Postcards from Camp Hell

A good friend told me that she envied people with fun summer stories. Just to make her feel better, I got out some old photos of the nightmare YMCA camping trip I took when I was thirteen. With the photos, I discovered a series of postcards I’d written to my family from the road.  I had begged my parents to go on the most expensive Y trip offered that summer. Granted, $115 today seems like a bargain, especially if sending your kid away for thirteen days keeps her from sitting in the movie theatre watching Star Wars every afternoon. The trip turned out to be torturous. I was a terrible hiker, and I lacked many basic social skills. The other kids came to loathe me as much as I loathed them. The leaders? Well, they were paid to be nice to me. I didn’t dare tell my parents how miserable I was, so my postcards are desperate to put a positive spin on things. I was as bad at writing cheerful, interesting postcards as I was at hiking. I decided to publish them as written. All the spelling and grammatical mistakes have been left in for authenticity and added humor.

Postcard and me in Star Wars tee shirt

One of my 1977 postcards with me in my Star Wars tee shirt, looking thrilled.

7/6/77    Zion National Park, Utah

Hi Mom & Family!

I’m doing fine.  On the way here (Zion) we nearly roasted. We stopped in Las Vegas and had lunch, then we went to 7-11.  Naturally I had a BIG slurrpee.  You know that boy, the one with the hat and very tall?  He is deaf.  He can sort of read lips, but we mostly write and signal.  Gary & Marcia are neat, too.  I’ll continue this on the next postcard.  Bye!


 7/6/77    Zion National Park, Utah

Hi Again! (read other card first)

That card was yesterday.  Today we hiked up the narrows, in the water.  My poor shoes!  Then we hiked to Angel’s Landing.  I had to stop near the top.  It was a straight up hike.  Right now everyone else (except Gary & I) are at Emerald Pools.  I couldn’t make it.  My feet are killing me.  Tonight I get to make dinner!  Happy Birthday Pop!  Bye, until next.


 7/7/77    On the road from Zion to Grand Teton

Happy Birthday again, Pop!  I cooked dinner like I said last [in previous postcard].  It was spaggetti, rolls, salad, and pudding.  I though the spaggetti was gross.  Gary wouldn’t let me stir it enough so it was pastey.  Right now we’re headed for Utah Lake.  We took down our tent and junk this morning.  All us girls washed our hair.  Boy did it feel good.  Ann found a cockroach in the tent, and I saw a huge one on the trail.  But I’m o.k.  I touched a few frogs, saw lots of lizards, and one snake.  Boy, it’s hot. Wow, the stars are great here.  So many!  Guess what?  We might go to Provo instead of Utah Lakes and stay at Sundance Ranch.  Robert Redford lives there!  A Sacramento Y did it once.  I’ll tell you if we do.  I got a whole bunch of Space Dust, that candy that fizzles and pops in your mouth.  They don’t sell it in California.  I’ll write again.  Bye now!  (your kid)


 7/9/77    Grand Teton National Park, Utah

Hello, Pop!

This trip was worth all the money.  Speaking of money (hee hee) I don’t think I’ll be able to get you much of anything.  The money goes fast on film and snacks when driving.  It hasn’t been as cold as I thought except for the morning.  Hope everything is fine there.  Bye Now!


 7/9/77    Grand Teton National Park, Utah

Hi, Brov,

I am having a great time.  Gary, the one on this trip, is going on all the trips and he says you don’t have to cut your hair for Mammoth, but I think you should.  It is such a bother, besides, it’s hot.  We haven’t seen any bears yet, but I did get six pictures of a moose in a stream.  Your jacket I used this morning.  It was great.  See, it sorta rained.  But we all slept in the tent so it was o.k.  Read the rest of the family’s for more.  Bye.


 7/9/77    Grand Teton National Park, Utah

Hi, Mom!

As you can probably guess, we didn’t stay with Robert Redford.  But we may pass it on the way home.  We stayed at Utah Lakes.  It was beautiful.  I showered and swam.  Right now we are in front of the gift shop in the Grand Tetons.  It’s pretty here.  There is a big hassle right now over fishing licenses.  Read the rest of the family’s [postcard] for more.  Bye.


 7/11/77   Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hi Mom,

Everything is fine.  We arrived in Yellowstone today.  It is great.  Right now our clothes are in the dryer.  I just took a shower, my second, so I won’t really come home your dirty kid.  We found a beautiful camp ground and set up both tents.  Tonite I am sleeping on the van! [On the roof in the luggage rack.] We switch off in fours.  Grand Tetons was really nice.  We saw a total of 8 moose.  So far we haven’t seen anything today.  I have a huge bump from a bite on the back of my thigh that’s killing me.  Did I tell you? On the first day driving (Tuesday) my blue foam thing melted to the floor, so now there is a long hole in it.  Boy it’s been getting cold.  Bye.


 7/11/77   Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hi Family,

Mom: we came in the south gate but I didn’t know what to look for.  Brov: from all the references being made here about Mammoth, it sounds hard.  Good luck.  Pop: there is nothing really to write to you.  Oh, by the way, I have been thinking about getting a rabbit, thanks to Watership Down.  Be prepared.  Bye.


 7/14/77   Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming


I’ve got some bad news.  See this bear? [on postcard] You won’t see many of them around.  A few years ago they moved all the bears into the back country, and the ones that kept coming back, they shipped to zoos or worse, destroyed them.  Isn’t that awful?  We haven’t seen one.  The fishing has gone to pot, too.  Every fish you catch over 13 inches goes back in the water.  See there somehow got to be a new kind of fish in the rivers, the long-nosed sucker, that eats the trout eggs, so they need all the help they can get to protect the eggs.  The gysers are nice though.  Bye for now.

Fed up. (I'm on the far right.)

Fed up. (I’m on the far right.)

 9/26/77   San Diego, California—Letter from group leader Gary

Hope your doin well.  Stop by & say hi some time.  Please make your check ($4.40) to me.  Thanks.


 12/1/77   Aspen,Colorado—Postcard from group leader Marcia

Sorry I’ve been so long in writing but I’ve been real busy getting established here.  I live in a house with a huge fireplace about 10’ from the Roaring Fork River and have gotten a job at the local mental health clinic.  I really love it here.  Write when you get the chance.  My thoughts & love.

[After our trip, poor Marcia must have found working at a mental health clinic a real vacation!]



Filed under Real Life, Travel

6 responses to “Postcards from Camp Hell

  1. Oh, the memories (albeit with me it was scout survival camp, grrr) … but this does resonate and thanks for conjuring up some thoughts I only vaguely remember. Just love the way you express yourself ~ even at a tender age!

    • This post made me very nervous. I wasn’t sure anybody would care about my bad postcards, especially all my recent subscribers expecting West End theatre stuff. It’s reassuring to know that you can relate to the awkwardness that was adolescence.

      Scout survival camp? Oh dear, that sounds just awful!

  2. Katelyn

    This post is amazing, and I gotta admit I’m still a bit jealous because I don’t even have a ‘camp hell’ experience to look back on. Your postcards are hilarious, and I love the part where you tell your dad you have nothing for him in that one. The only experience I have that I was vaguely reminded of by this was when I kept a diary of a California/Disneyland trip I took with my family when I was about eight. I talk about all the rides I was too scared to go on, and I mention all the times my dad was in a bad mood.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it definitely made me smile.

  3. Rebecca

    Hey, I got too homesick to last the whole session when I went to sleepaway camp. I had to come home!

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