Boy Scout Camp Revisited by Sharon O’Donnell

Last week my youngest son, 11, went to his first Boy Scout Camp at Camp Raven Knob, a camp in the foothills of North Carolina about 2 and a half hours away from our home. His two older brothers had gone to the same camp several summers in a row, so I knew that even though the boys have fun, there is a possibility of homesickness there, especially in the midst of un-air conditioned tents to sleep in during a heat wave and bathrooms that leave a lot to be desired. And of course no TV, computers, cell phones, or other technology. I myself could go without the technology fine, but the no air conditioning and latrine-style bathrooms would certainly get to me if I had to be up there.

With our oldest two sons, my husband — a Scout leader and Eagle Scout — was up there with them each at the start of the camp to help them get acclimated; but, with my youngest, my husband had to work the first three days of camp and would not be able to go up until later. My youngest son, Jason, said it would be no big deal — “I’ll be fine, Mom” he said — but I knew underneath he wished Dad could be there. Jason also has allergies that my other two sons do not have — allergies to grass and trees and molds — and well, basically all of the outdoors. Several years ago, we’d wondered if Jason would even be able to attend camp for a week without having a problem with his allergies, but thankfully, he started allergy shots almost 3 years ago and they have helped tremendously. Still, in the heat that was so intense during the week of the 4th, I knew his eczema (which goes hand-in-hand with allergies) might get worse and cause some problems. He also has mild asthma that means if he exerts himself a lot he might start coughing, which can lead to some mild wheezing. Thus, along with his hiking boots, sun screen, sleeping bag, and bug spray, I also packed his Epi-Pen (never had to use but I have to play it safe), his inhaler, his Claritin, his Benadryl, and his skin creams. We also bought a battery-operated fan for him, which I never thought of buying for my other two sons when they went to camp (sorry, guys).

Jason left for camp on a Greyhound-type bus on a hot Sunday morning with about 60 other Scouts from our Troop (two hours after big brother David returned from a week-long Young Life camp in Georgia). The Scout leaders sent daily emails letting us know how things were going, and things were going well during the first few days, despite a loud thunder storm the first night they were there. My husband and I found that we missed Jason like crazy. Of course I knew we’d miss him, but it was kind of scary how much and how quickly we did miss him. Once again, I was reminded of how blessed I am to have my youngest son still at home with me as my two oldest will both be in college in another month.

My husband was finally able to go up to the camp on Wednesday morning, July 4th, and would stay until Saturday when they all returned home. Parent night was also on that Wednesday night, and it was a long drive to go up for dinner and then drive back home again in the same night — five hours of driving — but I had done it for my other sons and wasn’t about to miss Jason’s first camp Parent Night. I couldn’t leave until late that afternoon due to some errands I had to get done; I was switching Jason’s room with my oldest son’s large room since my oldest son was now in an apartment and would rarely spend a night at home again (at least until the job search begins which will be after grad school). This was a ton of work to move all of their accumulated stuff. As I was working, my husband Kevin called me from the road to tell me he forgot his Scout uniform shirt and asked if I could bring it. An important thing to forget, but okay. I went back to working in the boys’ rooms when the phone rang again. Kevin again to say he had also forgotten his flip flops for the shower and could I bring those. Back to work again — Another phone call from Kevin. This time he told me he had forgotten his sleeping bag. Really? His sleeping bag? I resisted the urge to remind him that the Scout motto is to be prepared. I got all of his stuff together and then resumed my work. I was finally able to leave around 3:45 or so.

The camp is near Mt. Airy, NC, the hometown of Andy Griffith and the inspiration for Mayberry — and the closest thing to Mayberry you’ll ever get in real life. With the recent death of Andy Griffith, the drive up to the camp for parent night certainly took on a new meaning as I passed by the beautiful and stunning Pilot Mountain (what was called Mount Pilot in the show) and then the Andy Griffith Parkway.

When I arrived, I met Jason and Kevin in the dining hall, where it had to be around 100 degrees. Everybody had red, sweaty faces. Yes, I had definitely arrived at boy scout camp. Afterwards, I walked back to the campsite with Jason. He told me that it was “sort of up a hill” As we walked up a slightly inclined area, I was hoping that this was the hill he was referring to. But it wasn’t. I saw that ahead of us was a steep hill with some narrow wooden boards here and there to serve as steps. I had on flip-flops because the camps of my other two boys had not been up a hill quite like this. The Scouts I was walking with all had on boots. But I could do it, I told myself. And I was doing fine. Then one of the Scout leaders who also happened to be a teacher at my middle son’s high school came up and started walking/climbing beside me. Then he started TALKING, as in he wanted me to reply. Talking takes breath, which wasn’t good. Had to walk up the incline and make conversation at the same time – -conversation that somewhat sounded intelligent, since after all, he was a teacher. I did so without gasping for air too often. I kept my answers short — and didn’t bring up any new topics. BTW, he had on hiking boots, too.

When we finally reached the campsite, Jason and I went into his tent. It was hot. “Jason, where’s that battery operated fan you brought?” I asked. He pointed to where it was laying by the side of his cot. “Turn it on,” I managed to say. “Let me see how it works.”

He turned it on and put it directly on his face. “It feels really good,” he said.

I pointed to my face. “Point it on me,” I begged — I mean said. He did so, and the breeze felt wonderful. Good money spent for that one.

Jason had been very mature-acting all during this time, and he seemed older in just the span of four days. In the course of our conversation about the classes he was attending at camp in order to get the merit badges, I asked, “Do you ever get bored?” His eyes teared up.

“At night sometimes I get bored, and that’s when I get homesick.” He shed a few tears and leaned us head up against mine, as we hugged. Ah, my little boy was still there. Good.
I told him that it was natural to feel homesick, that his brothers had felt it some too. I also told him that his dad was here now, so the night times shouldn’t be so boring since his dad would keep him busy. I also told him he would be home on Saturday and that I was fixing up his new room for him. And that I would get tickets for the new SpiderMan movie for Saturday night. All this made him feel better, but he still kept his head near mine for a few minutes with his arm around my shoulders. This certainly made the five hours of driving well worth it. I don’t even think Andy and Opie ever had a better moment than that.

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  1. 3 Responses to “Boy Scout Camp Revisited by Sharon O’Donnell”

  2. How interesting…here your 11-year-old is homesick and is “still your little boy,” whereas if you read my blog this week, my 8-year-old is off, running, and having the time of his life as we haven’t heard a peep from him in a week with another week to go. My little boy is growing up. It goes to show you that not every child is ready for more independence at the same time. My son is young, but knew he was ready to go. If you read my blog, and as you stated in yours, kids mature exponentially in such a short time at camp. I anticipate picking up a pre-teen next weekend!

    By Cara Meyers on Jul 15, 2012

  3. Hi Cara,
    Yes, all children are definitely different. Primarily, however, I was referring to him as still my little boy in relation to the two I have in college and that he still is still open with his feeling to me, whereas the others sometimes aren’t. Of course, he only showed this while he was in his tent alone with me.

    The first year of Boy Scout camp is always a ‘test’ of sorts because the boys go to classes from 9-5 every day (with a lunch break) — and they sleep in tents in the NC heat, and the bathrooms are pretty primitive too. It’s a great experience, and they do have time to have fun, too — but the camps are designed to have the boys earn merit badges about astronomy, computers, citizenship, history, etc. as well as swimming and some other outdoor ones. At night, there are only flashlights and lanterns since there is no electricity. Sleeping in a tent in the heat with a tent mate two feet from you is truly a learning experience. The first-year boys hiked up the ‘knob’, a small mountain which the camp is named after, and the Scout leaders said it was incredibly hot. The boys were glad to accomplish it, but they all came back dripping with sweat and red-faced.

    Jason says he really enjoyed the week as a whole, but the heat in the tent and the boredom at night made him homesick sometimes(as it would me). He earned six merit badges, so he was very proud of that. Glad to have him home — but he started his first year of middle school two days after he got back, and he has been busy with that ever since!

    By Sharon O'Donnell on Jul 16, 2012

  4. I believe that Jason was ready to go to the camp emotionally. You are lucky in that your son could be honest enough with you in the privacy of his tent, to tell you that he was bored and homesick. That goes to show what type of loving home that he comes from. Other kids don’t all have warm loving homes and they look to escape them to go on adventures. Be glad you have such a wonderful family.

    By Joan Price on Oct 27, 2012