This is the first summer in fifteen years that I haven’t been to Camp Nan-a-Bo-Sho. It’s a straight up fact, but seeing it in writing makes its truth real. In the summer it was everything. Everything that I did was part of the countdown to camp. It was magical, it was special, it shaped who I am, but it had to end eventually.
Reflecting on it with less than rosy retrospect, the physical camp is not that great. It’s a collection of buildings on an average north woods Wisconsin lake, near a teeny tiny town, along a county highway. I’ve been to camps located in cooler places before, but I didn’t like those nearly as much as I loved NABS.
It’s not the actual camp that kept me coming back for so long. It’s the people. It’s always been the people.
When I was younger the counselors were gods. They were the coolest clique I’d ever met. They were barely twenty-something, but they made me feel mature beyond my years. They were always laughing and dressing up in funny clothes, playing pranks, giving hugs and drinking coffee. They spent the summer canoeing, hanging out, getting crazy tan lines, and acting like fools. I wanted in. There was no way I was going to NOT be one of them—and eventually I was.
The funny thing about being a counselor is it’s not at all what I thought it would be like when I was a camper.
First off, it’s a lot less hanging out and a lot more cleaning. I’ve scrubbed shit out of a urinal, I’ve cleaned mixtures of syrup, orange juice and uneaten sausages out of the post meal “grunge bucket,” I’ve washed day old, soiled underwear and encountered unspeakable things at the bottom of trash cans that have been sitting in the sun all day. You name it, I’ve probably cleaned it.
What I couldn’t wrap my head around when I was a camper was; counselors are in fact not gods, but college students. Becoming a counselor was akin to Dorothy finding out that the Wizard of Oz is not a wizard, just a giant f***boy. I had looked behind the curtain and there was no going back.
Slowly I learned all the secrets. The guys who were absent for the second half of the summer a past year were fired for smoking weed in their cabin. One of my favorite counselors had lost his virginity in the staff cabin where I was living. Most of the counselors didn’t even separate the recycling from the garbage at the end of the night. What happened behind the scenes never reaches the campers. It’s part of the magic.
As I spew the dirty little secrets of camp I cannot express how wonderful it has been to be a part of the camp family. I worked there on the cusp of moving out of the house I lived in my whole life, away from my parents and into the great unknown of college.
I was nervous to be working with the senior counselors. I was terrified to go out of my comfort zone and get to know these older, mature elders. But the children couldn’t know that, so I put on my brave face and got to know the people I used to be scared of. My mom had told me a million times, but I just had to be myself.
Self discovery and socialization with co-workers went well but when the campers came, it was a completely new challenge. I had no idea how to handle children who were misbehaving or what to do when they approached me with situations and questions that were out of my comfort zone. But I had to. I pretty much made it all up as I went along—and ya know what? Everything turned out alright. The kids had no idea I was in a state of mild panic for that first week before I got the hang of things.
Nothing could have prepared me better for college. If parents could trust me to take care of their children. I could totally make it on my own. I had a test drive in meeting new people, thinking on my feet, managing my time, keeping my area clean and smiling when all I wanted to do was curl up in the fetal position, cry and then take a nap. I have camp to thank for that.
Being away from NABS this year makes me nostalgic. I want to be there now, but it wouldn’t be the same without my people. It always comes back to the people. I smile when I think of all of the weird things that we went through together. The awful situations that we could only laugh about. The good cabins, the bad weather, the long hot afternoons and the dark starry nights.
So thanks Moe, Murray, Puddle, Torch, Pancake, Dala, Kong, Grizzly, Gurty, Capt’n, Turkey, NEB, Sebo, Pooks, Pipes, Spree, Atlas, Stump, Loop, Snoop, Zeus, Chia, Sunny, Petrie, and North. All counselors of the past, present and future. I’m so incredibly happy to be part of the legacy. Lossa Love for all of you.