I went to summer camp exactly once, to a Boy Scout camp in Texas where the highlight was finding a scorpion in my shoe.
I like having that nice, compact memory. It's a recollection that doesn't need embellishment, or necessarily improve with it. I could whip up a lot of extraneous rigmarole, but the story is best told simply: I woke up in my tent. I went to put on my shoes. I noticed there was a scorpion in one. I tipped him outside the tent.
It must have made an impression on me, though, since I can still recall it 29 years later. I can remember that exact morning, the way the morning light struck the tent, turning the canvas walls into impromptu scrims and making the campers outside look like Balinese shadow puppets. I can recall the tent's interior landscape of rumpled sleeping bags.
My point is that summer camp sticks with you. It stuck with Sam Solovey, best known as one of the lackeys whom Donald Trump fired from "The Apprentice." The Potomac native spent five summers at a camp in New Hampshire.
"I remember going out on a canoe trip," Sam said. "We were yapping away. Before we knew it, we had lost the group and were totally lost on this river. We pulled over to the shore and found this nice person who helped us."
Sam said he saw in that little episode something like his life in microcosm: "I'm always yapping away, and we lost the group."
Matt Yglesias, a writing fellow at American Prospect and a political blogger, went to a camp in Maine from the time he was 10 to 15.
His strongest camp memory is eerily similar to Sam's. On an extended canoe trip, his group got lost in the fog.
"We were trying to see on our map where to go," Matt remembered. "We couldn't figure it out and were supposed to get picked up and couldn't find our way. We were trying to build a fire in the rain and sleet. We sent some people out on foot and we found some guy's cabin . . . out in some isolated area, and he had a phone and we were able to make a call."
Matt said that "while something like that isn't a ton of fun in the moment, it's a real bonding experience that you don't get in the normal world."
You tend not to remember the times you didn't get lost on a canoe trip, just the way the thousands of times you didn't find a scorpion in your shoe tend to blur together.
WMAL talk radio host Chris Core's boyhood sounds like something out of Mark Twain. Chris grew up in Iowa on the Mississippi, just up the river from a Boy Scout camp. His parents thought it would a "good thing" for him to go there.
"Of course there was no air conditioning at the camp," Chris remembered, "and it was really buggy because camp was located along the river. I've said on the air before that my idea of roughing it is staying at a Holiday Inn with black-and-white television. I never liked camping. I don't like it now. . . . I'm not anti-camping by any means; it's just not for me."
Washington Mystic Nakia Sanford would argue that such self-revelation is an important part of the camping experience. It starts with being around the sort of people you might not normally meet.
"I think that it is always good to be in a different environment," Nakia said. "I think that is how you find out what you like and don't like. You see what other people do and what they don't do and you say, 'I don't want to be like that,' or you say, 'I want to be like this.' "
When she went to summer camp in her native Canada, Nakia's teammate Stacey Dales-Schuman learned to identify all sorts of bugs, birds and trees. But it was something else that made an impression on her.
"When I was younger, I was self-conscious because my legs were so skinny," Stacey said. "And I had to go [to camp] with all these kids I did not know, and I thought they would all make fun of me because my legs were so skinny."
Stacey is pleased to report that her legs passed muster and no one gave her a hard time.
Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh, Hello Kelly
What camp experience burned its way into the hard drive of your brain? Tell me your best -- or worst -- camp memories and I may print them in a future column. Send them, with "Camp Memories" in the subject line, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or mail them to John Kelly, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Please include your name and city.
How to Help
You can help create a future memory for a local at-risk youngster by contributing to our annual Send a Kid to Camp campaign. We need to raise $750,000 by July 23 to support activities at Camp Moss Hollow. As of yesterday, Washington Post readers had donated $128,241.31.
Here's how you can contribute: Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to: Attention, Lockbox, Department 0500, Washington, D.C. 20073-0500.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/camp. Click on the icon that says, "Make Your Tax-Deductible Donation."
To contribute by phone with Visa or MasterCard, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in KIDS, or 5437, and follow the instructions.
Why not celebrate your camp donation by treating yourself to a meal today? If you eat at any area McCormick & Schmick's today and order the Caesar salad -- or drop by any M&S Grill for the spinach salad with hot bacon dressing -- the proceeds will go to Camp Moss Hollow.
Researcher Alex MacCallum contributed to this report.