I don’t know who goes to camp in the summer anymore, but I found myself waxing nostalgic about when I did…and the pain of homesickness.
I might also have been influenced by all the hype about Bob Dylan’s 70th anniversary and his first Top 40 hit “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which it turns out had nothing to do with homesickness and more to do with Jack Kerouac. Whatever…I found myself reminiscing about homesickness and why, it may have been eradicated like Polio and Smallpox in parts of the world.
I first went to camp when my family, sans dad, who was in New Guinea with the Seabees, was living in Northern California, specifically Vallejo. I’m sure my mother felt it would be a good experience for me, an opportunity to express my independence, meet new friends and (although she would not have known it at the time) discover the utility of making a Lanyard. ( http://www.billy-collins.com/2005/06/the_lanyard.html ). I was eight or nine at the time and was dropped off at the camp with a reassurance to my mother that I would write a letter that night (or get no supper) telling her of my adjustment.
I did in fact write a letter, postcard really, the first night, and several other times in the two weeks I was at camp. The first letter asked my mother to return immediately and rescue me from various camp bullies, heartless counselors, unfamiliar foods, and probably various wild animals I had yet to discover. I was homesick. I missed my mother, my bed, and all the familiar accoutrements of daily living. I even missed my sister, who not that long before had tried to kill me with a croquet mallet.
Eventually I adjusted and actually enjoyed the experience, but those first few days were a living hell.
My second experience with homesickness came when I was in undergraduate school at the University of Iowa and had to fulfill a three week basic training regime at Great Lakes Naval Center. Actually, I was not homesick. Leaving home for college and the immediate immersion into the hazing of Fraternity life steeled me for whatever the Navy had in mind for me. Not that it was easy, mind you, but homesickness was the least of my emotions.
However, I have in mind a boy, bedded next to my bed, who didn’t stop crying for two days, even while taking cold showers. Not surprising, in that they do everything they can to strip a recruit from home attachments. They literally shave your hair (his had been quite long for 1950’s styles), in contrast to my camp experience, they won’t LET you write home for a week, and they take away every personalized item of clothing and toiletry, issuing you standard fare.
It turns out that the two most common instances of homesickness are “going to camp” and “going to the service”.
Back to my original premise as to whether anyone goes to camp anymore, I don’t think many do, and maybe I was one of a few when I went. Other than organizational camps, like the Scouts, or the Y’s, most of the camps I found on Google were day-camps, designed for Title-1 school children, a group unlikely to have a firm enough home structure to cause homesickness by its absence.
I asked my wife and several friends if they had been homesick. Those who even recognized the condition usually said, “No.”
I asked my son, who has taken his Eighth-grade students on a one-week tour of the East Coast for the last six years if any exhibited signs of homesickness and he explained that, even though for many it was the first time away from home for an extended period, that in this day of social networking, they all had a very short leash to home familiarity by phone, text, or email.
So, perhaps the malady has been eradicated after all. Which is not all bad. I remember at one time in my life when I was spurned by some young love, uncertain as to where I would go to college or what I would do the rest of my life, and visibly depressed, my mother said, “People will tell you these are the best years of your life…They are wrong.”
And she was right! Today and every day when I wake up I realize the best day of my life is about to happen.
Tuesday I think I am going to tackle in my Blog what has happened to the school system in our country. And then, later, maybe I’ll tackle peace in the Middle East.