Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Camp Chow

   In the morning when you and a couple hundred other drowsy boys entered after the hike up from your village, it smelled like  burnt toast and slightly sour milk as you came in through the big double doors from the chill fog. On unusually cold mornings there would be a fire in the huge hearth and woodsmoke mingled with the scent. All other times of the day, before lunch and dinner, the odor was of boiled hot dogs and a faint hint of bleach and floor wax. The soundtrack was the rumble of wooden chairs dragged across pine flooring followed by the slowly increasing cacophony of kids talking and  laughing and counselors barking directions like drill sergeants.
   This was the main lodge and dining hall of Camp Conrad Wesier in the mid 70's where I spent a glorious  month each Summer. It was all boys and run by the YMCA. We camped and shot .22's and hiked and canoed and rode horses and played softball. We were taught orienteering and fire building and life saving.We played ping pong and horseshoes and tether-ball and  engineered pranks on the other cabins. When you hit the upper villages as an older kid you slept in tents on cement platforms and then in open front lean-to's. Your clothes were damp but not your spirits.
   In the dining hall one kid at each table was assigned as "waiter." When your day came in the rotation you awaited the command from a slightly androgynous steward named "Skip." He would chirp into a microphone up front: "Waiters serve" and you would file through the kitchen and trays would be heaped with stainless steel vessels of steaming baked chicken and mashed potatoes or spaghetti or meat loaf, green beans and salad that was more white butt-end of iceberg than it was green. Ham on Thursdays with a vaguely Amish toned raisin sauce, Roast Beef on Sunday that ended up fatigue brown and over-cooked thanks to the Berks county ladies who staffed the range in the back. Fried chicken was a hit and grilled cheese at lunch was a kill or be killed affair. Breakfast offered spongy pancakes with a gelatinous syrup substance in a stainless pitcher over which someone had whispered the word "Maple." Bowls of dry-wall mud oatmeal barely palatable with fifteen scoops of brown sugar. The hamburgers were gristle pucks and the peanut butter was like cooled macadam that had faded to brown. We were 11 and 12 and 13 year old kids. We ate for fuel and little more. We had rules at the table and the counselors tried to sneak some manners into the routine. If you breached the loose rules of etiquette...and we did...you had to stay behind and wipe down tables under Skip's relentless scrutiny.
   On the walls were college pennants and Indian paraphenalia.The ceilng had huge beams and every surface was spotless. One wall held green and white arrows with names burned into the wood. My name is on  a few of those arrows commemorating the days I was chosen as "Officer of the Day" during my later Summers.
   A few years ago we took our Cub Scout den to a weekend event at the Camp. I found my name on those arrows and the smell was still bleach and wax and boiled hot dogs.


Scott said...

Wonderful description. it caused a remarkable recollection of boys scout camp. I wish I could make a return visit, but alas the camp is under the Delaware Water Gap reservoir. You forgot to mention the beverage referred to as "bug juice" Thanks for the memories. Regards Scott

Jeremy Osgood said...

Great summary of life at "camp". The beauty of these places is that they do not change. I spent my summers working at a camp in the Adirondacks in the early part of the "oughts" and it was the same then as it was in the 80's, 70's and 60's. We know this because the scout leaders that were with us were there as kids then and remembered every bit of it.

Thanks for this post and all of the others!

Main Line Sportsman said...

Jeremy-Where in the ADK's. We spend time there every Summer.

Jeremy Osgood said...

I grew up in the North Country along the Canadian border. The camp was Camp Portaferry in Harrisville NY; a great old Boy Scout camp that had been around since the 60's. I read recently online it had been closed in 2006 and sold in 2011 to a developer hoping to make vacation condos or something out of it.

I think I read somewhere on your blog that you spend some time near Saranac Lake. I grew up about an hour or so northwest of there; played lots of hockey in Saranac and Lake Placid and the area as a kid. It was a great place to grow up.

My suggestion to everyone that spends some time in the Adirondacks during the summer to is come back and visit in February; that is when you will get a true understanding of how beautiful the summer can be.

Aside from that I really have enjoyed your blog, thanks for taking the time every once in a while to post something for us to "chew on".

Main Line Sportsman said...

Jeremy-I have spent plenty of time in ADK in Winter....froze my butt off on Whiteface and enjoyed WInter Carnival and even did some ice fishing