Tonight, while talking with blk about childhood memories, I started thinking about the summer camp I went to when I was around Zach’s age. It was a sleepaway camp, up in the pocono mountains, called Camp Susquehanna. I went for 3 years, and the experiences during those three summers left me with some fantastic memories.
I caught up with one of the sons of the family that owned the camp several years ago, and we exchanged some brief email, but I really hadn’t thought of the camp since then.
Tonight, a little googling, and I’ve found the Camp Susquehanna Alumni website, run by none other than Todd Schroder, the aformentioned son of the owner. Todd’s put together a wonderful site, with a lot of fascinating details about the camp and what it was like for us staying there, but there was one bit of magic I thought was lost forever.
The camp was divided into ‘units’ (remember this was the early seventies. Militaristic models were the norm – we ate in the mess hall, we bought candy and stuff in Canteen, and bugle calls played over the PA system with revelie, taps, and horsemans calls). The units were numbered, from 1 through 17, each with 4-6 campers in it. Each unit had it’s own counsellor. Once you were in a unit, you were there for the summer, and the camp ran for 8 weeks. That’s a long time for a kid 8-10 years old – your unit became your home, your unit-mates were your family.
Every summer, each unit made what was simply called a ‘Unit Sign’. It was a wooden board, about 2′ square, that could have anything you wanted painted on it, but it had to have the Unit number, all the campers names, the counsellors name, and the year being represented. The signs were mounted on the ceiling of the mess hall. During meals, you could look up, and see all the units that came before you. If you were a returning camper, it was great fun coming back the next year and seeing your name up on the ceiling.
These Unit Signs were an undeniable record of the summers I spent in the Poconos, and I thought they were lost when the property was sold.
They were not.
Todd, being the magnificent person he is, has scanned pictures of all the Unit signs, and therefore, I’m able to present to you my signs, now almost 35 years old:
1972 – Unit 3. My first year at Camp Susquehanna. I was only 8. The Unit was a tent platform, about 14’x20′, which had 5 bunks in it. The sides of the tent could be rolled up – it looked a lot like a MASH tent, but smaller, with a peaked roof in the middle. My counsellor was Ron Becker, who did a great job of making us all feel right at home. I remember being very confused at the beginning about what was going on, and what we were supposed to do, but it was only in the first few days, then it became comfortable and routine. Of the other kids, I only remember Eduardo, who became a good friend, and taught me a lot of Spanish.
According to The Lookout, I was involved in the yearly Skink Hunt…
Jim Weeks and Rick Davis told the assembled campers about the skink, an elusive lizard. Then, armed with laundry bags and noise makers, the campers set off to a rock quarry to practice for the big hunt. Robbie Devor, Greg Vogel, Andy Ziegler, and David Shevett eagerly volunteered to be the “catchers”, waiting at the end of the field for the skinks, while everyone else made noise and scared the skinks downfield.
1974 – Unit 6 – As the kids got older, folks moved up to higher numbered cabins. Unit 6 was toward the top of the ‘lower clearing’ (names that’ll mean nothing to anyone who wasn’ t there – humor me). This was an actual cabin – about 20′ on a side, with a roof and rafters and power and everything. The ‘windows’ could open by hinging up the shutters and latching them open with a hook and eye. These had bunkbeds too, so there was room for 7 kids plus the counsellor, but as I understand it, the camp was beginning to go into decline attendance wise, so the units weren’t all full. Eduardo was my bunkmate again, and another boy named David Strohl, whom I remember as being very sweet and a good kid (course, this was 30 some odd years ago. Who knows if I’m even remotely right here.)
1977 – Unit 11 – If I’m remembering this one right, it was another cabin, up toward the top of the upper clearing. By this time I’m 12, and the camp has a different feel. I’m more involved in some of the acting and stage stuff that Jim Weeks was doing, and I remember Andy Bershad (our counsellor) very well. He and Jim were icons of the camp. As to what the picture and caption on the sign meant? I haven’t the foggiest idea.
And if there were any question about my early love of old movies, according to the Lookout from that year :
“Ah yes!” wailed the familiar voice. And so began an evening of films starring W.C. Fields. The first in our series of films, the Fields evening was moved up to Thursday night due to rainy weather, but no one seemed to mind the quick announcement and showing. In fact, the next day found David Shevett and Todd Schroder giving people “hearty handclasps” in the Fieldsian manner.
I have nothing but positive memories from my time at the camp, ranging from massive games of capture the flag ranging all over the fields and woods, to long horseback rides, to the summer I was given my own horse to take care of (I became a ‘horseman’ – I was assigned one horse as my responsibility all summer. I fed and groomed her, prepped her for the days classes, and brought her up to and down from the paddock each day). Many of my current fascinations can be traced to this camp – I still love old barns, woods trails and camping, and the sound of rain on the roof of a barn or tent still sends me back to the summer rainstorms spent in our ‘homes’ with friends.