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SOAPBOX: He couldn't wait for the end of his first — and last — sleepaway camp experience

On KJZZ's SOAPBOX, The Show turns over the the mic to listeners. In our latest series, listeners tell their own true stories on the theme of Summer Camp. 

For so many of us, camp was a summertime ritual with long lasting memories. Some memories are better than others, as we'll learn from our first storyteller, Todd Grossman, who couldn't wait for the end of his first — and last — sleepaway camp experience.

Todd Grossman at sleepaway camp
Todd Grossman
Todd Grossman at sleepaway camp

The big day had arrived.

I had no choice. I was going to camp. My Naugahyde child-sized suitcase in hand, I turned to say goodbye to my mother and brothers before boarding the plane. I had never even spent the night at a friend’s and yet, here I was, flying across the country to a sleep-away camp in West Virginia, a place I had only heard about in a John Denver song.

“You’ll be fine,” my mother shouted.

“I know.” I replied.

After all. I was 18 years old.

Going to National Youth Science Camp was a prize awarded each year to the two outstanding science students in each state. You know. “Here, you’ve done a great job at the International Science and Engineering Fair, so despite the fact that you’ve shown zero interest in camping or hiking or being outdoors, we are sending you on a three-week, all-expenses-paid, Deliverance-themed journey into Appalachia.”

Except for the fact that the campers were old enough to drink and most were members of Mensa, National Youth Science Camp was exactly what you’d expect: long, damp walks through tick-infested poison oak; kayak trips preceded by mandatory safety training in an algae-ridden pond. Apparently, “science” meant having to know how to free yourself from an aquatic fiberglass girdle in the middle of a white water rapid. I reminded the counselors that we were scientists, not magicians, but they didn’t seem to care.

At one point, during a rock-climbing expedition, I found myself scrambling up Seneca Rocks where the guide instructed me to tie the rappelling pulley whatchamabob to the thingamajigger. Convinced he had mistaken me for an engineer, I shouted down, “Behavioral sciences!” then proceeded to concoct a series of knots resembling a macrame owl while vowing to learn more about carabiners. I did remember to look out over the majestic landscape, but instead of thinking “Ah…almost heaven,” I checked my rope and muttered, “What am I doing here?”

I can see the beauty in things. I just don’t want to be a part of it. Camp is great if you like sleeping in a room with thirty people and taking cold showers at 5:00 a.m. with a bunch of spiders. But in that summer before leaving for college, I missed my friends who would soon be leaving for school themselves. On the final night of camp, sitting beside the campfire, I looked around at the group of weepy, nearly adult science nerds. They were singing “Circle Game” and were devastated at the prospect of never seeing one another again. It was sweet, and a part of me wanted to join them.

But all I could think was, “Take me home, Country Road.”

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