I had never gone to summer camp before. Of course I had been on a lot of overnight campouts. My troop would go on one every single month, rain or shine, hot or cold. This would be different though. Those weekend campouts were often one night, sometimes two, this however, was to be two solid weeks, 14 days!
I had been a Scout for a few years, in fact I was a Star scout the first time I went to Ten Mile River, but I was still nervous and anxious. Our troop was all working class families and none of the Dads were able to get a week or two off to take us to TMR as a ‘home Troop’ so I went as a provisional. Guys from my troop only went provisional. Who knew from ‘Home Troop’? There was one other kid from my troop who was already at camp. He was there for the entire summer and had been going for a few years by this time.
My dad took me to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan where he dropped me off with my duffle bag. I found the area for the TMR buses. There I saw a lot of other Scouts, all in uniform, saying goodbye to family. There were smiles, tears, hugs, frowns and waves as we got onto the buses. I had a bag lunch my dad had made for me. I started eating it before the bus even got out of the terminal. I knew no one else on the bus, but we were all Scouts and some were living up to the parts of the Scout Law that said a Scout is Courteous, Friendly, Kind and Cheerful.
These guys were doing skits, coming up with games to play while on the trip, teaching us songs and basically trying to make the rest of us feel comfortable. On the way up, we took a little detour to the Red Apple Rest where we were able to get out, stretch our legs, get something to eat and drink, and then get back on the bus for the next half of the trip to Ten Mile River.
When we finally got to camp, we pulled into headquarters area. Here it felt to me, what Ellis Island may have felt to my grandparents. They had us get off the busses, grab our gear and then they shuffled us around to make sure we put together with fellows going to the same camp. They put the guys for my Camp, which was to be Kunatah, with guys from Davis Lake. We loaded back onto different busses now, for the last leg of the journey.
As I looked out of the bus window I was completely amazed at the pristine, clean, great outdoors I was now in. Never had I ever been in such vast forest and woods. I saw lakes, streams, my goodness there was a deer on the side of the bus as we went towards Davis Lake.
Finally I arrived at Camp Kunatah. As I got off the bus, a young Scout came over to me and told me he was also a provisional and came down to help me get to our campsite. He was a kid from the Bronx. This was his second year at camp and he knew everything one needed to do to get by. He knew everyone’s nickname, and everyone had a nickname. He knew the staff member and other provisional scout. He took me to our provisional Scoutmaster who took my medical and then asked my tour guide to find a lean-to for me and show me the things in the campsite.
Luckily there was an empty bunk in the Lean-to of the guy from my own troop. Bobby Klein, or Rosie as we called him due to his rosie red cheeks relieved my guide and said he’d take it from here. Rosie showed me all the things one needed to know to survive at Kunatah. Where the willies (latrines) were, how to clean them, where the dish washery was, how to clean the utensils as a dishwasher, or clean the table if you were a waiter, so you wouldn’t get extra KP duties.
Then he took me on what seemed like a long walk down the trail to the waterfront. Along the way we saw the Jewish Synagogue in the Woods. I was in amazement. I had never seen anything like it. Little did I know that Provisional’s were often drafted to attend 6am services to assure people saying prayers for the dead had a minion (quorum) for such prayers to be said. One good thing is if you got morning minion duty, you got a great breakfast with extra snacks.
Anyway we continued down to the waterfront. What a beautiful lake! I had to take my dock test. As beautiful as the lake was, it was just as cold. I took my dock test as fast as I could so I could get out of the lake and warm up. I was a good swimmer so I passed with flying colors. Then to the boat docks. Took my rowing test, followed by my canoeing test. By the time we got back to the campsite it was time to wash up and get ready for dinner in the dining hall.
We all got into full uniform, marched down to the dining hall, singing marching songs and calls. These Provisionals were quite the group. We had a solemn flag lowering ceremony and then the games began as who got into the dining hall first…..or last. In the dining hall, some big guy got on a podium in the center and everyone got very quiet. This was the steward and he was boss. He ran the show. No one moved or made a sound as he scanned the room to be sure everyone was standing at their table. Once the steward was satisfied all was well, he had us do the evening grace. Being my first time at TMR, I faked it. By the third or 4th day, I had all three meal graces down pat though. After dinner, our troop stopped by the canteen, got some snacks and then back to the campsite to get ready for a new week campfire. I saw skits that were hysterical and was taught songs that were memorable (Mountain Dew, Sunday School Song, Kumbya….). We did Scout vespers and taps, which was a first time experience for me. Went back to the bunk with Rosie and the other two guys in our lean-to. We spent the next hour or so talking while in our sleeping bags. As I started to fall asleep, I couldn’t believe how pumped I was for what was to come in the next few days, yet alone years of my Ten Mile River experience. That was my first day at Ten Mile River and I’ve been going back ever since. In the next issue, I hope to share some more of those first year camp experiences. Feel free to share some of yours with us as well.