Camp Trailfinder, Dorset, Ontario. July 12-26, 1969

This is a message for all of those parents who are welcoming back their kids from summer camp. Just a heads up – your kid learned more, tried more, and grew up more in three weeks at camp than they did three months during the school year. I guess that’s kind of the point.

When I was young, my parents were dead set against summer camp. They had both grown up poor and the idea of sending your child out into the bush, to be cared for by strangers in a remote and potentially dangerous place was terrifying for them.

The concept of ‘roughing it’ was something they both tried their whole lives to avoid. But I begged and begged. The cost for a two week stay was a great deal of money for them. I was struck by the photos of camp – kids singing around a fire, jumping off the dock, and – mostly – riding horses. Like most camps, the one I chose showed the horse portion of the program in an unrealistic ratio to how much riding their actually was. But it didn’t matter.

Camp Trailfinder.  Me at 11

Camp Trailfinder. Me at 11

I loved it. And the two weeks that I spent there when I was 11 years old were remarkable. For two reasons.

At about 11:00 p.m. on July 20th, 1969, I gathered with other campers and counsellors to listen on a tiny transistor radio as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. We stood outside, trying to get reception in the woods of Northern Ontario – and stared up at the sky in wonderment and heard those famous words: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But, frankly, that wasn’t the most important thing that happened to me that week. A few nights later, I woke up and heard talking. It was very late and I got up to see what was going on. Now the cabin had bunks at each end, with a washroom and lockers in the middle. The roofline was a complete triangle and the counsellors slept on a flat loft above us – with no walls. They were able to look down on either side and see what was going on.

It also worked the other way. When I heard my counsellor whispering I was stunned to hear a reply from a guy – not the other female counsellor who shared the space. It was very late. I was able to stand on the headboard of my bed and just peek over into the loft above. In the dim light from a tiny lamp, I could just make out two bodies lying in one of the single beds. This is what I heard:

C’mon…you know you want to.”

“I can’t”.

“Sure you can baby. It will be fine I promise.”

“Someone will hear us!”

Nah, they are all asleep. Please. You know you’re my special girl.”

There would be silences while I assume they were kissing and then it would start up again. This went on a long time. It was very Paradise by the Dashboard Light.                                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmPMMitJDYg

I honestly don’t know how long I stood, balanced on my tiptoes, just able to see the outlines of my counsellor and the very cute sailing teacher who was imploring her to have sex. The negotiating went on much longer than the actual intercourse that followed. And yes, I watched that too – or at least what I could see of it. It didn’t seem like she enjoyed it very much. He left immediately afterwards – without any romantic declarations which surprised me after all the movies I had seen. He just … bailed. She cried.

The next day, I saw at breakfast when he walked past our table she looked up at him and smiled and he didn’t even glance at her. Her face fell and she grew more despondent as the day went on and he ignored her completely. She was devastated, crying in her friends arms and watching him constantly. It was hard to miss him making out the very next night at the bonfire with the French Canadian girl who worked in the kitchen.

I cannot stress enough what an important lesson this was for me. At 11 years of age, I thought I was pretty cool and that I had it all figured out. Now I had learned something else. He gave her affection and attention when he really wanted sex. She gave him sex when she really wanted affection and attention. To this day, I have never done anything sexual that wasn’t entirely my choice. Because, that night, I watched and I learned.