Tag Archives: summer camp

Campfire song: ‘A Boy took a Girl in a Little Canoe’

Text:

NP: “We sang this song at campfires once a week. It was a traditional thing that they would do every week since the camp started in 1924. And the whole thing is that we would sing the same songs every year that the girls had always sang.”

The song:

Well, a boy took a girl in a little canoe with the moon shining all around

And as he applied his paddle

You couldn’t even hear a sound

So, they talked, and they talked till the moon grew dim

He said you better kiss me or get out and swim

So, whatcha gonna do in a little canoe with the moon shining all around?

Well, a boy took a girl in a little canoe with the moon shining all around

And as he applied his paddle

You couldn’t even hear a sound

So they talked, and they talked till the moon grew dim

He said you better kiss me or get out and swim

So, whatcha gonna do in a little canoe with the moon shining all a—

Boys paddling all a—

Girls swimming all around?

Get out and swim!

Context:

The informant is my sister. She is a 22-year-old college student from New York City who attended a girls’ summer camp in Kent, Connecticut from ages 12 to 15. Though she thinks this song sends an archaic message, promoting gender stereotypes and heteronormativity, she remembers singing the song fondly. NP remembers feeling a sense of safety during these weekly congregations at the campfire, which fostered a sense of connection between her and the other girls.

Analysis:

I think that this song sends a simplistically feminist message. While one could interpret it as empowering or as an espousal of female courage and independence, since the girl in the story refuses to kiss the boy despite the unpleasant and possibly dangerous action she must take to avoid doing so, it also conveys sexist, heteronormative ideals. The song promotes gender stereotypes and, whether intentionally or not, problematic ideas about the value of female chastity. 

         Still, the song feeds into the atmosphere conjured by the campfire tradition, which can be seen as a celebration of girlhood and female community. I think that this environment is intended to make girls feel supported, empowered, and safe. With this weekly tradition, girls are free from the pressures of the male gaze and experience a sense of connection with the other campers as their voices blend. Moreover, the fact that these songs and the tradition of congregating at the campfire have such a long history connects current campers with previous generations of girls who attended the camp.

Summer camp rituals

Background: The informant (A) is my roommate. She a college student and recalls a story of her experience at a sleep-away summer camp when she was younger.

A: When I was probably….I think 7th grade? Or like during the summer after 7th grade, or maybe 8th or something. I’m not sure. But basically I went to this summer camp at a college in New York for like….2 weeks I think. And the camp leaders made us do a lot of like…..these ritual or traditional kind of activities…I mean, I thought they were pretty weird but a lot of the kids were actually really into it ’cause they had gone to the same camp before and they literally were just…..so into it. I don’t remember a lot of the specific actual stuff we did but the one at the end was called Passionfruit, I only remember that because we drank actual passionfruit juice at it. Or at least they said it was passionfruit juice. But …basically it was the last day of camp for everyone and everyone would wake up super early and the counselors would bring us out to see the sunrise. I think me and my camp friends did a sleepover or something and we set alarms for literally 4:30am and I was so tired but everyone went out onto this grass field kind of thing…it was just outside and we sat on blankets and stuff. I don’t remember exactly the stuff we did but I know we just sat there for a really long time until the sun was up and then we all gathered in this giant circle and people would talk about their favorite memories of camp, or how camp had changed them, or…..something like that, I don’t really know. But it got so emotional I remember being kind of weirded….like half the people were breaking down into tears and stuff. I mean like I was kinda sad but I wasn’t that sad….but I think to be like…nice..or fit in or something I tried to seem super sad too.

Context: This was told to me during a recorded in-person interview.

Analysis: The informant recalls her experience at a summer camp where campers and counselors took camp traditions very seriously. Specifically during the goodbye ceremony, she observed many of her peers in extremely emotional states. This is an example of folklore created by a common experience or location rather than backgrounds or ethnocultural identity. Campers who had experienced the traditions multiple times felt very attached to them while my roommate, who was witnessing them for the first time, felt confused and surprised at her peers’ dedication to these camp rituals. People who have experienced the camp and understand its lore can be considered the “in group” while people who have not can be considered the “out group”.

Secrets of the Lanyard

Main Piece:

Informant: I know how to start a lanyard– I was the girl everyone went to.

Collector (Me): Could you explain how to start a lanyard?

Informant: Okay. So it’s so simple you just get the two pieces of string and you lay them in like, a cross, like, so like the middles intersect, and then you more or less just do the normal lanyard pattern, like over the little cross where they intersect. And then when you pull it you’ve started the lanyard and you can just keep going. 

Collector: That’s so inspirational. 

Informant: (laughing) I was a hero at my summer camp.

Background: 

My informant is one of my friends, a sophomore at USC. She went to summer camps when she was a child, and a popular craft activity there would be making box stitch lanyards out of colorful plastic strings. Usually most girls at the camp would know how to weave the strings together into a lanyard, but the difficult part was knowing how to start it. Another girl would be the one to start it. My informant, however, did know how to begin a lanyard, and as a result she was the one that other girls went to when they needed help working on lanyards at summer camp, and in the eyes of her peers, was seen as higher status.

Context: 

This piece came up when my informant, another participant, and I were talking about the various activities we used to do during summer camps. We discussed jump rope games and songs, then moved onto crafts— specifically lanyards, and if anyone knew how they were started in the first place.

My thoughts: 

I liked this piece because it reminded me of my own memories of summer camp when I was a child and also struggled to start lanyards. I remember having to find someone who knew how to start them, but what struck me as I listened to my informant was that while I knew of people who could start lanyards, the instructions were always kept secret. In fact, the notion of secrets plays a significant role in children’s folklore. For children, who should be seen as their own cultural group (a repressed minority) when being studied, secrets are akin to obtaining status and power. Secrets solidify groups within the larger peer group of children, and withholding knowledge from others can elevate a child’s status in the hierarchy. This is seen through what my informant told me: by knowing how to start a lanyard, she was viewed with high esteem by the other girls at summer camp. She also mentioned the same status applied if you knew how to do a variation of the lanyard pattern, meaning that the skills of making lanyards were also valued in the peer group. 

Mud Hugs

Main Piece:

What’s the story behind the tradition?

“I don’t know if this story is true, but every summer the oldest age group went on their long camping trip, overnight-thing. Then they would come back to camp, and for some reason, one year, the age group ended up …like… in an orange grove or some back area that was dusty, and then somehow water was involved and they accidentally got covered in mud, and then they ran into camp and started hugging everyone.”

What does the tradition look like now?

“It became a tradition, and now it’s very… everyone does it and gets completely covered in mud. There’s a dance, you make a dance and a chant, and you perform and then you go run and hug everyone and then you go shower. Once everyone is all nice and clean, we all put on while clothes and celebrate Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath].”

Context:

My informant is my twin sister. She is Jewish, attended Los Angeles public school, and is currently a USC student. She went to a Jewish summer camp for multiple years. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, is celebrated from Friday night to Saturday night every week.

Analysis:

I’m familiar with this tradition because I have participated in it, both as the person hugging and as the person receiving hugs. It’s the culmination of a week-long camping trip without showers, so getting covered in mud is a symbol of how dirty the participants feel. The layers of mud are so thick that the participants almost don’t look human. The dance and the chant give the participants a chance to celebrate themselves after a hard week. The hugs are a lot of fun because you get to cover a group of completely clean people in mud. After getting clean, all of the participants wear white to juxtapose how dirty they used to be. My mother attended this same summer camp in the 70s and she never observed this tradition. This means we can establish a terminus post quem and claim that this legend and tradition originated after the 70s.

The Zorch

Main Piece:

What the heck is the Zorch?

“I think it was done on Tisha’b’av, inside the bunk, they [the counselors] would, before bed, they would turn off all the lights and hang dry cleaning plastic, you know what you wrap with, whatever that’s called, hang it from a lamp on a hanger, roll it down to make a column and would light it on fire. And underneath would be a bucket of water, like a white bucket of water, and the bits of melted plastic would fall into the bucket and *floom* [fire noise] light it up! They don’t do it anymore (laughs).”

What was the purpose?

“To scare the crap out of the little kids? (laughs) I have no idea. I think it happened on Tisha’b’av because it was sort of spooky, and um… it was almost like a ghost story kind of thing. Sadly, I don’t remember the story associated with it.”

Context: 

The informant is my mother. She is Jewish and attended and worked at a Jewish summer camp for most of her childhood. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other. Tisha’b’av is a Jewish holiday that recounts the destruction of the Second Temple. The date of Tisha’b’av also happens to overlap with the day the Jews were banished from Spain. It is a day of mourning, so observant Jews fast (don’t eat or drink) and adopt a solemn mindset during this day. 

Analysis:

While I have never experienced the Zorch, I have been at this specific Jewish summer camp during Tisha’b’av, and it seems like there would be no better day suited to telling a scary story with scary visuals to match. Tisha’b’av is very different from a normal day at camp, and anything out of the ordinary has exponentially more impact on campers on this day compared to any other day. All of the activities are somber, and the content of discussion throughout the day is the destruction of our people. If I had experienced the Zorch, I would have been very spooked. The fact that this doesn’t happen anymore reflects the general trend of camp administrations changing rules to value the physical and mental safety of their campers.