Mary Hershey, Camp Survivor (Barely)
Did you know that during the month of August, approximately 2,031 marshmallows are flambéed every sixty seconds? Compare that to a mere 17 toasting disasters total during the entire month of February. Rowdy summer campers are responsible for these carcinogenic torches, too impatient to wait for slow toasting needed for the perfect gooey s’mores.
An estimated eighteen thousand pairs of underpants will be run up the flagpole, more than seventy-five hundred frogs will be misappropriated from creek to cabin, and the incidence of short-sheeting the newbies will hit the half-million mark.
Lastly In 2009, a record-breaking one million phone calls from camp contained the refrain “I WANT TO COME Ho-O-O-o-ME!” The year I went to camp, many summer moons ago, children did not have access to phones– landline, cell or otherwise. We had flowered stationery and enough stamps for one letter a week. We had little if any real chance to launch a come-get-me-NOW campaign.
In other words, I was trapped at Camp Talaki. Which despite my breathless excitement at the prospect of going on my OWN vacation without my brothers and sisters, it did not live up to my expectations. At all. Dangers and humiliations notwithstanding, unexpected homesickness slammed into me like a fast-moving train within two hours of being dropped off by my gleeful mother. She was looking forward to one less child to launder and herd.
Since I’d never been away from home before, I’d never experienced this strange malady. In my naiveté, I expected being homesick might feel wistful and only demi-tragic. I might cry myself to sleep for a couple of nights while a sensitive, pretty counselor named Cricket would rub my back and bring me hot cocoa.
But I swiftly and painfully discovered that camp did not make the mean girls any nicer. Or the sporty girls any less sporty. Girls with best friends still did not include me in their plans. Camp seemed to amplify all the discrepancies and inequities I’d ever known. It turned me into a bigger misfit with larger audience. I became more isolated. I flunked camp in nearly every way possible. I was fond of singing and snack period, but there was precious little enough of that .
And there was never ANY time to read! Rest time was taken up with trying to write the perfect letter that would inspire my parents to rescue me. I was a kid used to putting in a couple or three hours a day nose-down in a book. I was the only real reader in my cabin and got teased about it mercilessly.
Having barely survived the ordeal, I never thought I’d want to write a camp book because I’d had such a god-awful, lousy time. But eleven-year old Effie Maloney, leading lady in my two previous novels with Wendy Lamb– My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read this Book, and Ten Lucky Things that Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning—begged me for a chance at camp. I kid you not! She drove that story right onto the page, while I kept yanking the emergency brake. I tried to warn her. “Really, Effie, C-A-M-P? Trust me, you’ll hate it.” But the more I thought about it, I realized she was the perfect character to send. Though Effie was the kind of girl that might very well get eaten alive at camp, she had been through some pretty hard life stuff already. I trusted that her near boundless enthusiasm and good heart would keep her on her feet.
And she didn’t disappoint me! While homesickness rams into Effie as well, she decides it’s altitude sickness, never mind that Camp Wickitawa is at about 1000 feet sea level. Nothing turns out the way she has planned and hoped. Even her nemesis, big sister Maxey, turns up at camp, much too Effie’s complete horror. I owe a world of thanks to my editor, Wendy Lamb, on that one. In the first version I wrote, Maxey was only made a brief cameo appearance. After reading it, Wendy convinced me I had to find a way to fit Maxey in at camp—she serves as an essential foil for all of Effie’s growth. And she was right.
Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity was an important passage for both Effie and me. I had a great adventure writing it and loved the experience of watching Effie do and say the things I’d wished I had. And in my version of camp, I included way more time for snacks, singing and well– saving the day, of course!
(*No actual statistics were used or harmed in the writing of this article.)
Add this book to your collection: Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity
About the author: Mary Hershey loves writing about the stuff she was forced to endure when she was in middle school. She is the author of two other books about Effie Maloney: My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can’t Read this Book, and Ten Lucky Things that Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning. She lives in Santa Barbara, and loves a good afternoon snack. To learn more about Mary Hershey, visit her on the Web at www.maryhershey.com.