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Down the Road

Chief Milt, camp counselor
By Milton M. Gross
Jul 8, 2012 - 12:12:10 AM

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It's been awhile now, since those two dramatic summers as counselor at a Maryland boys' camp on the Northeast River.

But even though I'm far enough along in being 29.5 that I use a walking stick, known to me as my Rottweiler stick that enables me (in my mind) to out limp any Rottweiler I meet, I still remember those long-ago pre-walking-stick days.

A few years ago my boss asked me what I would do when I could no longer hike. I didn't have a thought-out answer for him then, but now, should he ever ask me that question again, I will reply, "Limp."

But this column takes place long before I considered using a walking stick or limping. It takes place in the last century.

If you've never been a camp counselor and you're attending college and you don't need a Rottweiler stick, I highly recommend becoming a camp counselor.

You'll have such a great time -- not as great as I did, of course, but still great.

I remember the short-sheeting gang, which was made up of most of the campers in my cabin that was named after a Native American tribe, as were all the cabins at Camp Sandy Hill. As I entered our cabin at bedtime, I noticed that look in their collective eyes. It's hard to describe, but it fairly shouted, "Short sheeted! Short sheeted!"

So I knew my bunk had been short-sheeted.

For those uninitiated and never short sheeted among you -- there must be one or two, the campers had folded my top sheet about halfway up the bed. I was supposed to crawl in, being extremely weary from camper sitting this dozen kids, and I was supposed to try to stretch out beneath that sheet. Of course, since it was folded halfway up the length of the bed, I was supposed to struggle, squirm, mumble, and say a few religious words -- not the ones I say now when, for instance, I'm trying to install our full-length screen in the combination door each spring, but ones that were permitted by EL (evangelical law). This was a Christian camp.

However, since their expressions gave it all away, I would quietly slip into bed on top of that top sheet, stretch out to my full length, and sigh in contentment.

While those evil campers stared at one another in disbelief.

Being a camp counselor was fun.

Those weekly trips to someplace another, when I packed the whole campers' dozen into my '57 Chevy sedan, were also fun. Imagine driving along a back country road with a dozen kids in your car.* I can't imagine what kind of legal violations such fun would constitute today, the modern days of safety and lots of regulations and no fun allowed.

I don't recall to where we Chevyed, but it was fun getting there.

Especially shoving that final camper into the back seat.

Another "fun" (why can't we just say or write "enjoyable" these days, unless we have forgotten how to pronounce or spell that longer word) camp activity was the day the counselors got to hide in yonder forest and the campers got to find them and throw them into the swimming pool. They never found my hiding place under a tightly-grown pack of honeysuckle -- maybe, can't precisely recall the name of my protective brush. For my success in hiding, I also was able to take a nap, something counselors seldom knew they could do.

I was the canoeing instructor, which took place on a beach along the Northeast River down a steep hill from the rest of the camp. Ocean-going vessels would ply that river, sometimes with those fins or whatever they were called in the down position to stabilize their voyage up the river. When they did have those gizmos down, huge, as in sometimes six feet high, would come crashing into the beach.

I had a kind of drill, and when I saw those waves approaching from far, far out to river, I would shout, "Take your canoe way out!" to those who were too far from shore to make their homeland journey before being struck and severely rocked by it or "Get away from the canoes and run for higher ground?" to those who were near the shore or on the beach.

One camper apparently missed my shout, also missing the huge oncoming wave that lifted the canoe by which he was standing and dropped it right on him. Two of us frantically lifted the canoe from his gasping body, and the camper had earned the right to make a journal entry that his grandchildren could enjoy. Providing the camper lived long enough by avoiding having more canoes dropped on him in the future.

Another camper on the beach on another day -- thank goodness, another day -- stepped on a nail. I was not nor am a giver of first aid. Now I just faint at the sight of a doctor's bill. Then I would faint at the thought of someday fainting at the sight of a doctor's bill. But I was the counselor on hand or on beach, so I made the kid lie down after which I swiftly -- before I'd have time to faint -- pulled the nail out of the camper's foot.

I didn't faint afterwards either. Still don't know why.

A prime time of fun came late one summer, when a gang of overly mature -- I may be lying about their state of maturity -- carried two or three canoes up the steep hill from the beach and quietly deposited them in the camp swimming pool.

The real fun came the next morning when the camp director found the pooled canoes.

His shouting over the intercom system was interesting.

"You guys will never get a reference from me for any job you ever apply for!" he shouted.

Imagine, a camp director ending a shout with a preposition.

This at least partly true document comes to you from the not-yet-totally senile, Chief Milt, former camp counselor.

* This was back "in the day" when older kids, usually claiming to be college students, packed their learned minds and sweating bodies into telephone booths. Kids could not duplicate that feat today, as most of today's youth have no idea what a phone booth is -- unless it's a place where you store your cell phone when not in use, which is basically never. It's never not in use.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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