Back during the summer when I turned 16-years-old, I went to work at a Boy Scout Camp. Overall, I ended up working at that camp for 6 summers, but this post will cover my first summer. It was my first time being away from home for more than a weekend and I was pretty excited. Even though my job was to be kitchen help, I couldn’t wait to take advantage of the waterfront and the nature.
They gave me my own tent for the summer and I was happy to find it was a large wall tent on top of a large platform. There was plenty of room for my bunk and footlocker as well as a little porch area where I hung a tarp. The bathroom and shower was in a cabin nearby and the dining facility was a mere two hundred yards away.
I barely got unpacked when I was told to go to the kitchen to begin work. I met the chef, the dining hall steward, and the other workers and we received a briefing on how everything operated. My main job was to be inventory and dishes which was no small thing because there would be almost 300 scouts per week during the boy scout portion and about 200 cub scouts per day during their portion. It seemed overwhelming at first, but a few days into camp, everything became routine. I quickly proved that I wasn’t afraid to work and was given extra responsibilities as the summer went on.
I had a blast and made friends easily, a few whom I remained friends with into adulthood. Even though we were mostly kids, there was a camaraderie that I never felt before. We were like a large family that worked together, played together, and unfortunately at times, partied together. The partying felt fun for the most part when I was young, but as a current father and grandfather, I would not be happy to find out my kid went to a camp where the staff partied every night, but we did.
I remember one night where I stumbled upon a couple of the older staff drinking Mad Dog 20/20. They invited me to join and if I had the knowledge I have today back then, I might’ve kept walking. That stuff nearly killed me! I was so hungover the next day, I stayed in my tent until noon pretending to be sick from something else. Apparently, the drinking the night before became an open secret and everybody in the dining hall was justifiably angry with me when I finally showed up. So much for my good impression!
After a couple days, everybody quit being angry with me and I was asked to fill in for the dining hall steward after he left. The job entailed keeping control of the dining hall during the meals, which included announcements, picking which tables would go first to eat, and singing songs before every meal. The Chaplain handled the prayers.
I was surprised to find out I was a natural ham and the job came easy to me. I had no problem leading the scouts in songs and making jokes whenever we had to wait for the food so they wouldn’t get restless. I still had dish duty afterward, but I didn’t mind the extra work. It made me popular and what kid doesn’t want to be popular?
In between meals, I worked on merit badges so I could get rank faster and every week I ran in the Mile Run we conducted so scouts could get a patch. I was a natural runner when I was young and was never beat in the six summers I worked at the camp. It became a goal for some scouts to beat me and made the event fun. I did do the Mile Swim, but I only did that once because I wasn’t very good at it.
Sometimes, after dinner or between weeks, the staff was allowed to leave camp. Since most of us younger staff didn’t drive, we would walk about a mile and a half to the nearest fast food place. It was called, “Mr. Quick” and was next to a bar called “Mr. Slow.” Then some hazing would happen on the walk back.
There was a cornfield along the way that grew both sweet corn and field corn. The trick was to get an ear of sweet corn and then guide the new kids to the field corn where they would be greatly disappointed as soon as they took a bite. I was fortunate enough to know the difference, so I didn’t fall for it. I fell for the next haze, however.
Just before the camp was a pasture with horses. The older kids went down and reached over the fence with clumps of grass to feed them and encouraged us to do the same. None of us new guys noticed they avoided the fence. I was the first one to grab the top as I leaned over to feed the horse. Of course, it was an electric fence and I got jolted pretty good. The amazing thing was that two more kids grabbed it after me and I didn’t feel nearly as stupid after that.
Overall, my experience during that first summer was amazing. I grew up a lot that summer and it encouraged me to go back again and again.