By Beth Besen
I grew up in Connecticut–and not just-over-the-border, NYC-commute-friendly Connecticut. Nope, my childhood was a blue-collar, center-of-the-state town where “camp” was mostly a verb, not a noun. An action, not a place. We camped out, but we didn’t go to camp…
But here in Westchester? A whole different story! For many, camp is not only a place, it’s THE place! An ideal of the mind as well as an idyllic location. It’s the place to play sports, to act and dance and make art and music. The place to commune with nature, taste new foods, try a new hobby and try on new ideas. The place where days are long and school stresses are a distant memory. And, perhaps most importantly, camp seems to be the place where friends and memories are made and treasured for life.
Friends, Friends, Friends– We will always be
Jen Geller went to sleepaway camp for eight years and “is still very close to camp friends.” When I asked what prompted her to share her story, she said “you see the word camp – it’s like a visceral reaction.” For Jen, camp means a sense of “grounding by people who’ve known you your whole life,” and the comfort that kind of knowledge lends to lifelong relationships; as she points out, “we can be honest with each other no matter what.” However, Jen is careful to caution that her experience doesn’t automatically translate across the board and down the line. While her camp friends assume she will send her own daughter to their alma mater, Camp Scatico, Jen says she is considering other options as well; her daughter is not her carbon copy and, for her daughter’s camp experience to be magical, “the chemistry has to be right!”
All in the Family
If camp is a home-away-from home and second family for some, for others it’s a multi-generational and layered experience. Lisa McGowan shares that her daughter Lexie “just completed her 8th summer at Tripp Lake Camp, making her the 4th generation Tripp Laker in our family.” In fact, when Lisa gave birth, one of the first bouquets to arrive at the hospital came from a lifelong camp friend; the accompanying note card read “Congratulations, you now have a Tripp Laker.” Lisa’s family history with Tripp Lake goes back to her great great Aunt Minna Bonoff Troy who attended Tripp Lake in 1913 as one of its first campers. Lisa did her best to explain the descendant Tripp Lake (and brother camp, Camp Takajo) family tree from there. I’ll admit, I lost her somewhere in the dad’s first cousin’s kid’s kid (or something like that). But, make no mistake, I was wowed! I suggested this must be some kind of record, one for the books, but Lisa disagreed. She said that while it is “mathematically impossible to go back any further” than her family does, they are not alone. Tripp Lake is chock full of families with a similar history!
Lisa says the great thing about sharing the camp experience with both her mother and her daughter is that “we can share the same songs, same cheers, same traditions.” She finds that, while the camp may have added modern activities for example, a ropes course, the camp itself has not changed at all: “any alum could drop in at any time and give a tour!” This is something she treasures.
As with everyone I spoke to for this article, Lisa says that one of the best things about camp is the friendships, “I can honestly say that my closest-closest friends are the people I went to camp with ”camp means “everything to me…the best experience.” I started my interview with Lisa asking a question about how and why camp is so evocative, a seeming paradise for so many. Lisa laughed, saying “believe it or not, that’s exactly what Tripp Lake calls itself–The Promised Land.”
Happy Campers Make Happy Couples
Married couple Stacey and Glen Kurtis met at camp. Sort of. Actually, as Stacey explains, they attended the same camp, but their seven-year age difference kept them apart at the time. “Although we knew of each other at camp, it wasn’t until we met as adults that we connected,” says Stacey.
How did they connect? Stacey continues, “a mutual camp friend’s band was playing and a lot of my friends and Glen’s friends from camp attended. We met that night and shared camp memories.” Their second date was a drive back to camp with more time for sharing both memories and pizza – at a favorite place near camp.
Before long, Stacey and Glen were planning their wedding; two of Stacey’s bridesmaids were camp friends and one of Glen’s groomsmen was a close camp friend too. Instead of handing out wedding favors to their guests, the couple decided to make a donation to their camp!
Kumbaya for Everyone
When in Rome (or, in our case, when in Westchester)…my husband and I followed form, and got on the camp bus with our young children. Lots of advice, lots of opinions; what was a newbie to do!? As with college, there are road trips, there are websites and, importantly, there are camp advisors!
Susan Pecker of The Camp Connection/The Teen Connection is a free source for summer programs. She became an expert in the field after researching camp for her own children and becoming a resource for friends. When asked about the overarching hallmarks of a good camp experience, Susan replied, “independence, problem solving and self awareness.” Susan hits the road each summer to visit, review and update the many general and special interest camps on her lists. “When I see campers walking arm and arm down a road, it’s the image that captures what camp is all about.” Since 2004, she has helped thousands of families from as close as Westchester and Rockland to as far away as China, France and South Africa. It’s rumored she has even helped a few families from central Connecticut!
Beth Besen’s childhood campouts were mostly in friends’ backyards–with easy access to indoor plumbing!