On his first day at camp some years ago, reader Michael Phillips walked into the nature hut and came eye to eye with a green snake with a large lump in its throat. Sticking out of its mouth was a frog's leg.
"I haven't been too fond of snakes or frog's legs ever since," Michael said.
But Michael will never forget that day. The best summer camp experiences have a way of burrowing into your memory, not unlike, say, the way a tick burrows into your skin.
Arlington's Devra Wexler attended a camp in North Carolina nearly 20 years ago. On a camping trip to the other side of the lake, campers were instructed that to do their, ahem, business, they should dig a six-inch-deep hole with a shovel.
"That night during our campfire we heard wild screams coming from up the hill," Devra said. "A group of girls had decided to use a hole in the ground rather than dig their own. Unfortunately it turned out to be the home of some rather irate bees. You can probably guess the rest."
Painful, but memorable. As was Ed Duffy's camp memory. In 1954, Ed attended Camp Brown, a summer camp sponsored by the Metropolitan Police Boys Club. The events on "sports activity night" included boxing matches, and a reluctant Ed allowed his friends to goad him into entering.
He drew a boy named Johnny Goodman as his opponent. What Ed didn't know -- but his friends did -- was that Johnny was a Golden Gloves boxer. Said Ed: "In the first round, I landed a lucky hard right to his jaw and knocked him three rows into the surrounding stands."
That turned out to be a mistake.
"In Round Two, Johnny hit me with everything but the kitchen sink before the referee mercifully stopped the bout."
Thomas Lowry of Woodbridge was a camper then counselor at a Boy Scout camp in the High Sierras in the 1950s. Is his memory a harmless prank or child abuse? You be the judge.
One summer, the counselors decided to enhance the "emotional tone" of the camp. They enlisted the help of the camp's best-liked kid, a youngster named Charlie. At evening roll call, Charlie "fainted" and was carried to the nurse's cabin. That night, after lights out, a counselor rammed the camp truck into some empty oil drums, creating a terrific din.
Said Thomas: "Fifteen minutes later, we turned on the camp lights, assembled the campers, and told them that Charlie had worsened, and was being rushed to the nearest hospital when a car wreck took his life." It was announced that there would be an immediate viewing of the body.
A stretcher with a sheet-covered lump lay on the center table of the mess hall. "The weeping was nigh universal," said Thomas. "We then pulled off the sheet, revealing a pile of watermelons. Charlie appeared, obviously healthy. Hot chocolate was served with the watermelon and the camp returned to bed at midnight. . . . By bedtime, the campers saw it as wonderful joke."
Thomas says such a prank would be impossible today, what with the threat of a lawsuit. (He also says he's kept in touch with most of the participants "and can certify them as free of psychic damage.")
Sitting in the study of Susan Bennett's Huntingtown home is a battered, woven trash basket. Some of the reeds are broken, and Susan sometimes thinks about replacing it. But she knows she never will.
She made it at Camp Ton-a-Wandah in the North Carolina Blue Ridge. Crookedly penciled on the bottom of the basket is her name and "Butternut," the cabin she lived in that summer.
Says Susan of her study: "This room is all mine, where I read and write and listen to my favorite music, and the trash basket is part of what makes it my sacred place."
Sue Ann Westlund's brother was about 10 when he left for his first summer camp experience.
"My Mom packed his suitcase with the usual: swim trunks, shorts, shirts, socks, underwear. . . . When he returned one week later, my Mom opened his suitcase and it had never been opened! When asked if he had a good time at camp, he replied 'Great!' "
Make a Memory for Someone Else
By donating to our annual Send a Kid to Camp drive, you will help a needy child from the Washington area form memories that will last a lifetime. Our goal by July 27 is $650,000. So far, we've raised $202,985.99. Here's how to make a tax-deductible contribution:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to FCS, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
Looking a little scruffy? Hair getting a little long? Tired of your old look? This Sunday at Salon Daniel in McLean you can get cleaned up, shorn and rejuvenated -- all for Send a Kid to Camp.
As they did last year, stylists are coming in on their day off and giving haircuts from noon to 4. "We're hoping to get people after church, or during that dead time in the afternoon," said Salon Daniel's Telisha Allison.
No appointment is necessary, and all proceeds will benefit Camp Moss Hollow. They want to cut as much hair as they can, and so won't be doing perms or coloring. The minimum contribution is $30. Salon Daniel is at 6828A Old Dominion Dr. in McLean. The phone number is 703-893-5000.
It's Friday, which must mean that at exactly 1 p.m. my weekly online chat will begin. Be a part of it, at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.