Kenny Gross popped awake the second the report of the reveille bell sang through the screens of Cabin One. He is 7 years old and has never been away from home before.
Sometimes, especially at night when rain patters on the roof, Kenny's eyes tear up and his stomach aches with homesickness, but this morning visions of Raisin Bran danced in his head. He jumped out of his bunk and into his pants and scurred toward the dinning hall of Camp Shohola for Boys.
As the "biddy" for Cain One, it was his job to get up before his bunk mates and set out the cereal bowls and juice glasses in the big barn-like dining hall where the scent of cooked squash mingles with pine tar. To the swiftest biddies go the Raisin Bran; to the leadfoots, the cornflakes.
Half an hour later when 150 campers stormed the hall with a banzai fervor, Cabin One had its Raisin Bran, and Kenny Gross wore a bashful smile. Of such triumphs summer camp is made.
For many children of the middle clas camps such as Shohola represent the first tentative step toward independence. They leave their homes in Baltimore or Washington for a sometimes bewildering world of campfires, strangers and quasi-Indian rituals where, suddenly, they are on their own.
For the eight small boys of Cabin One, each day is filled with discussions, disputes, adventures and play that don't end until lights out and sometimes later. It is a day filled at once with delight and pain, and some time the boys will look back on camp and remember it as one of those momentous occasions like the first day of school when they begant to grow up.
There is an awful longing for old rooms, pets and parents. They lie at night in strange bunks surrounded by gloomy forests full of eerie sounds while counselors prey upon their impressionable minds with tales of bodies buried under the floor.
Before long they hang from the rafters by their underwear. Toilets are flushed on baseball gloves. Pillow fights erupt, then foodfights and plain old fights as adversaries measure each other. They read by flashlight under blankets. They cut their thumbs carving torches for the indian dance.
They nap in poision ivy. They stay up all night talking about girls or more interesting topics like how much pain you'd feel if a shark bit your leg off.
There must be something truly exhilarating in such experiences because there are more than 8 million kids enrolled in camp this summer, according to the American Camping Association, and all of them couldn't have signed up because their parents wanted them out of the house. What's more business in this $2 billion a year industry which started in New England after the Civil War, is booming after lack-luster years in the early 1970s.
"Enrollments have gotten much better over the last three of four years," said Armand Ball of the camping association. "Who knows what accounts for it. The gas shortage has influenced some family's plans and there is a little more interest in traditional values. Camp is one of the places where you still raise the flag each morning."
At Shohola, 100 acres of pond and woods set in the Poconos five hours from Washington, all 150 spaces were booked by February at $1,125 for eight weeks. Shohola draws two-thirds of its mainly white and upper middle class campers from affluent Washington and Baltimore suburbs because the 39-year-old director, Frank (Kit) Bargar, is based in D.C. where he teaches at the Sidwell Friends School.
The camp was started in the 1920s and moved to its present site on Greely Lake in 1934. For a long time, the people at the camp thought Shohola was an Indian word that meant "beautiful waters." Then someone discovered it actually meant "weak, faint and depressed."
At the heart of the camp is the Hill, a rocky oak-shaped prominence ringed by 14 forest-green cabins that face a flagpole standing at the center of a clearing.
At five to eight on the July morning that Kenny Gross captured the Raisin Bran, the boys of Camp Shohola straggled out to group, by cabin around the flag for the morning muster.
"Muster up, men!" cried Tyrone Bell, a 28-year-old David Rubin who slept across from Kenny Gross. Sometimes he calls Tyrone "Candy Man" because Tyrone saw him crying homesick, on the 4th of July and gave him a piece of candy without saying a word.
David looks out from under black bangs. "i like to talk," he said, and he had a confessional streak that made it easy for him to talk about what it was like to be away from his dog, and his mom and dad in Baltimore. Other kids clammed up. David grew voluble. "I miss my dog Friendly and I miss not making my bed." When he woke up that morning he told everybody, "I remembered one dream I had when I was 4 years old and watching too much TV and the Jackson 5 were after me."
The inquiries at morning muster continued until 16 cabins of 150 boys from 7 to 15 were all present and accounted for. The campers pulled off their caps and put their hands over their hearts. The stars and stripes ran up a creaky pulley. It was a windless morning.
"Dismissed!" Tyrone said.
The silent orderly circle suddenly turned into an anarchic mob that surged over the hill and into the dining hall. Prayers were murmered as the whole camp, 200 strong, stood at their tables which reaked of Ajax, surrounded by a group of portraits of past campers mounted on the walls. Then everyone slid into seats, swilled juice, devoured cereal and the scrambled eggs some called-"yellow death."
The counselors made announcements about the day's activities as the biddies cleared the tables. Afterwards the eight small fry of Cabin One trooped back to the bunk for "bunk duties."
The two counselors in Cabin One, Dave Bushman and Steve Belgrad, both have had their work cut out for them ever since camp opened June 29.
The responsibility is exhausting. Neither is just a counselor. He is part babysitter, part maid, part referee, part friend, part surrogate parent. Sometimes they feel they have no part left for themselves. If one camper isn't bringing frogs into the bunk, or punching his mates, antoher is weeping for home, or sobbing because somebody cheated in a softball game. But the two Baltimoreans were campers themselves at Shohola for many years and they remember what it was like to look up to your counselors. "As a camper, I idolized those guys," Dave said. "The little kids, they think Steve plays for the Orioles. He signs autographs."
The morning flew past, three periods of rasping footstools in woodshop, practicing the "36" -- the half-mile swim test of 36 laps out to the float and back -- and riding, volleying, rebounding and lanyard-weaving. At the end of each period the bell hummed loudly through camp.
At lunch the whole camp sang happy birthday to Scott Lebowitz -- 12 now -- whose younger brother David was a camper in Cabin One, and the youngest kid in camp. Scott said his mother had his presents picked out already: two whitefish, a quarter of a pound of lox and a cake in the shape of a Mercedes. But she wouldn't be able to deliver them.
Parents are not allowed to drop by for visits, just as the kids are not allowed to call home, as a rule. Most outside contact is cut off. No TV, no newspapers. The only soda you can drink is an 8 ounce ration disbursed on Sundays. Routinely after lunch when the mail is handed out, all packages are opened by counselors and inspected for contraband, which consists almost exclusively of sweets.
It is a measure of the sheltered innocence of the boys of Camp Shohola that the foremost contraband is not reds, ludes or grass but fireballs, M&Ms and gumdrops. Because candy is forbidden except on "canteen nights" when you can get 25 cents worth, it is coveted with a desire out of all proportion to the attraction it has outside camp.
Parents try to smuggle it in to their kids packages from home. Counselors once found candy bars secreted in a box of tissues, other treats stowed where the third ball in a can of tennis balls should have been. In cabin 15, one camper's mom hollowed out a book and met success.