12:00 AM EDT, May 21, 2014
My camping horror story happened when my parents used to take my brother and me camping when we were younger. My mother decided to make us Kool-Aid using unfiltered water from the well that was near our camping site. We didn’t know until after we drank most of the pitcher. We all ended up getting really sick. Also, my father got stung in the eye by a wasp, and I got stung in the leg by a bee. Let’s just say it was one of the worst camping trips I ever had. At least I got to spend time with my family.
Growing up, I went to Camp Milldale every summer. During sleepovers, the counselors would scare us campers by the fire by talking about a mental institution that closed down a few miles away. One crazy person named Cropsy escaped. Cropsy had a hook on his arm. Well, counselors decided to take the story further. One counselor put on a mask and a hook, and jumped out screaming. Most kids ran. One kid ran in fear and fell down a big hill. He literally broke his leg—went to the hospital.
My backup story was when I walked my crush up the hill to the other side. I tried to make a move and kiss her and she ran away!
Back in 1971, when I was 7 years old, my mother sent me off to Camp Puh’Tok for two weeks for the first time. This is an overnight summer camp and had parent visitation on the middle Saturday. We rode a school bus from the Highlandtown Boys Club up to the camp. This was my first time ever away from home, and I’m being shipped out on a school bus to someplace I had never been.
When you are between the ages of 7 and 9, you stay in the Pioneer Village. One of the things they used to run is the visit from Mr. Woo Woo. He was supposedly a person who overlooks campers throughout the world. To go see him we had to decorate grocery bags (the old brown ones) and make masks for Mr. Woo Woo. So the night came when we would visit Mr. Woo Woo. For some reason, Mr. Woo Woo stayed on a hill just outside the camp . . . hence the name Woo Woo Hill. We had to hike up that hill . . . at dusk . . . with our masks on . . . backwards . . . because he could not be seen until after you spoke with him one-on-one.
All of us campers sat around a campfire and were not allowed to take off our masks. One by one, we were escorted to have a moment with Mr. Woo Woo. He spoke to us in a very deep voice. He asked if we had been good or bad campers. If we were bad, we had to wear our clothes backwards for a day. I think everyone said they were bad ’cause we were all scared. At the end of each private meeting, Mr. Woo Woo asked if you wanted to see what he looked like . . . well, curiosity got the best of each of us . . . so our counselors would pull off our mask and shine their flashlights onto Mr. Woo Woo. There was a hideous brown scary face staring at you and his body covered in blankets. The flashlights would then go off and the counselors would take you back to the campfire.
Before we left, all the campers had to drink a special brew concocted by Mr. Woo Woo (wound up being sassafras tea). We then hiked down Woo Woo Hill and back to camp.
The next day . . . with our clothes worn backwards . . . we wore our masks to each meal and had to give the Woo Woo Chant before we could eat.
Later on, as I grew up and worked at Camp Puh’Tok . . . I learned the secrets of Mr. Woo Woo . . . and the legend lives on.
When I was 8, I did what all of the good li’l Jewish girls in my Hebrew school did, and I went to the JCC camp. One particularly blisteringly hot day, they decided to let us have a sample of the kind of food that ALL kids want mid-summer: hummus. As they gave us each a square of pita with hummus on it, we were all munching away as they tried to teach us Yiddish words. We were trying out one that had a ton of syllables when I remember my letters all mashing together in a way that didn’t sound right. I turned to my camp counselor to try to ask what I was doing wrong, but my tongue was getting in the way. After looking at me for two and a half seconds, the counselor’s face was first a mask of complete horror, followed by one of faked happiness and glee.
“OK, what do you say we visit the nurse? Wouldn’t that be FUN??”
She grabbed my arm and ran me to the nurse’s station, though I had no clue why. It was only when I caught my reflection in the nurse’s mirror that I got it. My entire face was swollen to about three times the normal size—my tongue included. My eyes were so swollen I almost couldn’t see. After being doused in Benadryl and getting to eat three freeze pops (score!), it was then that I found out that I was allergic to chickpeas.
Gee, thanks JCC—FOR NOTHIN’.
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