Tag Archives: camping


“A lot of parents pack up their troubles and send them off to summer camp.”  — Raymond Duncan

[Music plays]: Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.  Here I am at Camp Granada.

 . . .

Summer camp.  Often looked forward to, by kids and adults both.  Most campers fondly recall the experiences long after they reach adulthood.  [Make sure you find and see the 1993 film Indian Summer to fondly recall some awakening memoriesofatime: “Indian Summer starts out like one of those reunion movies where friends from long ago gather again, to settle old scores, sort out old romances, open old wounds, and make new beginnings.  All of those rituals have been performed by the end of the film, but curiously enough, the movie isn’t really about what happens.  It’s about how it feels.  This is a story more interested in tone and mood than in big plot points.”  –Roger Ebert, April 23, 1993]

indian summer cover


Camp is usually a time to make new friends, try new things, come face-to-face with animals, bugs, unusual weather, strange sleeping conditions, and many new responsibilities.

Experiential:  Arts and crafts:  Yes, potholders, and key fobs.  Field trips.  Flowers and weeds’ identification.

Music: sing-a longs, campfire songs: “She waded in the water and she got her feet all wet….”; mysterious drum poundings and even dancing.

Water: swimming, boating, rescue; leeches, water bugs, and small water snakes.

Health: Nutrition, meal preparation, outdoor cooking (and camping)–and clean-up duties.

Safety: First Aid, wood carving, rock climbing, sailing.

Potty Training: Constipation from inability to utilize outhouses, or hating Porta Potty/Port-O-Let facilities.  (Does eating an entire can of whipped cream really work as a laxative?)  I confess here: I dreaded summer Scout Camp for this very reason: I am potty trained, but I need a clean flushing toilet, with my quiet time, my reading time for TIME magazine.

time magazine cover


After my experiences in summer camp (some of which I have written about previously:, camping was never high on my bucket list.  I did some with the family when the boys were young, making sure we camped in a park with adequate running water, and clean toilets.  I hope they were never scarred from their own summer camp experiences.  One did attend Scout camp, and, later, high school Band Camp.  The other experienced summer ROTC camp, and a real “summer camp” in Afghan-Land.  (I have learned little about the toilet facilities there.) 

Overall, as an old fart looking back at my scouting summer camps, I know it wasn’t that bad.  One time we were housed in old military Quonset huts:

quanset hut Absolutely the best summer dorms for me–except for the loud snorers who sometimes kept me from falling asleep.  Spacious.  Lighted (some electricity).  And cleaner floors, for some reason.

The other camp facility I liked had a screen door, wood floor, bunk beds; canvas roof, wood sides halfway up, then screening to the top.  The canvas roof could be rolled up or down, for heat or light or air, depending on the needs of the resident scouts.  Heavy rain could be a problem, however, with overspray into the “cabin.”

Then, of course, the tents.  Not tents, as we think tents, but tents with hard floors, soft canvas sides, soft tops.  Hot, when Chicago-area summer temperatures were high.  But no grass underfoot. 

scout tents


For excursions, and overnighters, we had those fold-up tents that were put up and taken down in the usual way–the kind that most people associate with camping, bugs, snakes, bears, cold, rain, romantic wilderness trips, bucolics, starry-starry nights, shooting stars, “sitting around the campfire singing Girl Scout songs”–and our sleeping bags, with other Abercrombie and Fitch, Coleman-Stove equipment:

CAMPING-COLLECTION photo by jim golden


Camp counselors planned our days well: the events were structured to help us get our different merit badges: Camping, First Aid, Botany.  I did not do well with plant recognition.  To this day, everything is poison ivy; I herbicide anything that looks like a hand.

poison ivy jewel-weed-poison-ivy


(I do recognize beautiful Queen Anne’s Lace.)  The meals were healthy and pretty good–especially, for me, the hot dogs grilled on the campfire.  I’m not a fussy eater; I liked nearly everything they put in front of me.  I had no trouble with KP duty, cleaning up and doing dishes: my mother taught me well at home. 

We arrived at camp on a Sunday; we departed for home on a Saturday morning–unless we were Senior scouts or Eagle Scouts staying for two weeks or more.  Parents came on Thursday night for Visitor Night: Campfire, songfest, and crying time by those young’uns who had been away from home for the first time.  (I was one of those who cried, but did not want to leave early; some did.)

Glued into my Journal #35, I have this sacred piece of memory, dated 8/11/52, written in ink, in cursive [I was 11]: “Dear Mom, I miss you very much.  I wish I was home with you.  I lost my new raincoat, we were doing the dishes and I ran out and forgot it.  I have so many mosquitoe [sic] bites it isn’t funny.  Please come out Thursday and visit me.  We are having very good meals.  We have to wash the dishes and wait on the Scouts.  I washed today at dinner and I serve tommorrow [sic].  I am going for second class.  I will be second class (Chuck said) [Chuck was our Assistant Scout Leader] by the time we are out of camp.  I miss you very much.  With Love, Jimmy XXXXXXXX P.S.  I got my Kiwanis Patch  Jim XXXXX”

This says it all about Summer Scout Camp 1952.

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

scouts at st mary's 1951











Clear and Present Danger

In the film Clear and Present Danger, hero (Dr.) Jack Ryan is accused of being a “boy scout” because he learns of a misguided military operation–and intends to commit “transparency.”

Is the truth to be told? Is telling the truth–facts–a bad thing, to be associated with being a “boy scout”? Seems so, by the standards of the antagonist’s comment to Jack Ryan. It’s complicated. “It’s grey” (not always just black and white).

Whistle-blowers are conflicted, are complicated. Are they “boy scouts” by not speaking up, by not speaking out, by not telling it as it is: the truth?

“[Jack]…You are such a Boy Scout!”

I was a real Boy Scout. Troop 661. St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Chicago. Here I am pictured in my most official uniform, smiling, giving-receiving the Scout handshake. There I am, published in the Southtown Economist, a local Chicago newspaper. My fellow Scouts and I are with the regional Scout director. We must have done something special to get our picture taken and distributed. I cannot remember what it was.

Jimmy as Boy Scout with Scout Leader 1950sWhat I remember about Scouting could fill pages, memories from years of service, from Cub Scout to Boy Scout, ending in 1955. It was a sad time for me when I “resigned,” but we also were moving away from the neighborhood. Once there, my high school studies became a priority. No time for Scouting.

life scout patch pre-1972


So there I sit, smiling and handshaking. One can see the sash  I have over my right shoulder, with a few merit badges, with my pins from my previous ranks: Tenderfoot, Second-Class, First Class. At the time,  I was a Star Scout.

Then I progressed to complete the requirements for a Life Scout. (I never became an Eagle Scout.) An honor, Life Scout was, to wear the heart over my heart, and become a card-carrying member of an elite group.

Scouts, as many know, complete time-in-rank requirements (as military Service members do) and requirements for merit badges before advancing. I earned mine mostly the hard way: work and study. Some stand out more than others, are memorable memories of a time past.


FIRST AID: Though no badge is pictured on my sash, I did complete all required tasks. I later received the badge symbolized by a green cross on a red background.

I wondered about that color until I learned about copyright rules and using the Red Cross logo. I always had to explain that badge. I was pretty good at first aid, one of my better subjects. I knew A-B-C (Airway, Breathing and Circulation, the protocol for cardiopulmonary resuscitation–CPR. “The color, don’t forget the color: When the face is red, raise the head; when it’s pale, raise the tail; when it’s blue, it’s up to you.”) And other good tidbits of life-saving activities.

I remembered much from first aid that helped me in my job while in college as a hospital orderly, even the chest compressions I gave on a patient (who died), and at another time for a neighbor lady who had a heart attack in her yard (who died). Not a really good record, but as a Scout I helped our troop win some first aid competitions.

Later, many years later, I was training for a local volunteer EMS service in our small town. In First Aid Competition, I did well with GSW [gunshot wound] and delivering a baby. Neither of these was I taught in Scouts. My demonstration of the Heimlich maneuver was so good that the “victim” blew out his false teeth… I would have saved his life, but probably bruised his diaphragm.

sleeping bag


A most important badge for Scouts is CAMPING. Mine is seen there in the picture, along with HIKING–to get to the campgrounds, usually. Most of my experiences in camp, summer or weekend or camporees, were disasters. Most of the time I was constipated…

I had a WWII-Korea-era, US Army–style sleeping bag passed down from my older cousin. It zipped up my body into a cocoon, leaving only my face exposed to the mosquitoes.

I had a good voice for singing around the campfire, could roast marshmallows burned the right way, could even put up a tent or two; but my land navigation was “crap.”



My Army surplus metal eating-cooking pan and plateware oxidized, rusted, and were awful to clean with cold camp water. These were real “mess” kits.

SWIMMING: I hated summer camp swimming: cold, cold water. Always cold–and over my head. My merit badge for this activity was earned later, really earned. It took a long time for me to get in over my head, literally. But I did it–and was even able to dive from the barrel raft once I overcame my fear of deep water. Scouting enabled me to do this.



PUBLIC SPEAKING: “Prepare a talk on a topic…” And so forth, to collect and organize information…leading a meeting…rules of order…

I received this badge, never dreaming that I would stand in a classroom in front of students, teaching for nearly fifty years.

On my left arm is the patch for Senior Patrol Leader: I became drill instructor, teaching marching, calling meetings to order, and tried to teach knot tying. (I was awful with the Bowline on a Bight, and some others. But I did master the square knot.) I planned outings with our Scout Master (who drove a beautiful four-door Hudson–and told us he was a G-man. Then we learned he worked for the Chicago Sanitation Department: a “Garbage man.”) And, I did “other duties as assigned.”


One of my greatest experiences was our troop’s exhibition in the lobby of the beautiful Southtown Theater.

Our troop was invited to set up a model campsite, make pretend fire, answer questions, and make displays of our own hobby work. I shall never forget pretending I was sleeping in the tents we arranged–and eating baby hot dogs.

So that is some of what “such a Boy Scout” means to me. I tried to “Do a good turn daily.” Is that such a bad thing? I know I have tried to “Be prepared.” I swore the oath to “do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times (not a bad idea); to keep myself physically strong (ooops!), mentally awake, and morally straight.” Quite a bit for twelve to eighteen year old boys.

I was such a Boy Scout!

I was “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Then. But I remember. All this from watching a movie. Way to go, Jack Ryan! (Way to go, Author Tom Clancy!)

* * *

“Boy Scouting, one of the traditional membership divisions of the BSA, is available to boys who completed the fifth grade and are at least 10, or who are 11, but not yet 18 years old. The program achieves the BSA’s objectives of developing character, citizenship, and personal fitness.”


© JAMES F. O’NEIL 2015

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