First Lady Nancy Reagan went back to summer camp yesterday. She ate burned hot dogs, refereed a soccer game, hugged campers, and touted the virtues of charity at Camp Pleasant in the Northern Virginia suburbs.
She brought along a gift flag, and memories from her days at Camp Ketchua in Michigan, too.
"Hello, Mrs. Reagan," T-shirted children called out with varying degrees of courage soon after she emerged from a black limousine that swirled clouds of yellow dust.
"This is so nice," she later told the campers. "My camp was on a lake, it was icy cold," Mrs. Reagan said, as she stood at the arts and crafts building at the small camp for underprivileged area children in Prince William County. "I remember we had to get up in the morning and go down to the lake and brush our teeth with salt."
The first lady's invitation came after she and the president read about The Washington Post's "Send a Kid to Camp" fund-raising drive and made a $100 donation. Camp Pleasant and two others like it depend almost entirely on private donations raised by the newspaper and other Washington organizations.
"We thought it was a wonderful thing," she said. This year funding had been precarious and there was talk of not opening this summer. That crisis was averted, but next year the camps expect to lose a $30,000 lunch subsidy as a result of federal budget cuts. But yesterday was Nancy Reagan's day and there was no mention of the cuts her husband has encouraged.
Her two hours at the camp near Dumfries were spent among its more than 100 youngsters. "Great, great!" Reagan said as she stood by the pool watching a game called "Monkey in the Middle." "It looks very inviting, I wish I'd brought my suit!"
"What channel are we going to be on?" a small boy called from the water, as he eyed television cameras.
"I don't know," the first lady said.
At the crafts cabin, the children eyed Mrs. Reagan as she inspected their watercolors. "I think she's nice and pretty and gentle," said Linda Jones, 10, of Washington. "She dresses good and she fixes her hair nice."
Later in a log cabin, 25 children performed a skit called "She's Wearing the Mask," and sang a song called "Smiling Faces." Its lyrics include the refrain, "Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes, tell lies, and I got proof."
The first lady smiled throughout, hugged and praised the children as she left the cabin. "Come back and see us," said 13-year-old Renee Harper, as she waved goodbye. "If you invite me, I will," said Reagan. "I'd like to."
Reagan ended her tour at a large stone-ringed campfire, where she munched on a hot dog and sipped bug juice, the timeless summer camp beverage. The campers and counselors hovered around her, eyeing her red patent leather shoes and the wires and beepers adorning her retinue of Secret Service agents.
"I love it here," said camper Linda Jones, who is at Camp Pleasant for the second session. "I can get up early, take a shower, and I can eat all I want."
"A lot of the kids have never been out of the city before, or away from their neighborhoods," says counselor Hope Mitchell, who has worked at the camp for 14 summers. "What they get here is a crash course in lots of things -- swimming, painting, just interpersonal skills. We don't expect to do much changing of values in 11 days. When it's over, we just want them to understand they can be good at something."