Musical selection: Summer (L'Estate) in G-, RV 315, Allegro non molto, from The Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni), Antonio Vivaldi, Opus 8, No. 2, courtesy of Classical MIDI Archives, © 1999 Pierre R. Schwob


Camp Lochbrae was the Hudson County Girl Scout Council's camp. It would have made Parris Island Marine Corps boot camp look like Club Med.

Camp Lochbrae was supposed to be a wee bit o' Scotland nestled in the highlands of Warren County in northwestern New Jersey. It was only 2 hours away by bus, but when you're 9 or 10 and traveling away from home by yourself for the first time, it might as well be the far side of Jupiter.

The girls slept on canvas cots, 4 to an open-sided tent. The tent flaps were closed only when it rained, raising the humidity level inside to that of an Amazon rain forest. The counselors, some of whom were barely older than their charges, bunked in cabins the size of a backyard shed. As for bathroom facilities, either you dug a hole in the woods or you went in a two-seater wooden outhouse. On Sunday we took cold showers in our bathing suits in a communal shower house. Sunday was also parents' visiting day, and we were allowed to buy the candy and snacks we had starved for all week, having long depleted the supplies we had brought from home. The Christian girls were bused into town for church services. The Jewish girls held their own Friday night services at the camp--the nearest synagogue was at least 423,000 miles away.

The food was OK. Not exactly Mom's home cooking, but not bad, either. Upstairs from the dining hall were the camp director's and the nurses' quarters. The camp director's name was Jane. She weighed approximately 400 lbs. Neither one of them had to sleep in a tent.

Then there were the camp chores. Cleaning the shower house was fun and a highly coveted assignment, and even KP wasn't too bad. Patrolling the campground was a drag, but not nearly as bad as the most dreaded camp chore of all--cleaning the outhouses. It was hard to say which smelled worse -- the outhouses themselves or the disinfectant we cleaned them with.

Our camp experience was designed to bring us in closer contact with nature. We learned how to make a campfire, lash branches between two trees to make a bench, and other skills necessary for survival in the great outdoors. Once time, however, nature came a little too close to us for comfort. A rattlesnake had slithered onto our path, and girls were screaming and crying hysterically until a counselor worked up enough nerve to grab a branch and clobber the venomous reptile to death. No one realized at the time that the snake had far more reason to be afraid of us than we were of it.

They tried to keep the camp activities wholesome. There were nature hikes, swimming in the camp's murky lake, hot dog and marshmallow roasts, arts and crafts, even a dance at the nearby Boy Scout Camp. But take 100 or so female adolescents with estrogen starting to surge through their pubescent veins, stick them out in the middle of nowhere, and things sometimes get raunchy. We giggled about boys, sex, and the Boy Scout camp. We snickered at off-color jokes we wouldn't dare admit we didn't understand. We whispered about who wore a bra and who had her period. We sang racy, improvised camp songs we never heard at any Girl Scout meeting. We tossed Janet's hairbrush down an outhouse hole and threw Bibs' prized 28AA training bra up a tree. Most of all, we acted crazy to keep from crying from homesickness.

I spent only two summers at Lochbrae. Eventually other interests and activities crowded Girl Scouts out of my life. Later on the Lochbrae campsite was sold, probably to a developer who built a subdivision there.

Of course, Girl Scouts still go away to camp and no doubt take for granted many of the amenities we lacked at Camp Lochbrae: screened in cabins, flush toilets, hot showers. And no doubt the young campers still giggle about boys and sex and moon over today's latest rock stars they way we did over Elvis. And perhaps they may still throw someone's bra up a tree.

But still, how many of them grow up with memories of cleaning an outhouse?