Right now, it’s a chilly 21 degrees outside, snowing enough that the roads are slippery, and it’s not scheduled to get up to freezing for the next week.  (No, I did not set that schedule.)

What better time for some memories from summer camp?

For me, summer camp was church camp.  Brooktondale, NY, is the home of Upstate NY’s Nazarene camp.  At the time, “upstate” was anything north of New York City.  Brooktondale is about in the center of the state, near Ithaca in the Finger Lakes region.  From where we lived in Plattsburgh, it was a six-hour drive.

My most vivid memory, I think, is of wearing an optic orange Tween Camp short-sleeve sweatshirt.  I kept that thing until it was much more holey than holy.

My next-best memory was of sneaking out one night, I think with Donnie Passno.  We didn’t have a plan, and didn’t intend any damage.  Just a couple of middle teenagers with too much energy and not enough wisdom.  Our rooms were at the left-hand side of the picture.  They called it “the motel”, just because it had a passing resemblance to one of those cheap one-story no-name places you occasionally see as you travel back roads.  When the story gets interesting, we were somewhere near point A.

Donnie had more street smarts than I did.  I had more ground speed.  When somebody (an adult) called out to us, I high-tailed it back towards our room, where we’d be safe.  I never thought about there being a second person waiting near the boys’ rooms.


I was offered the “opportunity” to help clean the toilets, which I gladly accepted.  Even in my youth, I didn’t want to sleep at night.  And when the counselor saw I was a decent guy and not a rabble-rouser, we had a good conversation.  And I did get a stern warning that if I wanted to stay up the next night, I should do it with a scrub brush in my hand, not fast shoes on my feet.

Another scary time, for a different reason: The walls of the “motel” were just thick cardboard.  Not corrugated, but thick paper, probably a half-inch or three-quarters of an inch thick.  They were there for privacy and noise abatement, not as a load-bearing wall.  I found this out when a broom handle came through the wall near where I was lying on my bed.  Some guy in the next room wanted to take up javelin practice, and he wanted to do it indoors.  If his aim was different, I could have had amateur brain surgery.  The interesting thing was that when he came before the authorities in the camp, my dad was one of the people in the group judging him.  Dad was one of the camp leaders that year, and I had to give correct and accurate testimony as if he wasn’t a blood relative.

I got my first cool fossil at Brooktondale.  A segmented worm in a rock smaller than my fist.  Back behind the motel and the restrooms is a gravel pit.  (better picture here, through Google maps)

The campers were forbidden to go there (it was dangerous, after all), but I snuck away and picked this up.  I still have it somewhere.  Which is more than I can say for an unnamed male parent, who picked up two hundred pounds of rock back there one visit.  As far as I know, those are still sitting in front of our old house, in Peru, NY.

I picked up the nickname of “Zagnut” one camp.  Apparently whenever I hit the snack shack I got a Zagnut bar, and somebody decided that would be a good name for me.  I have tried eating them since then – they’re okay, but nothing to write home about.  The snack shack has been replaced by the building at the far left in this photo.  The new building is the long, vaguely cruciform building in the lower right of the top pic.  The building in the left middle here is the dining hall (perhaps the old dining hall, now?).  It had a bell on it that rang for meals and lights out.  We always planned on stealing the bell, but never did.

Finally, the story of the yoyo.  I had a Duncan Butterfly yoyo, yellow and white, and I was playing with it at a time when I shouldn’t have been.  John Harmon, the camp director, took it away from me and promised that I’d get it back at the end of the camp.  Didn’t happen.  Probably ended up being given away as a prize the next camp week or something.