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Summer camp just around the bend - Valerie Baldowski

Even before the end of the school year, I am already seeing signs of summer. I have received my first note from my son's school about registration for their annual summer camp program.

Camping activities are a summer tradition, so much a part of growing up. There's plenty of different kinds of summer programs, but thinking back over my camping experiences as a kid, I think - and this is just my opinion - everything else pales in comparison to the traditional camp setting, with the woods, the campsite, and outdoor activities, including daily swimming.

My very first camping experience came when I was about 7, or so, after I completed first grade. I think my mother felt her little girl needed toughening up. She chose a beautiful camp in the hills of North Carolina, a camper's paradise. It had acres and acres of wooded trails, horseback riding, archery, a softball field, and swimming in the lake.

It offered boating, arts and crafts, a community campfire, a dining hall, a canteen "general store," where kids could purchase snacks, and some lovely "bunk house" sleeping quarters for the campers, with a bunk bed for each child.

The camp had a Native-American theme, and each bunk house bore the name of a tribe. Mine was the Blackfeet.

The campers stayed up there for 10 days, and at the end of those 10 days, the parents could pick up their children. I remember my mother making a big deal about me going to camp, buying me a large trunk, decorating it with colorful stickers of some of my favorite cartoon characters, and putting my name on it in large letters.

She gave me $5 (to me that was a huge amount of money) and told me I could spend the money in the canteen buying candy, soda, and snacks.

The first time being away from home is a bewildering experience for a kid, and fortunately the camp counselors were patient and understanding. My mother would write me upbeat letters of encouragement, with pictures and drawings, and I looked forward to those eagerly at mail call. I think I wrote back one letter to her during my entire 10-day stay. It went something like this: "Mom, please come and get me, I want to go home."

Upon reading my letter, she probably felt like hopping in the car and immediately driving up to camp to retrieve me. The major deterrent was that it was in North Carolina, several hours from Atlanta. That's a good thing, I think, because it cuts down on the impulse parents can have to snatch their child away too soon from an experience that can help them become more self-sufficient, and grow as a person.

I stuck it out, and sure enough, I was proud of myself at lasting the entire time. I remember the last day of camp, when the parents showed up to pick up their children, and were invited to an evening program around an outdoor campfire. I hung onto my mother for dear life, so glad to see her again. But looking back, it was a wonderful experience.

When the time comes, I hope to find such a summer camp for my son, to share with him how much fun camping can be. To me, the prerequisites will be lots of outdoor activities, the traditional choose-a-spot-and-make-your-own campsite option, bring your own lunch, and daily swimming. But this time, I think I'll start on a small scale, with a day camp in Georgia.

Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She can be reached via e-mail at vbaldowski@henryherald.com.