Camp La Verne, located a tad below Big Bear in the San Bernardino Mountains, is a place I hold dear to my heart.
When I first began going to camp, it was extremely rustic; it’s much more modern now. Back then, the 4-bunk, simply constructed cabins each had a half-door that swung shut with a spring, and the siding of the walls stopped two thirds of the way up, all the way around, with no windowpanes. Some of the nicer cabins had wooden pieces that could be swung down to cover the “windows” at night. As far as bathrooms went, there were pit toilets near the cabins (which I’d always have to pretend to hate the smell of). The water basin was down the trail from the potties, and it literally was a water basin covered with screen to keep out the tree droppings. It had a few spouts hooked up above for hand/face washing. As far as showers went, we would gather together under a few spigots in our bathing suits, surrounded by aluminum siding and nothing but the open sunshine above us. Our water was heated in a tank by a rusty pufferbelly that was kept going with fire while we went swimming at the lake. If our cabin was last for showers that day, we were pretty much guaranteed to end our cleaning with a shocking blast of cold water. We ate all our meals outdoors on bright green picnic tables right outside the kitchen, and would take turns doing dishes in the small, 3-sink washhouse. You might think all this sounds crazy and horrible, but that’s what I loved most about camp. It actually felt like camping.
Along with the joys of the rustic camping experience, I enjoyed meeting new friends and looked forward to seeing them again summer after summer. Many of the people I am still close with today, I met while at camp; including my best friend, Shannon. It was at Camp La Verne that most of my precious memories were made. I often think back to various times at camp and find myself giggling or smiling fondly. Although I have always been shy, it was there that I felt the most comfortable, and there that I truly felt that I could be myself and let loose.
When Shannon and I became old enough, we decided that we wanted to work a week at the Junior Camp being CIT’s (Counselors in Training). Really, what this meant was we got a winterized cabin down by the kitchen all to ourselves (along with another friend our age who happened to CIT that week) where we helped with random maintenance and/or kitchen needs and bonded with the kiddos during different activity times. The fun and freedom we experienced that week, led us down the path of being counselors for the Jr. High Camp the following summer.
All through high school, I’d attend my own camp, while also counseling at least one other group of younger campers. I continued this tradition throughout college, counseling for all the camps each summer. One of my favorite, and probably not the most responsible counseling times, was when I was too old, and no longer eligible to attend the High School Camp, while many of my core friends (only a year or two younger than me) were. So I came back that summer as their counselor; even better yet, I had Shannon in my cabin! It pretty much felt like I was a camper again, but with a small amount of responsibility. I’m sure I wasn’t too much of a help that summer, but I don’t think that I added any difficulties to the week. Quite unlike the time us counselors decided we’d let the CITs be in charge of our sleeping Jr. High campers while we snuck out to a winterized cabin to listen to CD’s and gorge ourselves on candy and hamburgers brought in to us from down the mountain. Yeah, our dumb asses got caught.
Thank you Directors: Jeff Brehmeyer, Jeff Pence, and Ron Hart for being so laid back and trusting despite my teenage antics. And Janet Hart, if you’re reading this, I was WAY more responsible with your Junior Camp…I wasn’t completely stupid. I’ve been a member of the CLV board for years now, and although I like helping behind the scenes, there’s nothing better than being at camp, and I’ve always wanted to direct my own. Last year, I was given the opportunity to co-direct the Jr. and Sr. High Winter Camp with my brother, Kevin. It’s so different as a director, but still just as enjoyable. The main difference is that while I still have the young heart inside me, I have to keep up the act of being a grown up. For example, as a camper, and even more so as a counselor, I participated in many pranks (the best one still being the time we hung Blair Witch figures everywhere and made most of the Jr. High girls cry all night long). This year, when a few pranks got out of hand during Winter Camp, although my insides were cracking up at the creativity, the external words coming out of my mouth were about respecting property and financial reasons why their pranks were not appreciated. I’d see the rolls of some campers’ eyes and smile, remembering my cousin Marissa and I sharing similar glances as teenagers when we felt an adult was being too serious and “ruining camp.” I get them. They don’t know it, but I do. It all comes full circle, and I can’t wait to see what else Camp La Verne will offer me as the years go on.