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Go Back to Camp

For those of us who still enjoy attending summer camp, the enchantments are many. We love the reassuring ka-thunk, ka-thunk of Ping-Pong played on the porch of the lodge. We love how the smell of the campfire lingers on our skin and clothing for days, pointing up our similarities to high-quality smoked ham. We love how an unsuspecting bird will fly into a bug zapper, creating a flare of noise and light reminiscent of welding. Whether these camps are specialized (www.grownupcamps.com lists some 4,500 sites catering to interests such as clogging, rock and roll, and even wooden-boat building) or more traditional (Club Getaway in Kent, Connecticut, is geared to weekend stays, resulting in what has been called the "biggest mixer in the Northeast"), one thing is clear: camp is not just for the acne-prone anymore.

Indeed, there exists no more ardent camper than my own 74-year-old mother, whose Renaissance talents and boundless energy have led her to knitting camp, birding camp, and painting camp, not to mention the two rug-hooking camps she attends annually. Last year, Mom was awarded a five-year anniversary pin by one of the rug-hooking camps. "About six of us 'hookers' were called up in front of everyone and given pins," Mom said, adding that it suffused her with "smug satisfaction and a little superiority."

But no moment in the sun could have been sunnier for Mom than when, in the guise of helping me out with a book I was writing, she accompanied me to a comedy improv and theater games camp in Wisconsin's Door County. Mom got off to a somewhat rocky start: in one skit, she launched into a Marcel Marceau shrinking-box-type routine, causing the workshop director to counsel, "Nothing spiritual for you, dear." But by camp's end, Mom's work was cited as precisely the kind of limpid zaniness he was hoping would emerge from the session; moreover, two campers came up to me and gushed, "I just love your mother." A star was born.

So why hide your light under a bushel?Whether you crave immersion in baseball or Jewish heritage or are simply seeking to reacquaint yourself with the aroma of pine and calamine lotion, a camp is the perfect setting for experimentation and self-growth. After all, you're surrounded by semi-strangers, cut off from your time-consuming addiction to premium cable. The isolation can be liberating. Most of the year, you're a paralegal who takes a weekly voice class and performs in holiday recitals of German lieder. But for a few summer weeks at opera camp—suddenly—Renata Tebaldi.

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