Summertime is camping time for kids. And today's youngsters have a dazzling menu to choose from.
There's soccer or softball, basketball or horseback riding, computers or writing, painting or music and on and on.
It's a far cry from the late 1940s when I had my first camping experience. In those days, camps for kids were operated either by churches or youth groups.
I was 13 when my mom decided it was time for me to experience church camp.
So, on a hot July morning I joined our pastor and a group of two dozen or so youngsters and adults at Camp SonRise in the middle of north Texas farm country. We were part of about 100 campers from Christian churches throughout the region.
Although much of the Lone Star State boasts a striking beauty, this area was not part of that picture. Instead, the camp was a hot, dusty collection of ramshackle buildings scattered over a few scruffy acres of brush and stunted trees.
But to me, the setting seemed to come straight from one of my favorite western movies, filled with excitement and adventure.
Over the next ten days, I made dozens of friends, came to love camp food, discovered much about the Texas countryside and drew closer to God.
When it was time to head for home, I looked back on what the camp had taught me.
I learned camp songs that would stay with me for a lifetime. I learned how to make S'Mores, the perfect camp food. And I learned there are few experiences as inspiring as a vesper service at twilight around a blazing campfire.
It was a number of years before I reentered the world of summer camping. This time, instead of being a camper, I had a job as a counselor at a Girl Scout Camp in central Texas.
A far cry from Camp SonRise, CampVal Verde was set on a hill overlooking a flowing stream. The campground boasted a swimming pool, riding stable, dining hall, craft studio and several well-built and well-maintained cabins.
Every week, around one hundred Camp Fire Girls, ranging in age from eight to fifteen, would burst from a school bus caravan, ready for fun. It was up to the staff of counselors to keep the girls entertained and give them an enriching experience.
My role was to serve as the craft director as well as "house mother" for one of the cabins.
The week was filled with activities to satisfy every interest. We counselors put on programs in the dining hall or at the pool, beside the stream or along the riding path. We were kept busy from rise-and-shine time at 6 a.m. to lights-out at 9 p.m.
It was a dizzying pace but one filled with good fun, good food and lasting friendships.
I served as a counselor at Val Verde for two summers. The first was after my high school graduation, then the summer after my freshman year in college.
The experience taught me some lasting lessons.
I learned a counselor has to be quick with the Band Aids as well as the right words to soothe an 8 year-old suffering her first bout of home sickness.
I learned to give resident snakes a wide berth.
I discovered the camp songs I picked up back at Camp SonRise were just what I needed to share with my Val Verde girls.
And I found my knowledge of S'Mores a popular asset with campers of all ages.
But in all my camping experiences, I learned the most important lesson was that friendships made at camp are never forgotten. I may not see them again, but I'll remember folks like Punky, Corky, Peanut and Scooter forever.