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Camping – An American Tradition or Don't Touch The Tent While Its Raining
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 • Posted May 27, 2009

School is just about out for the summer, which means it’s once again time for our annual Vacation Location column – Standard & Poor’s top pick for guidance on where not to go with your family this summer. We’ll actually get to that story next week. Maybe. But first, we’re going to take a look at an American Tradition so great that our founding fathers mentioned it in the Preamble to our Constitution, when they put that ‘pursuit of happiness’ part in there.

I’m talking, of course, about sending your kids to summer camp. Parents have been packing their children off to camps for a week or two every summer ever since America became a country. In the early days, the kids often didn’t make it home, what with indians, wild animals, and other dangerous hazards. But parents remained undeterred, because the tradition gives them a week or two of peace and quiet, either before or after they engage in the other American Summer Tradition – the Family Vacation.

My wife and I send two of our boys to Camp Bandina, which is a Christian Youth Camp halfway between Bandera and Medina, on the Medina River. Our oldest son goes to Camp Deer Run in Winnsboro, which is up in the piney woods of East Texas. None of them ever come home with all their clothes. Soap, sure. Their soap and toothpaste always make it back, usually unopened, but they do well to get home with enough clothes to keep from being indecently exposed.

This is perplexing, because of two factors. When moms are packing their children’s clothes for camp, they write the child’s name in every piece of clothing with a Sharpie Permanent Marker. Some mothers write the child’s name, phone number, address, allergies, and dog’s name, on the outside of their clothes, and the kid ends up looking like a walking billboard. So you would think they would be able to keep up with stuff. Ha. You would think wrong.

The other factor is that, as a general rule, nice clothes sometimes make it home, but socks and underwear don’t. Maybe there are some strange kids out there who compulsively make off with dirty undergarments. The Surgeon General should definitely look into this problem. And he should wear latex gloves.

When I was a kid my parents sent me to Heart O’ Texas Bible Camp, in Brady, Texas. A fellow named Henry McBroom, a great man who looked like a cross between Andy Griffith and David Letterman, started this camp. Henry had a vision. He wanted to do something to help kids become responsible adults, and he wanted to coerce a bunch of Brady adults to work very hard for a week with no sleep. It worked out pretty well.

HOTBC started out with basically no facilities. We slept in borrowed tents, and when it rained, which it always did, all our stuff got wet and muddy. Most of the tents were the old, heavy, canvas kind, and every year we would lay in our cots while it rained, and a discussion would come up about whether a tent would leak if you touched it from the inside while it was raining. And every year a kid would reach up and touch the tent, directly above his head. And for the rest of the week, whenever it rained, or dewed, or someone took a shower, the tent would leak there, and the kid would complain, but the rest of us wouldn’t let him move his cot, because he was an idiot, and he deserved what he got.

But there wasn’t much danger of the tent leaking because of someone taking a shower, because the camp only had one shower. At least, I was told there was a shower. I never, personally, saw it.

We had a camp nurse, usually Dwan Lewis or Ruth Carson, and they would patch us up when we damaged ourselves, which was pretty often. We paid Dwan back for all her hard work and long hours when, one year, we got hold of her slip and ran it up the flagpole.

Bobbye Machen and her fellow cooks made meals for an estimated 43,000 kids in a cookshack the size of your hall closet. Whenever they were in there, cooking, we would bounce balls against the shack. They fed us anyway. I don’t know why.

The big thing to do on Friday night at camp was to sneak over to the girls’ tents. We had no idea why we were doing that, either, but it was expected. Stephen Bynum, who is now a DPS sergeant in Lampasas, and I once spent several hours sneaking all the way around the camp to get to the girls’ tents, and we were there about 10 seconds before being caught and sent back to our tent. Stephen said it was worth it, but he didn’t say why.

So summer camps are a very enriching experience for kids, and you should definitely send your children to one. If you happen to send them to HOTBC, tell them to look around for my underwear . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never touches the inside of a tent when it’s raining. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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