Summer camp is a universal experience, especially if you grew up in the 70s and 80s. Boy and girl scouts had their camp, athletes had sports camp, and the kids in band had band camp (as popularized in the American Pie movies). The freaks, geeks, and other outcasts had their camp too….epitomized by my friend Andy as “nerd camp.” I was lucky enough to attend “nerd camp” for three summers in the mid-80s. I didn’t know it at the time, but the people I met and the experience itself would transform me.
At age of 13, I’d never been away from the familiar surroundings of my home for more than a night. My small, homogenous town on the Jersey shore was starting to feel like it was closing in on me. I felt stifled, and I was curious to meet different people and experience new things. Enter the chance to go to “camp” for three weeks in August! This was no traditional camp, with tents and s’mores by the fire. This was three weeks’ worth of classes, new people, and new experiences. I couldn’t WAIT.
Without going into a whole lot about the individual people I met there, or various experiences, I can tell you this. Those nine weeks, spread over three summers, were the very best of my teenage years. Finally, I met people like me, whose minds were going a mile a minute, and who got bored so easily in regular and even honors junior high classes. Teens from all walks of life, all cultures, and all backgrounds converged on this small North Jersey boarding school, and made it their own.
Although I have precious few photos, no letters, and no “autographs” from my friends at camp, I learned that even after a 30-year hiatus, we can get together and pick up like we never lost touch. And it was a pleasant surprise to learn that many of my friends from camp had the same thoughts as I did…those years were memorable and life-changing. The fact is, we all shared a bond that is difficult to break.
One of the counselors at camp wrote a song called “The Astronomers.” I don’t know if it was about the experience of attending this camp with so many like-minded people, but I do know that after the song was performed for the campers, there was not a dry eye that I could see. I haven’t heard this song in 30 years, but I would know it in a heartbeat if I heard it today.
The line that has always stayed with me is this:
“…there is a bond deep in my soul, our friendship will last as long as the stars burn, burning brightly in the darkness…”
It’s true. There is a bond deep in many of our souls, and many of our friendships have transcended time and distance, to burn brightly in any darkness through the years…