, themselves enjoying a paid playtime. Perhaps the time without structure was even better, card games, the local radio station, comic books, and particularly talking about the mysteries that capture the curiosity and focus of the peripubescent, divining truth from rumor, fact from imagination, and learning the ribald songs that titillate those hormonal yearnings.

The camp was owned and operated by a kindly and gentle somewhat elderly couple somehow suggestive of one's grandparents with whom one might spend the summer. Their adult son, Jeff, less kindly and more authoritative, provided the necessary direction and discipline required to safely manage nearly one hundred boys freed from parental restraints.

That summer the camp had accepted more twelve- and thirteen-year-olds than that single bunk could house, so three of us, veteran campers, were placed into a small auxiliary structure along with an ineffectual and dull junior counselor to watch over us. We were, of course, a part of all activities with the main group and had many friends among those campers from prior summers. But we also considered ourselves a special threesome, our cabin physically separate and up a gentle slope from the bunk and so in a sense on our own.

I do not recall exactly how I came up with the idea for the raid. There had been nothing of the sort during my three summers at camp, but one heard stories of episodes in the more distant past -- such as when one of the camp's cars had somehow been placed on a float out in the swimming area in the dead of a night.

Campers came from various communities in a few states, but Dave and I went to the same school and had been friends since the first grade. His cousin was our third cabinmate. Neither hesitated when I offered my plan which first necessitated a trial run.

One night, after our pasty and unintimidating counselor had fallen asleep, we noiselessly -- at least as noiseless as boys our age could be -- made our way out of the cabin, down the hill to the bunk. A single light in the hall was the only illumination. The screen door luckily did not creak as we opened it and we then made our way down the hall, going into several of the rooms and leaving a note that simply said, "You have been raided." We returned to our cabin, unseen, unheard, and most importantly uncaught.

Breakfast a few hours later in the camp's dining hall was accusation-filled. We sat as usual at one of the tables that held ten or a dozen, eating breakfast as usual, denying all knowledge of any raid or notes left.

"It must have been kids from one of the other bunks," we suggested.

The kids in the older bunk were unlikely to have done anything so benign as leaving a note, the younger kids in the other unlikely to have been able to successfully manage such an operation. Of course they knew it had been us. And we knew they knew. But there was no proof, no evidence, merely reasonable suspicion. By the following day, the episode had been forgotten.

We waited a number of days until finally our counselor had his once-monthly night off, away from camp. Just before midnight, before the counselor's scheduled return, we again made our way down the hill to the bunk. As usual, just a single ceiling light in the hall was on. We entered the front area and I quietly loosened the two fuses in the fuse box. The hall went dark and we split up as planned, going into each room and pulling the chain for each ceiling light.

Almost every room had a radio brought by one camper or another. Each was always tuned to the same local top 40 station that featured our favorite DJ, Arnie "Woo-Woo" Ginsburg who played both music and repeated commercials for Adventure Car Hop drive-in restaurant. We turned all the radios on.

We returned to the front and reported to one another what was done. Though the most difficult part of our adventure had been accomplished it was at this point we were most anxious.

"Okay? Ready?"

Anxiety's adrenaline caused me to be tremulous as I quickly tightened the two fuses and then we ran furiously out the door up the hill to our cabin while the bunk lit up brightly and radios, at full volume, blasted out a rock and roll song. We arrived breathless, the three of us all speaking at the same time, trying to be quiet and whisper but much too excited for that. The bunk was not directly in our sight from where we stood but we heard the shouting and confusion and saw the light in the sky above the bunk. We had done it and gotten away.

The next morning in the dining hall before any food was served, Jeff, appearing somber and angry at the same time, stood up and made clear that he was displeased with the night's events and that, further, immediate dismissal from camp would attend any camper involved in future mischief of any sort. That was fine with us. We were done. The remainder of the camp summer proceeded uneventfully, simultaneously too fast and seemingly without end.

That was my last year at camp. Dave and I remained friends through high school and, still best friends, went off to college in different states. One college summer I was living in a summer sublet while Dave was back to camp, this time as a counselor. Circumstance allowed me one day to join somebody driving the hour and a half to camp so that I could visit with my friend and indulge in a bit of nostalgia by seeing camp again.

The owners, still kindly and gentle and seemingly no older, welcomed me warmly and invited me to share lunch with them at their table in the camp's unchanged dining hall. Jeff was there and had me stand as he introduced me to the assembled campers. I could not have felt more welcome, and had a delightful lunch chatting about camp and college and hearing about some of my friends from my camp days.

Following lunch I spent time with Dave and his campers, enjoying the memory lane trip. Which was when I made a major error in judgement.

Walking around camp unsurprisingly encouraged telling stories and anecdotes of our own time as campers. I could not help but recount the story of the raid. A story to which the campers closely listened.

I left late that afternoon after a very pleasant visit. It was wonderful to have been back at camp which I found so much smaller than memory had registered. It was not until the next week when I spoke with Dave that I learned that very evening his campers had attempted to repeat our raid on another, younger, bunk. He described to me chaos, campers running every which way in the night's darkness, counselors chasing, the owners distraught, Jeff beyond furious.

I knew I would not be visiting camp again.

"Camp Songs" appeared previously in "Montana Mouthful."

Article © Harvey Silverman. All rights reserved.
Published on 2019-08-05
Image(s) are public domain.
4 Reader Comments
ralph bland
01:40:40 PM
Cool piece, Mr. Silverman. Brought back many fond memories.
Steve Foster
12:18:14 PM
Triggered memories of Camp those many years ago. Don't remember pranks like that; may be convenient amnesia.
cathy paprocki
03:58:56 PM
great story-I spent one summer as a special dance instructor/counselor at a girls' camp in nj!
Chris Zoulias
03:57:48 PM
I,too, was in a cabin away from all the other campers. We were not prank oriented, however, the fond memories of that time make me smile. I loved reading about your adventure. Thank you for sharing it.
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