I have never been to an over-night summer camp. Actually, I don't think I ever went to a summer camp of any kind as a child. None of our four children have ever gone away to camp either. To the best of my knowledge, all of my childhood friends also stayed local (meaning in their parents' living room) for summer "vacation". Maybe it is because we live in the Deep South, Bible Belt region of the country. I'm not sure why other children in this area miss out on summer camps, but I can tell you why my brother and I spent summers at home. We had our very own camp. Camp Corn.
Every year since I was ten years-old, my father has planted sweet corn. When the corn matured, my best friend and I were assigned the task of selling the corn (until my brother was old enough to help). Our first year, the price was 5 cents an ear if the customer picked the corn and 10 cents if we picked the corn for them. It didn't take long for us to drop the option of picking corn for an extra nickle, so it has been a strictly "U-Pick" operation for many years. From the age of 10 to the age of 30, I spent a minimum of two weeks during the summer answering phone calls about corn, selling corn, and sometimes even picking corn. Camp Corn only shut down when my husband and I moved to Ohio for two years. But this year, Camp Corn is back.
My dad planted corn this year for our children to sell. The camp has changed since I left. As children, we were dropped off at the field at 6 or 7 in the morning and picked up at dusk, nearly 12 hours later. We had a cooler with drinks and snacks. No cell phone. No bathroom. Today, you would have to be crazy to drop two 10 year-old girls and a 7 year-old boy in a field all day with a coffee can full of cash. But now, the corn is planted in the field directly in front of my parents' home. That means, our children either open the front door to accept cash or they swim to the edge of the pool to collect payment. The proceeds are typically split between the sales people.
While Camp Corn seems a much cushier summer job than it was 20 years ago, I know that the children will learn many of the same lessons we learned from our time in the corn field. Of course, the children will learn math skills by counting corn, multiplying and making change (the price has sky-rocketed to $1.75 per dozen). They will learn to recognize mature ears of corn and the difference between white and yellow varieties. To be sure, those are important things to learn. But the real lessons the children will learn in camp this year will be about humanity. Many of the customers will be elderly and have stories about picking corn from that field when I was a child, or even earlier when my older cousins ran the field. The children will learn to listen patiently and feign interest. They will learn patience and put into practice respecting their elders. Hopefully, they will learn to show compassion, offering help with heavy buckets and giving away cold drinks as needed. They will learn the importance of being a contributing member of the family. At ages 13 and 11, they will learn a little something about what it means to work for a dollar (even if they spend part of the work day in the pool).
Most importantly, the children will learn that there are far more good people in the world than there are bad. The cash can left outside when we are not here will always have more money in it when we return than it did when we left. People are appreciative and honest and kind.
Many of the people who come to pick corn and tell stories are also lonely looking for connection. I hope that at the end of the day, the customers go home with the best corn they have ever eaten. I hope they leave with a sense that we are also appreciative of their lessons, their kindness and their repeated business. I hope they leave here knowing that while the corn is sweet and golden, it is the relationships with our neighbors, customers and the community that is our family's greatest treasure. I hope these are the lessons our children take away from camp this year and in the years to come.
Jeri Nowlin Shaffer is a Shine Parenting Guru, and freelance writer living in Pensacola, Florida. Read more about her life as a stay-at-home mother of four on her blog www.mothering4.com.