If you are not from St. Louis or Kansas City, you probably don’t think of the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri as a destination for Jewish kids to spend their summers. But dating back over 40 years, Camp Sabra has been the summer spot for campers from not only St. Louis and Kansas City, but also Houston, Dallas and hey, even a family from Chicago here and there. Sabra held a special place in my family’s heart as my mom went there, and it was only inevitable that my sister, my brother and I would end up there eventually.
Maybe it’s not for everyone, but sleep-away camp to me was such an important part of my childhood and something I looked forward to every summer. My first true time away from home, the first time I kissed a boy, rafting and camping out in Colorado my last year as a camper, and then becoming a counselor for the next generation, camp was truly with me as I grew from a young girl to a woman. And it has unexpectedly continued to play a part in my life many years later.
A few years ago I was walking to meet a friend in my neighborhood one day when I spotted a guy on the street wearing a Camp Sabra shirt. It’s not every day the Sabra logo appears around Chicago, so I had to make sure it wasn’t a rack buy from the local thrift shop! With no shame at all, I stopped to ask him about the shirt and if he in fact went there. Sure enough, Camp Sabra boy had both attended and been a counselor there, but we only overlapped the summer of 2002, so we never crossed paths.
About a year later, my sister told me Sabra was putting together a mini reunion for Chicago alumni and suggested we go. I have to be honest, after a long workday (not to mention recently becoming single), I wasn’t really feeling it. But my sister convinced me and we made a deal that we’d make an appearance and leave shortly thereafter.
At the reunion, I caught up with some counselor friends that I hadn’t seen in a while and then found myself playing Jewish geography with a guy who seemed to be a few years older than me given we didn’t run in the same camp circles. Then, out of nowhere, he said, “Hey, I think you’re the girl that stopped me on the street when I was wearing my camp shirt.” From there we realized we still lived in the same neighborhood, so before leaving I gave Camp Sabra boy my phone number thinking at the very least, we should reminisce sometime about being young again back in the Ozarks.
The day we "re-met"
Three days later he called and two years later we are now living together. And the best part is that Jeremy doesn’t mind when I randomly break into a Sabra-favorite John Denver or James Taylor song and will even join me in a chorus of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” when one of us is heading off on a trip. While our families, college and city life have no doubt helped mold us into who we are today, I do truly believe a bit of who we are as individuals can always be traced back to camp. Being confident, social and independent is all about meeting new people, having the guts to go on the ropes course or waterski for the first time, or even asking a boy to the Sadie Hawkins dance. For us, camp is not just a childhood memory, it is a language and bond we both share that has served as the building blocks of our relationship. I’m sure the alumni of other camps around the country and world feel the same.
So you never know, one day there may be a new group of Chicago kids who have to explain to all their friends how they GET to go to the Lake of the Ozarks for their summer!
Our housewarming party after moving in together!
Stephanie Callahan is a public relations manager in downtown Chicago specializing in the food industry. She also writes a food and recipe blog called “Stephanie Eats Chicago” for the Chicago Tribune. She enjoys reading in the park, puppies, running and stalking restaurant menus.