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Kelso: Happy summer camping Austin

Having been named Senior All Camper at Trout Lake Camp in the 1950s, I feel qualified to speak in favor of sending your kids off to camp for the summer.

I think I was 12 when I won the award, presented to me in front of the hundreds of fellow campers who were gathered in the camp dining room for dessert. I still remember my acceptance speech.

“Thanks a lot,” I told my audience. Best I could do on short notice.

I’m not sure why I was named Senior All Camper, but I suspect it was partly because I didn’t give the counselors a hard time. And I was really good at pingpong.

The key to summer camp success is to pick out a camp your little expletive deleted will enjoy. Otherwise, he’ll be pestering you to bring him back home by sending you letters making his summer camp sound like Guantanamo. You’d think your offspring was being waterboarded or chained to the floor from these letters your kid is going to send you.

Summer camps became such a cultural phenomenon in the U.S. that in the 1960s that comedian Allan Sherman came out with a Grammy-winning song that addresses the “get me outta here” camp issue. The novelty song was so popular that it raced toward the top of the Billboard charts.

“Hello Muddah, hello Faddah, here I am at Camp Grenada,” Sherman’s song begins. “Take me home. I hate Grenada.”

In the song the child urges Mom and Dad to come get him before he is “eaten by a bear.” And other problems were addressed in the lyrics:

“You remember Jeffrey Hardy?

“They’re about to organize a searching party.”

Today, kid’s summer camps commonly boast about the educational experience. How many of you parents have a plaster canary your kid made at camp crafts class?

Perhaps my summer camp’s most heralded learning opportunity was the knowledge passed on during Saturday night’s weekly Indian Council. All of the campers gathered around a campfire while O’ Big Chief, wrapped in a blanket tossed over one shoulder to look Indian-ish, so to speak, would pass on the secrets of Native American ways.

O’ Big Chief was a tall guy in his 20s from Connecticut who for the occasion would wrap a towel around him toga style.

During Indian Council night, we braves would challenge each other in games, such as the one where the winner was the brave who could spit the most water into a cup. If you wanted to challenge another brave to a game, such as leg wrestling, you had to go through O’ Big Chief.

To get O’ Big Chief’s attention to make a challenge, you’d stand up and stick your left thumb in your ear. Then, when O’ Big Chief addressed you, you’d tell him you wanted to challenge another brave to maybe standing on your head.

The food at Trout Lake Camp was pretty good. Friday night was fish night, when the camp director, known as Mr. D., would explain what kind of fish we were being served. Each fish night came with a different kind of fish, allegedly.

Actually, this was just the camp director having an excuse to come up with some funny names for each week’s fish du jour. Dr. Orville’s octopus was my favorite.

But the campers ate it up, so to speak, and would end each meal by chanting for the cook, a roly-poly man named Phipps, to come out of the kitchen and make an appearance.

“WE WANT PHIPPS! WE WANT PHIPPS,” the campers would chant in unison, until Phipps came out of the kitchen to make an appearance. He’d hold his hands in triumph over his head as if he’d won a Gold Medal.

I actually did learn a few things at Trout Lake Camp that proved valuable. Thanks to the camp, I’m pretty good at paddling a canoe. So whenever you need a ride in a canoe, I’m your guy.

Just don’t ask me to make you a canary out of plaster. I never was much good at arts and crafts.

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