Today’s blog post comes from an essay written by Matt Mastrapa.  Matt was a camper for 6 years and returned in 2015 to be an assistant counselor.  He wrote the essay after the summer of 2014, his last as a camper.  Thanks, Matt, for sharing what you learned at Deerhorn!

I woke up with my nose running and my throat felt like I had swallowed a bed of nails. It was a cold morning at Camp Deerhorn and nobody was awake, except me. There I was, trapped on the top bunk of my eight person cabin. Our quarters consisted of the oldest campers; we were all fifteen year olds. Although we were the oldest kids at camp, whom all the other campers looked up to, we were still not fully mature. I decided that I wasn’t just going to lie there and be sick as a dog, so I crawled off of my bed and cringed as my cold feet struck the floor. I hobbled over to the door and opened it slowly in order to not wake my other bunkmates.   I meandered over to the lodge and poured myself a hot cup of tea. As the sun was beginning to rise, I watched all the assistant counselors walk over to the lodge to start making breakfast. Suddenly, I realized how early I was awake. Nobody wakes up before the AC’s. I decided to walk over to the office because a nice porch overlooks the lake.

As I sat down and sipped my tea, my mind and body were at peace. The only thing I could hear was the sound of the water, and the occasional dropping of milk cartons and silverware in the kitchen. I began to think about that awesome summer at camp. I remembered the week before when we played capture the flag, all the little kids pretty much appointed me as leader because I was older than them and more athletic. Instead of making a plan, I just put them all on defense, and the other older kids and I created our plan of attack.

As I was coming out of my day dream, I did not feel like myself. I was in an extremely strange state of mind, not knowing whether to be happy or sad. It was the day I had been dreading for six years: it was my last day as a camper, ever. After that year I would have to apply for a position as an AC, and hopefully become a counselor some day. That would mean no more staying up late, causing trouble, or ignoring little campers. I would have to be kind and responsible if I was chosen for an AC job. When I concluded that this was my last day at my favorite place on Earth, I started tearing up. All of a sudden, a little kid came up to me.

“Hey Mastrapa!”

I felt bad because I did not know this kid at all. Even worse, I didn’t really care that I was clueless. Within a few seconds he seemed very annoying and was already getting on my nerves.

“Whatcha doing?” he said.

I looked the little boy up and down in disgust. His hair was all messy and his outfit looked as if it had been put together by a three year old.

Under my breath, I reluctantly replied, “Just sitting here, why are you up this early?”

“I was never a very good sleeper,” he said.

Then, without my consent, he just plopped himself right next to me. I already was being short with this kid, and my arrogant tone of voice should have made him go away. What gave this kid the right to think he could sit down with me, especially given the circumstances?

“Are you excited for today? I hear we get to play scalp! I hope my team wins,” he said.

Scalp is probably the most popular game at camp and everyone goes all out when they play it.

“Yeah,” I said in a sarcastic tone. “We always play scalp on the last day of any session.”

Soon after he began blabbering on about how much he loved camp and how great of a first year he was having. I was not really listening on account of the fact that he was just a little kid and also because I was not feeling well.

The boy shouted in his obnoxious tone, “Hey! You look cold. Do you want me to go get you a sweater?”

That question caught me off guard.

The words tumbled out of my mouth as I stared at this kid in surprise, “No, I’m okay.”

“Dude, you have major goosebumps,” the small boy said.

I wasn’t even able to respond because I was in a state of utter shock. I could only stare at the kid as a billion different answers raced through my head.

The kid said, to my amazement, “Man, I’m going to get you a sweater…you are cold and campers help each other out.” As he ran away I was dumbfounded. This kid was doing something nice for me after I had treated him like he was a nobody.

The rest of my day progressed poorly. My cold grew into a fever and I had to spend the night in the infirmary. I was absolutely miserable. I looked up from what I thought was my death bed, and I finally understood my solution: The Camp Deerhorn Creed.

I realized that for me to become a much better man, I would have to exemplify this in my daily life. Part of  The Creed states:

“To cooperate with other campers and find pleasure in lending a helping hand,

To try to see the other fellow’s side of the question and strive for harmony,

To be kind, because manliness requires kindness,

To be too generous to bear a grudge and too good natured to pick flaws in others,

To be a pal to other campers, and a gentleman under all conditions and circumstances.”

Dr. Don C. Broadbridge, 1930

Although this was not my first time reading the Creed, I realized that I would have to think about it as not just a motto for Camp Deerhorn, but a way of living for all gentlemen. Even though camp is about having fun and making friends, I somehow missed a major factor of the summer camp experience, becoming a man.

Now, as I am just beginning my sophomore year at New Trier High School, I still think about this kid very frequently. In my bedroom, right up there on the wall for everyone to see is the Camp Deerhorn Creed. I look at it every day and think about how I did and how I did not exemplify these positive characteristics throughout my years at camp.

The young camper was my comrade, he was in my brotherhood, regardless of his age. He embodied the Creed, and the true meaning of friendship. In a way, the poster haunts me, but I could never take it down. It reminds me of who I should aspire to be, even if that may take me longer than others.

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