Sunday, February 1, 2015

Summer Camp Stories (part II) .....

The first time we put the canoes in water, I was terrified.  Seated in the middle, I tightly gripped both sides of the canoe.  "Don't worry," said one of the other girls in the boat, "it's really stable."  To prove her point, she grabbed the sides and rapidly leaned back and forth, rocking the canoe from side to side.  I shrieked, and she finally stopped.  Our inaugural voyage continued and we soon came upon a rocky area with rapids.  Having received only minimal instruction on how to handle a canoe in rapids, the other girls made a valiant attempt to go straight, but succeeded only in getting caught in an eddy, resulting in the canoe hitting the rocks and dumping us all out into the water.  Since it was a shallow area, I managed to again keep my head out of the water, but as I stood up I was crying and shaking in fear.

Our primary chaperone wasn't unsympathetic, but he didn't coddle me, either.  "You're fine," he said, "it's just water."  He was right, of course, and I had no choice but to get back in the canoe and continue.  It wasn't too long before I actually began to enjoy canoeing, and by the time camp ended, I was one of the most enthusiastic paddlers in the group.  (And I have never since fallen out of a canoe.  They really ARE very stable.)

I learned to love canoeing, but I was never crazy about having to portage.

Though I ended up enjoying the experience, it wasn't always ideal.  It rained quite a bit, and on occasion we were stranded for a couple days on a small island in the National Park, waiting for the rain to pass so we could continue our trip.  We crowded into an enormous canvas tent, sleeping literally head to toe to head to toe.  The tent was pitched on the beach of the island, which wasn't much larger than the tent, itself, and was on a slight incline. 

The slope of the floor matched the social hierarchy of the campers -- the popular girls slept near the top, while the less-well-liked girls slept farther down.  I was, no surprise, on the lowest level, just inside the tent flap.  This meant anyone coming in walked on my sleeping bag (tracking sand on and in it), and that during the nights, as the "higher up" girls settled in and gravity took over, they tended to inch downward.  This resulted in the lesser girls being extremely crowded.  In addition, water that leaked into the tent rolled downhill and created a puddle ..... right where I was sleeping.  I was damp for 72 hours straight and extremely glad when we finally were able to move on.

When my uncle arrived to take me home from camp, he'd arranged to bring another camper home as well, since she lived in a nearby town.  She was a year or so older than me and we didn't DISlike each other, but we didn't have much in common.  There wasn't much talk between her and I, but she kept up a conversation with my uncle for most of the drive.  After we dropped her off, my uncle remarked about how pleasant she was, and that it was nice to have such a friendly talk with her.

I smirked, but didn't say anything, because what my uncle didn't know was that she was a heavy drug user.  She was, in fact, high during the drive -- which no doubt helped her feel relaxed enough to hold a long conversation with a stranger more than twice her age.

This was a time when the US-Canadian border wasn't as tight as is it now, and the officials didn't ask too many questions or search the bus when we crossed between countries.  If they had, they would have found drugs in the bags of several girls.  They didn't try (too hard) to hide their use, and the chaperones were well aware of that use.  They'd often attempt to gently lecture everyone about the danger of using drugs.  At some point during the month, while we were riding our bus from one location to another, the head chaperone convinced a couple of the girls to throw their drugs down the toilet.  A group of us stood around watching while one girl threw hers in, vowing to never use again.  However, when it was time for the second girl to throw hers in, she started crying and said, "I'm sorry, I can't.  I just can't."  That second girl is the one who rode home with us.

Speaking of the chaperones.  Of the three, only one was a woman, in her 20's.  One was an older fellow whose  primary responsibility was to drive the bus.  The third was a man, probably in his 30's, but who seemed older, and was accompanied by his son who was eight or nine.  He enjoyed telling us stories, like how he won a "pissing contest" with some of his war buddies, and other tales which were borderline inappropriate for girls our age.

During one rest stop in Qu├ębec, he put one arm around the female chaperone and the other around one of the prettiest campers, and tried to convince a French-speaking Canadian woman that they were both his wives.  They smiled and laughed and thought this, and the woman's puzzlement, were incredibly amusing.

I never told my uncle or his wife about any of this.  I guess I assumed they wouldn't care.  Or that they wouldn't believe me.  Or that my uncle's wife would have found a way to blame ME for being in the canoe and for the girls having drugs.