Between the ages of ten and fourteen, I attended a fundamentalist Christian sleep-away camp where my mother went when she was a girl. It was two hours north of Toronto in in town called Huntsville on Mary Lake. This is the cottage country of the Toronto area — lakes abound and there is beautiful scenery. Many Torontonians have cottages and during summer it is a playground where city folks enjoy nature.
We were going full circle here. For instance, my cabin mate Krista was my mother’s old boyfriend’s daughter. “Bruce Binning,” my mother would say, “He was so handsome!” Krista’s hair was white like mine and her skinny body was perfectly bronzed in summer. The other girl I roomed with all the 5 years I attended camp was Tricia. She was a tomboy and wore a baseball cap over her unkempt hair. Tricia could McIver anything that wasn’t working and was helpful with organization. Krista and Tricia were best friends at home and at camp. I was the only girl from the United States, and I am pretty sure I was the only girl not from the Toronto area. They were fascinated with my accent and that I called a housecoat a bathrobe. I could not fathom that milk came from plastic bags.
I loved my summers at Camp Mini-Yo-We, and it was there I learned how to be a strong swimmer and canoeist. We could tip the canoe, get under it to breathe, right it and then get into the canoe without capsizing it again. I could drink half a lake and still be ok. I could swim quickly and had a lifesaving credential by 14. We also learned badass orienteering activities, for instance how to use a compass, read a map, pitch a tent, make dandelion salad, perform wilderness first aid like wrapping people in birch bark, dip matches into wax to keep them dry, and build a fire from scratch. I learned to say “pop” instead of soda, get algae out of my hair, and belt out hymns as well as fun camp songs at meals. If it was a particularly hot day, they gave us potato chips and what they called “bug juice” which was basically extra sugary Hawaiian Punch. They fed us a lot of starch and white sugar to keep us going — piles of macaroni and cheese and cinnamon toast. We had S’mores at the campfire, it was idyllic. My friends from New Jersey went to 8-week summer camps in New England which cost a fortune and had horseback riding and water skiing! They probably ate filet mignon and canapes.
It was the lowest tech camp I had ever heard of. There was not a motorized anything to do with any activity at my camp. There wasn’t even a water slide. We could shoot an arrow into a bullseye after having passed some pre-archery skills such as first aid for head wounds. We slept in tabins (tent cabins) which had a plywood base and a canvas top and sides. We opened and closed the canvas flaps with strings. I can’t remember if there were screens, but we were eaten alive by the plentiful Muskoka mosquitos in any case. We practically drank insect repellent and it didn’t help. The tabins were named after Indian Tribes: Chippewa, Cree, Arapaho.
Reveille occurred at 7:00 and we were to jump out of bed in our pajamas, run over to the flagpole, and queue up by cabins and age groups: Minis, Yos, and Wes. Someone had the distinct honor of raising the flag and we all sang “Oh Canada” just as loudly as we sang our hymns and camp songs.
If I got a sore throat, an infected mosquito bite, or if anything was bleeding we could go to the nurse who cleaned things up and provided band aids. It was a different woman each year and she was always maternal and compassionate.
After breakfast and before Bible study we had to clean our tabins. There was a chore roster to follow. We received points for cleanliness, and we could use the points in exchange for “Tuck,” which was a concession shop we could visit every other day. It sold candy, pop, and Mini-Yo-We swag. Our parents sent money in advance for tuck, and our accounts got debited when we purchased something. We had naps! After lunch we were to lie down for an hour. If not sleeping, we were instructed to be perfectly quiet and read a book or pray. At first I was annoyed that we had to rest, but I grew to love it.
It was ironic that my mother sent me to this Christian camp as she had long given up this way of thinking and was studying many religions and philosophies. She had no such narrow belief anymore, she just thought I would love the rice pudding. She brought it up frequently: “Is the rice pudding still good?” she’d ask.
We memorized scripture to get a new bible each summer. When I turned thirteen or fourteen, I learned to call bullshit on the conservative Christians who told me that people who had not accepted the lord as their savior were going to hell. That was a large portion of my friends. The camp was teaching that God promised King David there would be no more war in Israel. I mentioned that there was war in Israel right now and I got shushed. I grew out of the dogma part of camp and stopped going. Some part of my innocence died there, pieces of my heart scattered around the lake and campfires.