All the recent Facebook posts about Girl Guide Cookies have sparked a series of memories about Girl Guide camp for me. Neither of my kids has been to a sleepaway camp yet, but I’m fairly certain that if they had, it would have been a nut-free, police-checked, forms-in-triplicate kind of experience. When me and my sister set off for Girl Guide camp, my mother told us to make a list of what clothes we had packed so we wouldn’t forget to bring them home, told us to eat whatever they offered us, stuck us on a bus and waved good-bye with a scotch in one hand and a cigarette in the other (just kidding, my mother never smoked – she tried, but she was crap at inhaling).
We had to set up our own tents. If they blew over or leaked, that was our lookout. We had to demonstrate that we could waterproof our sleeping bags, with the ever-present threat of having them chucked in the lake to prove it. There were a few leaders around, but the place was vast, and mostly it was us and a few teen-aged junior leaders kicking around trying to build fires and tie knots and discussing the possible meanings of various sexual terms. Because for a bunch of early adolescent girls, we were a filthy-minded lot. Lights would barely be out for the night before the same old tired dirty jokes were being whispered around the tent. One girl was so prolifically profane that at one point another girl exclaimed “I need to go on the pill if I have to be this close to Lisa’s mouth!”
I didn’t love it. I met a couple of girls that I got along with, so there were brief periods of fun, but mostly I was homesick and anxious and felt like I didn’t fit in. One silly campfire game revolved around making your last name into a place you would hide if, I don’t know, the revolution came or something. Aurora Sutherland said she would hide in southern land. Pam Greenwell said she would hide in a green well.
My last name is McCaskill. SO UNFAIR, RIGHT?
I did like the swimming, and the campfire music. I’ve always liked to sing, and a chorus of female voices in the dusk could be a beautiful thing. Of course, then it would be followed by somebody finding my list of clothes and making fun of the fact that I wrote ‘6 pairs of underwear’, which sort of erased some of the magic. Or a sudden Kangaroo Court would materialize in which I was found guilty of being shy and forced to hug every single person in the room – can you imagine that happening today? I heard one leader tell a girl “you do NOT need to brush your teeth before bed, YOU don’t have braces.”
One of the highlights of the week-end was being separated into teams and competing for who could make the longest clothing rope – FROM CLOTHES THAT WE WERE WEARING. From what I recall, most everyone was eventually down to their skivvies with varying degrees of willingness. Lisa, the aforementioned potty-mouth, was well-developed for her age, and gleefully stripped down to her panties and performed pirouettes in the middle of the field, even when a couple of boys were spotted in the distance on their bikes, probably thinking they had won the best adolescent male lottery prize of all time. “Hey, I think I know him”, she said, “Hi, Robbie!” Things devolved into unpleasantness when another girl expressed the desire to keep her clothes on, leading Lisa to fume “I have ten times as much as her up top and I’m effing waving at a guy I know!” Where were the leaders? In their cabins with scotch and cigarettes, as far as I know. They were all volunteers; most of them probably didn’t want to be there any more than I did.
It was a different time. A different, strange, what-the-hell-were-our-parents-thinking time. Now when I go camping, the tents are easier to put up, the beds are more comfortable, and we have alcohol. And the dirty jokes are much more clever.