It is that time of year when kids start thinking about summer camp and all the pent-up excitement around it just builds until the day they can finally wave goodbye to their parents through the bus window. I remember the feeling. I was nine years old when I first went to Camp Seneca on Lake Seneca in upstate New York. The year was 1949.
I had never been away from home. My older brother, with whom I shared a room, was much older and I saw very little of him during his high-school years. My mother cared for my father and my father cared for his work. I don’t recall what first motivated me to leave home for the first time other than a taste for adventure and just wanting a change. The truth is I was bored, so I asked and was granted parole for two weeks in the summer.
The pick-up point for the camp bus ride was the Youth Center in downtown Rochester. It was across from the firehouse, which provided a place of interest to hang out while we, a bunch of misfits, awaited the arrival of our chariot to freedom, out of the city and into the wilderness. It was exciting.
Our ride was a discarded, broken-down school bus clearly no longer in service to the city’s Department of Education. The driver, unshaven with hair sprouting out of his nose and ears, greeted us all with a bloodshot glare as we entered the bus. A cigarette dangled from his lips. I saw a beer can on the dashboard in plain view. Things were different back in those days. Shortly after departing the Center, the driver pulled over to the side of the road. Our chattering stopped—what was going on? He turned around to address the busload of baffled kids, “You got five bucks between yous to pay for the tolls or you wanna spend five hours on the back roads?” After we got over the shock of what he had just said, we concluded amongst ourselves that it was in our best interest to go along with his “suggestion.” We had all been given a few dollars mostly in change from our parents before we boarded the bus and tossed in what we had to stay on the Thruway, which would get us there in a couple of hours. We were anxious to see the camp and have lunch, as promised by the counselors on board.
Upon arrival at camp there was no order. The counsellors tried to get us to sort out our duffels and suitcases, but we would have nothing to do with it. We all stampeded straight to the dining pavilion. We were famished. But before we could dig in a whistle was blown and some guy stood up on the table and shouted at us to “Shut up!” He proceeded to describe in as simple terms as possible the rules of the camp. “No boys in the girl’s camp! No girls in the boy’s camp! No one out of their tent after curfew except for bathroom! No swimming without passing test!” Then all the counselors were introduced. There were some very good-looking female counselors, and I was immediately hooked on the idea of being a counselor as soon as I was old enough. We were finally given permission to dig in and meal did not disappoint: Spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate cake and “bug juice.” I saw our bus driver outside, hardly eager to get back on the road with the return group of campers, sneaking off into the woods with another can of beer.
It has been 72 years since that first summer at camp, but I remember the feeling of excitement vividly. I went to Camp Seneca every summer for several years after that and now all these years later I still look forward with similar anticipation to the time I spend in the Maine woods at my fishing camp.