When I was fifteen my dad sent me to John Birch Society camp. The camp was in Colorado, and a group of people I’d never met before dropped by the house to give me a ride there. They all seemed a little odd but nice, in a granola kind of way. Granola that was extremely patriotic and wore flag shirts. I felt out of place the entire week.

There was a dance almost every night on the deck of the upper level of the main meeting hall. It smelled like trees and fresh and stars and snow, even though there was no snow at that time of year. The DJ, in an effort to not let in any Satan Music, played a lot of Huey Lewis and the News. It was better than the country music they played on the radio back home, so I went with it.

I slept in a cabin with 7 other girls. We all had our own bunks and sleeping bags and trunks that slid under the beds. I didn’t know any of them and most of them knew each other from years before. I was a little on the outside of the group but every time I started feeling sorry for myself I’d think, do I really want to fit in with these people? I’d feel better instantly and then visualize how awesome I’d be when I went home and told all my friends about how cool I was at this camp. In other words, lie.

Every girl in our cabin was full of their own personality quirks. One slightly heavy girl with acne took birth control pills but swore she was still a virgin. I didn’t believe her, but knowing what I know now, I wish I would have pretended to. Another girl, who had super long, dark hair and freckles and carried a Walkman with her everywhere, told lies and told us she told lies. It went something like this:

Her – ‘Hey, you guys. Last summer my parents took us all to Paris and then all around Europe. We ate crepes and frites. Do you even know what crepes and frites are?’
Me – ‘Um, ya, crepes are those thin-‘
Her – ‘Ohmygodyouguys, I lied! I totally lied. We never went to Europe last year.’


Her- ‘Once, when I was little, a snake got in our house and they found it in my bed.’
Me – ‘Did it bite you?’
Her – ‘Oh, no. It didn’t bit me. They got it in time. My dad got a gun and shot its head off.’
Some Other Girl – ‘Eww. That is gross. What kind was it?’
Me – ‘Did it make a huge mess and was you-‘
Her – ‘Ohmygodohmygodyouguys, that never happened! I don’t know why I said that. I’ve never even seen a snake!’

And then she would giggle for awhile, looking completely and utterly weird and the rest of us would just start talking about something else.

But the very most awesome girl there was a redheaded girl with natural curls that I was totally jealous of. She would tell us about fights she got into and then exclaim about how she had that redheaded temper. And she wore a red t shirt one day and told us that something about her complexion made it fine for her to wear red, in fact it looked great on her, when other redheaded people couldn’t.

The very first night, after we brushed teeth and got in bed, we all talked for a bit, said our goodnights. I’ve never been a heavy sleeper and I have a hard time going to sleep in the best of conditions. Sleeping in a new location with a bunch of new people, some of whom were mouth-breathers, wasn’t really conducive for my sleeping well. After about half an hour, everyone had fallen asleep but me. I could hear all their deep, heavy and sometimes slightly snoring rhythms and wished I could doze off.

Suddenly, the redheaded girl started talking. And not just kind of talking quietly, or a little bit of mumbling, either. I’m talking about a full-blown one-sided conversation with someone in her dream at regular talking volume. And it wasn’t even an interesting conversation. Something about going shopping and getting ready for school and getting her chores done before watching television. BORRiiing. Where’s the sex and the intrigue? I’d have at least liked a little mystery if I was going to be kept awake.

Eventually, everyone in the cabin was awake and telling her to shut it. But she wouldn’t wake up. She finally reached the next level of sleep and quit talking and everyone else went back to sleep. But it was the same story every night. There was talk of her being possessed by a demon. One of the girls, who’s father was a preacher, said she’d seen him cast out devils who did this kind of thing. I was impressionable then, and I might have believed her, except talking about grocery lists and riding a bike didn’t really sound that satanic.

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  1. Wow! JOHN BIRCH SUMMER CAMP. This is amazing. Leah, you need to write another book! You just have so many facets.

    I remember having a friend who was down with the Satanic thing. The strangest things were Satanic–unicorns! UFOs! So she sawed the horns off all her unicorns and made them into horses.

    I never quite got the theory behind it–like what about war and pestilence? How can an inanimate object do any harm? I’ll never forget her father’s enormous gun collection.

  2. oh, you have got to be kidding me! MY DAD SENT ME TO JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY CAMP TOO WHEN WE LIVED IN COLORADO!!! This would have been around 88, when I was about 15 or so, and was huge into Huey Lewis…

    OHMYGODLEAH I TOTALLY LIED! I cannot believe i said that. I don’t even know what Huey Lewis sounds like.

    (i foresee that am going to annoy pretty much everyone i speak with this weekend)

  3. I always loved camps. Loved them to the point of never wanting to return home. There was always that one boy. There was always that one camp counselor. There was near endless swimming and running and I probably was one of those annoying girls that kept you up at night.

    I never made close girlfriends at camp. It seemed we moved in groups and you just talked to whoever sat by you.

    But good memories. That was the first time I saw a bra swinging ’round and ’round on a fan blade.

    Camp was magical.
    I wanna go back to camp.

  4. I love the detail you remember, especially the redhead proclaiming something about her skin tone set her apart from the other redheads.

    That cracked my ass up this morning.

  5. Heh. I totally have a hard time sleeping around other people, too. One of the ways I knew the Better Half and I were right for each other was when I completely conked out the first night he slept next to me. In college, my roomate transferred to another college, and in order to keep my room as a single, I filled it out so I looked like the grouchiest person ever. I did tell the truth in one response, though– “I have trouble sleeping when other people are breathing.”

    I also talk in my sleep, but the Better Half says it’s usually stuff like letters to clients and arguments for upcoming motions and trials. The week before my last trial, he made me sleep in the other room because I kept cross-examining the other expert.

  6. Wow! I so rarely hear of anyone else who went to a JBS camp. I don’t remember any dancesat mine (Kamas, UT), but I do remember the lecture about rock n roll and how contrary the beat is to the natural rhythm of a body.

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