During the summer, the camp routine was strategically interrupted by two-day unit-wide (only one unit participating) and three-day camp-wide (the entire camp participating) programs, which were basically “color war” competitions, except that, since my camp was “socially conscious”, the programs were organized around meaningful themes in which “The Voice of the People” was powerfully heard.
Hence, the Senior Unit’s “Hungarian Revolution” program of 1958.
“Breaking a program” concerned the way, invariably a dramatic way, a program was introduced. In the case of the Hungarian Revolution program – commemorating the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – campers were roused from their beds at midnight, told to don bathrobes and slippers and herded, under strict instructions not to speak, hurriedly down to the beach.
As we stood by the lakeshore, shivering in our pajamas, we caught sight of a small plane circling overhead. Scanning the skies, we watched a parachutist jump out of the plane, float down, and splash into the ink-black water below. The camp motorboat immediately sped out, picked him up, and rushed the downed parachutist back to shore.
After docking, the parachutist stood up in the motorboat, to address the assembled campers. Unfortunately, nothing emerged from his mouth, except nervous mumbling. It was almost as if he’d forgotten what it was he was supposed to announce.
A counselor – the counselors were, of course, in on “break” – took the initiative of moving things along.
“Has the Hungarian Revolution begun?” he inquired.
“I think so,” replied the tongue-tied parachutist.
And with that, a two-day unit-wide program was introduced, during which, instead of representing vying “colors” – blue, green, red and yellow – the opposing teams included the workers, the students, the farmers and the doctors. Though no matter who we were, we were still required to capture a greased watermelon, and carry it up to the dock.
In later years, when I was a counselor, I actually participated in the “break” of a “unit-wide” program. This time, it was an “Indian” program, inspired to instill a heightened awareness of Native Canadian heritage and culture in our youngest campers, aged six, seven and eight.
The “break” called for me, “a dying old Indian”, dressed in the traditional headdress, and wrapped in a blanket, to be brought into camp, lying on a travois, a makeshift litter constructed of a blanket stretched across two long poles, suspended from, and drawn by, a horse.
The plan was that the little kids would gather around to see the “Indian”, I would make some speech about how, like me, the Indian tradition was dying, and would soon disappear, unless, of course, “People remembered.” And with that, the two-day “Indian” program would be on.
We set up about a hundred yards down the road into camp. The final step was for me to climb aboard the travois. I turned around, and carefully lowered myself down. This was a delicate proposition for a rather awkward non-Indian, but I was finally in position.
However, the moment my head hit the blanket, the horse suddenly lifted its tail and expelled a flurry of snowball-sized poop balls, which, in rapid succession, rolled down the diagonally-arranged blanket, landing finally on the ground. I, of course, had long since vacated the premises. Though I was understandably chagrined by this unexpected turn of events.
The “horse wrangler” seemed sincerely perplexed. He assured us that the horse had, prior to their arrival, been thoroughly “evacuated.” Recent events had now put “thoroughly” into serious question.
The “poop blanket” was hastily replaced, and we were once again ready to go. I had no worries concerning the matter. It was, like, the safest time to get on an airplane is after a crash, because, “What are the chances of it happening twice?”
I lay down on the blanket, the “horse wrangler” tugged on the bridle, and off we went.
As soon as the horse took its first step, it immediately stopped, lifted up its tail…
And I jumped off!
That evening, I “broke” the “Indian” program walking into camp on my own two feet. I still told them I was dying, explaining to the kiddies that I was momentarily feeling better.
You got time for one more? This one’s a little different.
My friend Shelly and I were savvy Seniors, fifteen year-old know-it-alls. An informed study of the camp’s schedule revealed to us, we believed, precisely the date on which the camp-wide program would begin.
We proceeded to the camp staff higher-ups, and explained to them that we were certain that the “camp-wide” would be broken that night. The higher-ups reluctantly admitted that we, in fact, were correct. They proposed to us, that if we would keep our discovery to ourselves, we could go to a certain location, and, hiding in the nearby bushes, we could observe them set up for the program’s elaborate “break.” Shelly and I excitedly agreed.
After dinner, we snuck out to the stables – the site of the setup – and found a hidden spot, from which we could get a sneak peek at the preparations. This would be a first for us. Up till then, the “breaks” had always been a surprise. Finally, we’d be in on the secret.
The first twenty minutes were entirely uneventful, if you don’t count the swarming squadron of mosquitoes that were biting us to pieces. But we both agreed we should stick it out. We had a unique privilege here. We would ‘t have missed it for the world.
Forty-five minutes, and nothing happened. After an hour – still nothing. Finally, after an hour and a half, bitten alive and with nothing going on, we reluctantly swallowed our pride, gave up, and trudged gloomily back to camp.
How could we have been wrong? Our calculations were indisputable. We were still convinced that the program would “break” that night. It was just not setting up at the stables. The higher-ups had played us for chumps.
That night, there was a camp-wide marshmallow roast down at the beach. Shelly and I stood glumly on the periphery. As the evening progressed with still nothing happening, we started to doubt ourselves. Maybe we were mistaken about the whole thing.
Then, suddenly, several car horns started blaring, and three cars came racing straight for the beach, screeching to a stop just before the full-camp complement of campers and staff.
Shelly and my eyes lit up. It’s unlikely that we danced and hugged – neither of us being of a demonstrative nature – but if we had been, we would have.
We could not have been more excited. We were right after all. The program was breaking exactly when we’d predicted it would. What can I tell you? We were geniuses.
The car doors flew open, and a number of camp higher-ups jumped out. But then, instead of proclaiming the opening of the camp-wide program, they merely passed through the gathering, shaking hands, and saying,
“Hello.” “How’re ya doin’?” “Good to see you.”
And that was that.
What I later learned was that a widespread stomach flu epidemic had determined that, for the first time in memory, there would be no camp-wide program that summer. So, instead, the higher-ups took the opportunity to embarrass two wise-guy Senior campers.
Twice in one evening.
Though I’m telling you, if there had been a program, it would have broken that night!