Special Treat and Rumpus Dance

Jogging in the summer heat has been bringing back a lot of summer camp memories. Mostly because it makes me very thirsty and my primary sense memory of being at camp is of being very thirsty and not having sufficient access to liquids. Most of my camp experiences were various horse camps which all turned out to basically be a way to get wealthy parents to pay for their children to do manual labor for a stable, but occasionally I went to a more standard summer camp.

The other day on my run, I was thinking about delayed gratification (something I’ve never mastered but would still like to teach Edith somehow) and I remembered a particular thing that happened at my favorite summer camp. This was a “farm home” camp run by Quakers, which meant that it was tents on a working farm and we all got to milk cows and play with baby goats in addition to the more typical roster of camp activities (we also got to attend Quaker meeting every Sunday, but that was less of a draw). It was idyllic and I loved it, but I only attended for one summer because my mother felt that the counselors were overly familiar with the campers and that the camp as a whole had a progressive agenda (another thing I never learned as a kid was just not to tell my mother things, which is something I hope Edith also fails to master).

Anyway, on our first day, there was a sort of meeting where announcements were made, and one of the things that we were told was that there were two changes being made from the previous year. Apparently, there was a certain dinner (I can’t remember what it was called, so I will just call it “special treat” although that wasn’t the name) that was so beloved by all the campers that they continually tormented the kitchen staff by asking incessantly if special treat would be served that evening, or if not, if it were possible to change the intended menu to feature special treat instead, and if not, when special treat might be served again? To fix this, all campers were hereby informed that special treat would be served once and only once during the two week camping session and that all campers would be informed in the morning when it was special treat day, so there was no reason to ask about it ever, and doing so would not change the plan.

Secondly, there was a particular campfire song and dance combo (again, I cannot remember what it was called, so I will just call it “rumpus dance”) that was so beloved by all the campers that whenever it was performed, the campers were worked up into an absolute frenzy and things got entirely out of hand. Exactly what “out of hand” meant was not specified, but from the tone and the abashed response of the veteran campers, I can only assume that it had led to a cannibalistic orgy. To fix this, rumpus dance would only be performed a single time, on the final night of camp.

Obviously, as a new camper, I was very excited to experience both special treat and rumpus dance! With such stringent rules limiting our access to both of them, they must surely be treats of the first order. When we new campers asked the veteran campers about either one, we were assured that the delights of both were transportive, but they seemed to be so superlative that words failed when the campers tried to describe them in any detail, so they remained shrouded in mystery.

Well, we eventually had special treat and it was literally a slice of bread with pasta sauce ladled all over it. I found it inedibly disgusting. I don’t know why this dish was so beloved by campers, except for the fact that the camp served vegetarian dishes that were mostly based around a hearty grain and whatever produce was being grown in the gardens, and so maybe bread and pasta sauce was more suited to your typical child’s palette. But I was the sort of kid who got offended whenever a server gave me the children’s menu and would hand it back by two fingers and sniffily ask for “a normal menu” (in other words, a gigantic pain in the ass), so I wasn’t particularly into it.

On the final night of camp, we had rumpus dance. I don’t remember much about it except that all the campers leapt to their feet and threw themselves into a circular dance around the campfire with wild abandon. I particularly remember one very withdrawn girl who had spent the two weeks keeping to herself and maintaining a grim expression absolutely flailing about as if possessed. But because of the embargo on rumpus dance, none of the newer campers had been able to learn it, so all we could do was sit there and watch, perplexed and intrigued, while the previous year’s campers reenacted this scene from The Secret History. This was a letdown.

I don’t know what the point of this story was. Something about moderation and/or delayed gratification not being worth it? Although as an adult, I can see that in this case, it actually worked its intended purpose, in that the campers were unable to annoy the staff on these two points. Maybe the takeaway is that limits work great when you’re forcibly applying them to other people, but not so great when you’re experiencing them yourself. Which is possibly not an especially novel observation.

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