“Hello muddah, hello faddah
Here I am at Camp Granada
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.”
It was early winter when the phone call came from California. It was below zero, and the woods seemed to be cracking under the arctic blast that had buffeted us for days. Our then 11-year-old daughter was catching up with a friend and hearing all about a two-week sleep-away camp, nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills. “Waterskiing, boys, horseback riding, boys, dances at night and…boys.”
Our first child pleaded with us to allow her to attend this amazing adolescent Pleasure Island. After carefully evaluating Camp Skyline, we realized it was time to push the first chick a little farther from the nest. In the ensuing weeks, as snow thawed and the first breath of spring hinted at warmer days, she marched around the house with a reckless bravado, crowing condescendingly at her brothers, “I am going away for two weeks this summer and you babies have to stay home. You had better stay out of my room. It’s going to be soooo fun without all of you.” As younger brothers so often do, they looked up, merely shrugged and went back to their video games.
“I went hiking with Joe Spivy
He developed poison ivy
You remember Leonard Skinner
He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner.”
The departure date finally arrived. I served as escort on a transcontinental trip that included a brief stop in Denver where I had to give a speech. My daughter loved the taste of being an only child again and sat maturely in the audience as I delivered my presentation. That night, we shopped along Denver’s esplanade – walking arm in arm and I was, for a brief moment again, “Daddy.” The following day we landed in San Francisco, and drove to the East Bay where we stayed with friends. In a mere twelve hours, canary yellow buses would portage a new generation of girls and boys to Bass Lake and their summer world of adventure.
Late that evening, there was a tap on my bedroom door as my little girl walked into my room and asked if she could sleep in my bed. This hadn’t happened for years — I could tell something was weighing on her mind. The next morning dawned and she looked as if she was deploying for a year’s tour of duty in Afghanistan. When we first spied the parking lot of idling school buses, her hand squeezed mine. She sighed and hugged me tighter than she had in years. As the buses drove off, scores of arms and hands waved from the windows. I spied her circumspect face under a tangle of enthusiastic teens and realized my sparrow was flying right into her first major bout of homesickness.
“All the counselors hate the waiters
And the lake has alligators
And the head coach wants no sissies
So he reads to us from something called Ulysses.
Now I don’t want that this should scare ya
But my bunkmate has malaria
You remember Jeffrey Hardy
They’re about to organize a searching party.”
I recognized all the symptoms that morning – her need to use the bathroom, yawning, and an endless stream of redundant rhetorical questions. You see, back in the summer of 1972, another young man (who remain nameless) attended High Sierra Summer Base Camp and went three days without eating any food – – claiming he had contracted a rare stomach parasite and needed to go home immediately. His incredible persistence and exaggerated symptoms fooled all but the most veteran of camp counselors. At the boy’s insistence, the camp reluctantly arranged for the boy to call home where his parents refused to allow him to return before the week had concluded. Once reality set in, the boy was seized by the sudden craving for a hamburger. Four days later, he returned home with pictures of trout caught in high mountain lakes, strange wonderful stories about new friends and a veteran’s resolve to return to the “greatest camp ever.”
“Take me home, oh muddah, faddah
Take me home, I hate Granada
Don’t leave me out in the forest where
I might get eaten by a bear.
Take me home, I promise I will not make noise
Or mess the house with other boys.
Oh please don’t make me stay
I’ve been here one whole day.”
Her first letter arrived within two days. It was hastily written, as if the prison guards might arrive at any time and once again beat the soles of her feet. “Please come get me, NOW,” she pleaded. “It is horrible here and everyone is miserable. It’s hot and there are mosquitoes and the food is terrible and I can’t sleep at night…” The second postage stamped SOS suggested some form of child slavery might be operating at the camp as she was being forced against her will to bus tables as part of kitchen patrol. Letter three alleged emotional abuse. The Camp Skyline website which faithfully posted daily pictures of laughing campers and rowdy campfires – including a girl we recognized – seemed to conflict with her information.
“Dearest faddah, darling muddah,
How’s my precious little bruddah
Let me come home, if you miss me
I would even let Aunt Bertha hug and kiss me.”
As was the case in 1972, the parents held firm and the letters stopped coming. She was either dead or waterskiing. We suspected the latter. The day we arrived to pick her up at camp was emotional — she did not want to leave her new friends or the counselors she’d become so attached to. “It was sooo incredible.” She leered at her brothers. ” And you won’t be able to come for at least two more years,” They looked up at her, shrugged and went back to their video games.
“Wait a minute, it’s stopped hailing.
Guys are swimming, guys are sailing
Playing baseball, gee that’s better
Muddah, faddah kindly disregard this letter.”
~ Camp Granada by Alan Sherman