In an era when the family dinner is hard enough to schedule, a week at family camp has real appeal. We visited one in New Hampshire and asked campers to tell us why it floats their boats.
Picture the classic sleepaway camp...cabins in the pines, a fully outfitted lakefront, kids with bug-juice mustaches. Add parents and even grandparents to the mix, and you have a curiously little-known phenomenon: Family Camp, weeklong programs in which all ages are welcome. We visited New Hampshire's Sandy Island, a 112-year-old, YMCA-owned property in the middle of Lake Winnipesaukee. As campers sailed, fished, and clobbered each other at tennis, we got them to tell us what keeps them coming back here summer after summer.
Every August, three generations—and up to 16 members—of the Goodman family gather at Sandy Island Family Camp: Seth, from Lexington, S.C.; grandfather Norman, from Boston; Adam and Millicent, from L.A.; Adam and Millicent's son, Jonah, 5; family friend Mikaela Del Priore, 9, from Winthrop, Mass.; and Seth's daughter Caroline, 9.
Seth, a pilot with Delta, comes with his two daughters while his wife stays home. "She says camp is too much like camping"
Norm, the family patriarch, wisecracks, "The only thing I've ever caught on this island is a cold!"
Adam is known for grabbing the karaoke mike and doing a long, soulful late-Elvis imitation for a pack of 6-year-olds.
Millicent is the one on the sidelines in morning stretch class, doing her own extreme-yoga positions.
Like father, like son: Jonah, at the weekly talent show, belted out "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
Mikaela learned how to kayak, play four square, and hook a worm last summer.
Why is Caroline smiling? She won the camp limbo contest!
THE WATERFRONT CREW
The Begg family: Patti; Patrick, 13; and Duncan, from State College, Pa.
Duncan Begg, a mechanical engineer at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory, designs torpedoes for the Navy. Suffice it to say, he's a natural at sailing, a skill he picked up racing Lightnings as a boy on Long Island Sound. Friends lured Duncan to Sandy Island when he was a college senior. A few years later, he returned to camp with his then-girlfriend, Patti, an elementary school music teacher. These days, whenever the wind picks up on Lake Winnipesaukee, the whole family (including their 18-year-old daughter, Victoria, who had to be at school this past summer) hits the water. "Sometimes we have to do a bit of nudging," says Duncan, "but once we're all out there, braving the elements, we instantly go into 'relax' mode."
Years attending: 23
Favorite ritual: Every summer, for a good workout, Duncan and Patti walk the mile and a half around the island in the water—waist deep aside from the short section they actually have to swim.
Reason to wish for a rainy day: "There's always a fire going in the lodge," Duncan says.
Sandy Island souvenir: Patti's braided wristlet made by her pal Patrice: "Last summer, my friends and I joined the teens and had our own friendship bracelet craze."
Banner event: The salad bar's debut 10 years ago.
Their cabin: On the Rocks. Perfect, explains Patrick, because they can "walk out the front door and catch crayfish right off the shore."
Why We Come: "After seven days at Sandy, it feels like so many unnecessary stressors have been stripped away. I always leave determined to make real life feel more like camp." —Patti
THE OLDEST LIVING CAMPER
Alice Erickson, of Needham, Mass.; and grandson Tom Erickson, 23, of Storrs, Conn.
At the age of 26, when Alice Erickson met her future husband on the Sandy Island dance floor, she was already one of the old-timers. "I was 9 when I first came with my family," says Alice, now 85. "We had kerosene lamps, and everyone bathed and washed their clothes in the lake." Over the years, she's welcomed the addition of electricity, plumbing, and refrigeration ("we used to get blocks of ice from the lake"), and she's watched the saplings in front of the lodge grow into towering pines. During her 71st year at Sandy, Alice played canasta and cribbage with her daughter, son, and daughter-in-law on the porch overlooking the lake. She also rediscovered shuffleboard. And she never missed a dance.
Years attending: 71
Shuffleboard score: Alice 17, Tom 8
Greatest camp improvement to date: Flush toilets.
Amazing fact only Alice seems to know: John Updike and his first wife worked at Sandy—he in the office, she in the store. Updike's 1962 short-story collection, Pigeon Feathers, opens with "Walter Briggs," in which a couple reminisce about a family camp. It's filled with descriptions of people Alice recognizes, including "a chain-smoking failed minister" who ran the place and a camper with "nostrils shaped like water wings." As for Updike himself, "I wish I had paid him more attention," says Alice.