Camp Songs: Never Forget

For three years in a row — fourth through sixth grade — I attended Camp Orkila. Located on Orcas Island, the largest of Washington State's San Juan Islands, it was there that I learned to shoot bows and arrows, eat geoduck, make blobs out of clay and call it art, kiss boys behind trees and paddle from island to island until I earned a certificate with the title "Junior Canoeist." Back in the free-for-all that was the Pacific Northwest of the 1980s, we also shot guns at camp. With only our 15- or 16-year-old counselors there for protection and guidance, we lay side by side on old cots and fired guns at targets.

Then there were the camp songs. A lot of the music probably came from a YMCA songbook. Some tunes were spiritual and felt pseudo-religious, like the ones we had to sing before each meal; others were silly or veered towards the dirty before turning out to be G-rated after all. As a preteen, the mere hint of salaciousness was intoxicating; better than outright lewdness.

"Hello, operator, please give me number "9"
And if you disconnect me, I'll kick in your
Behind the refrigerator, there lay a piece of glass,
Ms. Lucy sat upon it and broke her little,
Ask me no more questions..."

We fancied ourselves beastly and wild.

On the last night of camp, there was a dance at the mess hall, where it still reeked of dinners and dish soap. We'd clean ourselves off in the cold showers, try to put on a combination of clothes no one had seen during the week and dance to Depeche Mode and other hits of the day. We were homesick, but sick at the thought of going home. We exchanged phone numbers we'd never dial. And we tried to have one last gasp of fun despite the fact that many of us hadn't gone the bathroom in seven days. (Constipation is summer camp's dirty little secret.)

Much of the music I remember from camp was unofficial: the songs a counselor would play for us on acoustic guitar, or that an older camper would sing after telling us a tale of his hard-knock life. We couldn't get enough of "One Tin Soldier" or "Cat's in the Cradle." These were the real deal: message songs that made us feel deep and worldly. As a result, we sang them constantly, and even more bizarrely, in rounds. Spontaneous and melodramatic versions of either song cropped up on benches, at meals and in our bunks before bed. Someone usually shed a tear. It was gloriously awful.

When I came home from camp, I also had a newfound interest in "The Circle Game," a song my father had on the soundtrack for The Strawberry Statement:

I don't think I still listen to any of the songs I learned at camp, yet I can't seem to forget a single one of them.

Please share any summer-camp or school songs that have left an indelible impression on you.

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