Camp Waldemar Postcard

Most of us can remember that first time we shipped our kids off to summer camp. The fear of losing oversight of our darling ten year olds and the knowing that our babies would call the next day to beg us to come pick them up- only to find otherwise, that we had been quickly forgotten and abandoned.

Camp Photos

Camp Mystic in the 1950’s

There is something about a summer camp; part reality, part memory, part some mythical place Wes Anderson dreamed up. Almost everyone, even if they never attended a camp, has their idea of what camp is, whether it’s a camp along the shores of a lake in Maine or the Adirondacks, the Catskill Mountains, the mountains of North Carolina, or the hills of Arizona, camp is an all-American tradition. Even if summer camp wasn’t the setting for some of our mother’s or grandmother’s stories of summer, stories of camp have been immortalized in our cultural memory in books and in movies- some romantic, but more often, slapstick comedy.

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Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom”

The fact is, Summer Camp has always had its place in America’s hearts and memories and for many, summer would not be summer without those few magical weeks away from home. For parents it was a few precious weeks of freedom, a time to catch up, rest from the endless carpooling, or maybe even, just perhaps, a romantic weekend without the kids.

For the kids, it was much more. It was their home away from home. It was adventure. It was community. It was fun. It was pure escape.

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Girls fishing on the river bank

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A solemn camper ceremony at Camp Mystic

Every summer we would load the suburban with the camp trunk that was etched with cabin names like, Chatterbox, Rough House, Tumble Inn, or Hangover. We would leave San Antonio on a Sunday morning, stop for breakfast, then get on the highway heading north into the Texas Hill Country. We would soon be joined by a caravan of others from Houston, Austin and points beyond in cars graffitied with the names of camps, cabins and tribes in pink and purple shoe polish.

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The Guadalupe as it flows through Camp Mystic

An hour or so north of San Antonio, but a world away, we would turn off the highway and begin following the Guadalupe River (camp name- “Guad”), an emerald green ribbon lined with cypress trees winding its way through the limestone hills. We would make our last stop at the Hunt Country Store, an old smoky joint of stone and cedar logs, where we would get some BBQ and allow some last bit of the camp-banned substances of soda and sugar.

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Camp Waldemar

Here in Hunt, the Guadalupe River forked. The North Fork wound by the ¾ scale Stonehenge and horse fields lined with picket rails to legendary destinations, like Camp Waldemar (a favorite for those from Dallas), or the Mo Ranch. The south fork took caravans past small weekend river houses, the rodeo arena and barbed-wire fences with pickets topped with old cowboy boots to places like Camp Arrowhead, Camp Heart-O-The Hills, and to our final destination, Camp Mystic. There was an aura of history in these valleys, for these Camps built in the 1930’s of limestone, cedar and cypress, possessed as much character as that which they were to instill in their resident campers.

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Camp Mystic

We would eagerly look for the bend in the road where we would spot the huge sign on the hill, “Mystic” framed in incandescent light bulbs, then rounding the corner to the gatehouse, be greeted by a high-pitched shrill of dozens of campers greeting each car bearing returning friends and tribe members. We would park the car on the green lawn to find the backdoor open, our daughter already bounding for her friends. We would drag the heavy trunk to her cabin, load up the tab at the concession stand and be on our way to wait for our first letter, noting all the new adventures and friends of summer- memories not to be forgotten.

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Camp Greeters

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Camp Mystic Ceremony

See next week’s blog post by Sari Imber on her experiences at Camp Mystic.