I was sitting in the lodge, waiting for Uncle Phil to call my name as he revealed that summer’s bunk assignments. It was 1978. I was eighteen, had just graduated from Rye Country Day School, and was only three years removed from Senior Lodge. Before I could think, Uncle Phil had passed through Eagle Row and was deep in the Circle. “Bunk 12,” he said, “Jimmy Astrove.”
And there it was. I was shocked not to be on Eagle Row, where I would have been one of two counselors in a bunk. And I was shocked to be on my own with eleven-year-olds at the end of the Circle. I spent my first night in our bunk by myself, the eve of camper arrival. I knew that it was in a prime location for quick trips to the greenhouse, I knew that the bugles were clear, and I knew that I was on my own (in those days, it was separate from Bunk 11). I also knew that four campers were coming the next day, and that Uncle Jim had no idea what he was doing.
To say that my camper years were a model for how I should be a counselor would be alarming to anyone with whom I went to camp. I had been a bully (to say the least) and a bad sport (to be generous). Looking back, it’s surprising that I was even offered the chance to be a counselor. But there I was—busses arriving, looking for my four boys. And I think that was the key: right from the start, I was looking for my four boys. As taps played that first night I realized how important my bunk was to me. I realized that it was my job—my duty—to provide for them, to protect them, to give them a summer of pep and vim, to create an atmosphere of “smile” and respect that endures like the embers at the Council Ring.
One night that summer, I woke up in my bed and felt something strange on my knees. I slowly opened my eyes and took in the sight before me—a bat had plopped down on top of my blankets. Trying not to move, I quietly woke my four boys and asked them to shine their flashlights at the door. Then, one of the boys carefully nudged the door open and away the bat flew.
Camper Jimmy would not have handled that situation well. He would just have been looking out for himself. He wouldn’t have asked for anybody’s help. But in Bunk 12 that night, all five of us worked together, and it left us with the memory of a unique adventure—a challenge that we conquered together as a group. Those four boys gave me a chance to change, a chance to grow up, a chance to appreciate what it meant to be a counselor at Winnebago. I am how I am now largely thanks to that summer.