Sit-upons, Songs and S’mores

When I was a kid, that meant no more school until after Labor Day, fun at the Forest Park pool, movies at the ABC Drive-in . . . and a week of Girl Scout day camp!

I wish I could tell you where the camp was held, but it’s been (ahem) a few years and my memory is a little fuzzy on that score. Moreover, I seem to recall there being more than one location during my time as a Scout.

It’s what we did at camp that I remember best.

We’d have to set up our campsite when we first arrived. That meant pitching tents (I think we were able to spend one night at the camp) and digging a latrine. It seemed to me like I ALWAYS got stuck digging the latrine.

One year someone constructed a neat station for washing our hands — a coffee can with some holes punched in the bottom that was hung from a tree branch. When water was poured into the can, it came out through the holes, allowing you to wash your hands off without sticking them in a bucket.

Everybody brought a sit-upon — two pieces of oil cloth stitched together and filled with newspaper. (We often needed something dry to sit on.)

Of all the crafts we did, the one I most remember is braiding lanyards with plastic laces. I was lousy at that at first, but once I got the hang of it, I made a ton of key chains, whistle holders . . .  you name it.

Cooking over a campfire was a big part of our day.

I had my trusty pocket knife to whittle sharp ends on sticks so I could roast the basics —hot dogs, and marshmallows for s’mores.

Among our more exotic (ha!) fare was a concoction of browned ground beef, tomato soup and canned vegetables called campfire stew.

My cousin, the Dancing Librarian, reminded me that we always smeared dish soap over the stewpot to keep it from burning and to help with cleanup.

Cleanup was even easier when we used foil. One common camp meal consisted of a hamburger patty, onions, potatoes, carrots, and little salt and pepper, grilled in a foil packet over the fire.

Banana Boats were another foil project. We sliced a banana lengthwise and stuffed it with Red Hots. The foil-wrapped banana cooked in the coals until the cinnamon candy melted.

(You can stuff the banana with chocolate chips, marshmallows or anything else. I just remember the Red Hots.)

My most vivid camp food memory, however, is of oranges and peppermint sticks. (If this has a name, it escapes me now.) You take an orange, roll it around to get the juices flowing, then jam a peppermint stick into it. The peppermint stick is used as a “straw” to suck the juice out. It was incredibly messy.

I don’t recall any dancing, but we did a lot of singing.

Our repertoire included such classics as “Kookaburra” (“Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree; Merry, merry king of the bush is he . . .”) and “I Wish I Was” (“Oh, I wish I was a little bar of soap . . . I’d go slippy, slippy slidey over everybody’s hidey . . .”)

The most frequent selection, however, was “Titanic.” (“Oh, they built the ship Titanic to sail the ocean blue and they built it so the water’d ne’er go through . . .”) As an adult, that song seems incredibly insensitive to me, but being kids, we didn’t think about that. Those were just words to us.

Of course, there was hiking and nature study, too.

About the only thing I DON’T miss about camp is getting frequently blasted with Off! That was nearly as bad as the mosquitoes it was supposed to kill!

– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at