Skip to content

Happy camper without being able to float

Joyce Walter writes about a summer camp experience
Reflective Moments by Joyce Walter

“They say down in Camp Willa Willa the doughnuts are divine until one rolled off the table and injured a friend of mine.”

“They say down at Camp Willa Willa the ants look like cows except the ones who passed away because they ate the camp chow.”

The name of the camp has been changed to protect the innocent, and because just possibly the camp in question is still in operation as a means to relieve the boredom of summers away from the classroom.

Although I only went to one summer camp, I suspect all camps have their chants and songs that serve as part of the entertainment program put together by counsellors trained in such activities.

As I recall from that summer many decades ago, we were a motley-looking crew dropped off by parents on arrival day. Some campers were happy to arrive; others weren’t so sure whether the coming week would be a fun experience or punishment through communing with nature. And there were tears for some as they saw their parents driving away.

I didn’t want the parents to leave me there but I knew they couldn’t get a refund on the camp fees so I showed a stiff upper lip and headed to the tent that would house four of us plus a “leader” of the adult variety.

We had received a list of supplies and on that list was a sleeping bag. Mine was probably the oldest one there, being of Second World War vintage. My Dad brought it home one day, proud as a peacock that he’d gotten a deal. Immediately Mom began stuffing it with enough sheets and homemade quilts to keep me toasty warm regardless of the weather. 

I do recall that on its own it was a heavy piece of sleeping equipment — and more so when it became drenched when a downpour filled our tent with rainwater. We were evacuated to a meeting hall and I struggled to carry my wet sleeping bag and quilts, plus a suitcase and my stash of cookies up the hill. Finally, a helpful counsellor from the boys’ side of the camp came to my aid and I fell in love with his helpfulness. Maybe camp wouldn’t be so bad after all.

My tent mates also had developed a crush on this chap, but alas, he had eyes only for our sleep-in leader. We were sworn to secrecy when she left our tent after TAPS to meet with her counterpart. What was so secret about meeting to plan sessions for the next day’s program? Dumb as posts, we were.

The worst part of the whole week was being forced into a bathing suit to take swimming lessons — in water, in some kind of lake that was much deeper than our bathtub at home, or the creek at Besant Park. The instructor, as I recall, had official training to teach beginner lessons. She failed miserably with me after my refusal to put my face in the water, and my thrashing around in an attempt to float.

I sincerely hope she recuperated completely from that experience — it simply convinced me that water was not my friend, that I had no need to stick my face in water, and that floating was unnecessary for me to be a happy camper.

Joyce Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.