Memories of long-ago summers

Robyn’s recent post about the fund-raiser for Camp Haiastan brought back a flood of wonderful memories from my childhood.

I was 9 in the summer of 1961 when my parents joined a caravan of other Armenian families from New Jersey to deliver a gang of us to far-off Franklin, Massachusetts for the start of what became a summer ritual until my late teens.

Hanging out with other Armenians wasn’t exactly a novelty, but being away from home certainly was. We’d all have become instantly homesick except that we were greeted that first day by a warm and familiar smell: shish kebab!

Sunday was always picnic day at camp, hosted by a variety of groups that rented the grounds. Driving through the camp gate that first day, we could hear the kef music and smell the meat roasting over the flames. We knew camp was going to be great!

Imagine my surprise when we finally settled in, waved good-bye to our parents and sat down to a dinner of hamburgers and potato chips!

Who’d have guessed that the day-to-day menu at an Armenian summer camp was exactly like the menu at every other summer camp? Spaghetti, mac and cheese, hot dogs. We might as well have been eating in a school cafeteria.

Not that it was so bad, mind you, and none of us ever went hungry. But it sure was disappointing…until Sunday afternoon. The moment we were dismissed from our morning routine, every camper joined an uphill stampede to the picnic grounds.

As adults, we all have our own recipes, seasonings and grilling techniques, but believe me: No shish kebab ever tasted so good.
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  1. Pam June 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I never thought about it while I was there (mid-90s), but you're right, there was no Armenian food in the mess hall! It's a bit surprising, considering they wouldn't let us attend the Saturday night dance if we couldn't pass our Armenian language test, that they didn't try to drill the cuisine home for us too.

  2. Kristen June 29, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Even if the food wasn't authentic, it is pretty cool that you could go to a camp with other kids with your ethnic background. When we lived in Seattle, I thought it was so cool that some kids went to Chinese school or Japanese school on Saturdays so as not to lose touch with their roots.

  3. Anonymous June 29, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    Oh my gosh … I have such fond memories of camp Hayastan! As kids we used to run around collecting the empty soda bottles, and if we filled a wooden crate with them, they would give us a free soda … this was 40 plus years ago.


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