WASHINGTON -- Memorial Day, nee Decoration Day, was a big deal when I was a kid. For one thing it was the day that 33 drivers in the world's fastest cars roared around a brick track in the granddaddy of all races, the Indianapolis 500, about 30 miles north of my home.
More importantly to me it was the unofficial beginning of summer with the opening of the community swimming pool and warm days when all sorts of out of school activities from fishing to exploring beckoned from the creeks and woods around home. It also meant, at least when I was still a ways from puberty, heading for camp.
The anticipation of that began the minute school was out so that the three weeks I actually spent there stretched into more than a month of excitement as I packed and repacked and saved every nickel from a magazine route. This was post-Depression by only a very few years and World War II with its gasoline rationing had curbed travel. Also families, still reeling from the deprivation of the worst economic disaster in the nation's history, were just getting used to having a little money and were still careful how they spent it.
The name of this Shangri-La with its permanent cabins and ice cream and model and craft stores, chapel, dining hall, sail boats and swimming was Camp Crosley. And the years I went there the director of this YMCA-owned and operated heaven on earth was Mr. Pettyjohn. I'm not sure of the spelling after all this time nor do I remember his first name. It doesn't matter. He was short and round and a kind gentleman whom we only saw in the chapel for convocations and other camp-wide events. He had been there for years and obviously was slowing down. His assistants and counselors did most of the work.
I do recall the extravagant cost of this excitement. It was $11 a week or $33 for my entire stay, not counting outlays for candy, ice cream, stuff to make a lanyard and so forth. The importance and popularity of a camper was measured by the intricacy of his lanyard. Those fellow campers with the more colorful and elaborately woven lanyards were the most envied among us.
I was listening to National Public Radio the other day and heard a piece about the summer camp industry. The average for an overnight camp was, the reporter said, about $789 a week. For a day camp, it was more than $250. That meant that my experience today might cost $3,000, depending on whether its rate fell above or below the average.
But this venerable institution on the shores of Lake Tippecanoe, Ind., founded in 1921 is still going strong and the weekly residence fee was listed on the Internet as $500, still a tidy sum in comparison but obviously a better bargain than some. o that I can only add, "Holy Cow!"
Perhaps this summer experience has taken a backseat to the specialized "camps" offered in nearly every sport - hockey, basketball, football, baseball, tennis, golf ,etc. Maybe the electronics at home or those offered at a camp are more attractive to today's youngsters than hiking, swimming or boating. Send-a-kid -to-camp charities, I realize, still exist and now and then I have contributed. I do know there are various church-sponsored and Boy and Girl Scout camps that my own children attended and still talk about.
If this activity has diminished because of cost or lack of interest, it is too bad. I believe the semi-organized freedom of a summer in a verdant setting is one of the more exhilarating, memorable ways of spending time away from the classroom. Every night the camp bugler would warm up to ending the day with a rendition of a popular song like "Dreams" and the cabins would fall silent as they prepared to do just that.
After four years, I had other things to do. But every Memorial Day, I think about how excited I was in anticipation of those adventures by the lake.
Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at firstname.lastname@example.org.