Thursday, September 21, 2023


I remember my very first campfire. Do you remember yours?

Today’s “Around the Campfire” looks a little different. I want to share my first campfire story and then hear yours, too.

Our grandchildren recently asked, “Do you remember your first campfire?” After a short pause to consider, I smiled. “Yes, I do. I was 10 years old. It was a campfire at church camp.” Of course, they wanted to hear all of the details, so I told them about my very first campfire.

Lake Okoboji

Camp Okoboji was (and still is) located in northwest Iowa, on Lake Okoboji. This natural lake is part of the series of lakes known as the Iowa Great Lakes. Originally created by glaciers, natural springs continue to provide Lake Okoboji with clear, beautiful, blue water. It’s the perfect setting for a camp.

Camp Okoboji

A fourth-grade schoolmate introduced me to the idea of attending Camp Okoboji. She wanted to go, and I could be her bunkmate. At only 10 years old, being away from home for five consecutive days and nights seemed risky, if not downright impossible, to me. I’d only been overnight away from home once before, and my homesickness forced my dad to come rescue me a little before midnight. Camp Okoboji was almost 100 miles from our home. There was no way Dad would make a “rescue trip” a little before midnight—or at any other time of night or day, for that matter!

My friend’s excitement and fantasy-inspired ideas of how wonderful camp would be soon made me feel excited, too. My mom helped me complete the camp registration, and I remember that I took the family wall calendar (provided free of charge from our local corn elevator) off the wall. Steadily, I wrote “Camp Okoboji,” my letters all stretched out like this C—A—M—P—-O—K—O—B—O—J—I, so that the letters completely covered one full week in June. By this time, I was genuinely looking forward to my time at camp.


The day before my friend and I were scheduled to leave for camp, her mother called to say her daughter (my bunkmate) was sick. She could not go to camp with me. My bunkmate was a “no-show,” and I was, well, suddenly terrified.

Headed to camp

I knew full well that my parents would make me go anyway—they’d somehow managed to scrape together enough money to pay the camp fees, Mom bought a few new camp clothes for me to wear, and my aunt made a special trip to our house (27 miles!) just so that I could borrow her suitcase! Even little 10-year-old me knew we’d already invested way too much into Camp Okoboji for me to consider backing out!

First day

My first day at camp was okay. I liked making the craft of the day, though I don’t remember what it was. (It’s been over 50 years!) I went to the Camp Store and bought my dad a souvenir back scratcher. (Funny how I clearly remember that!) Camp food was good, and I remember the cooks offering refills of “moo juice” (milk), which I thought was hilarious and couldn’t wait to tell my dad, a small-herd dairy farmer!


All was well until I noticed the sun dipping lower in the sky. I started to miss my family. First, just a little. Then, more and more! It wasn’t long before the 100 miles of separation felt more like 1,000!

As darkness descended, the camp counselor announced that it was “Campfire Time.” The last thing I wanted to do was go to a campfire. For one thing, the summer air was still quite warm and humid. For another, I was miserably homesick and didn’t want anyone to know.

My very first campfire

I went. Along with the other girls in our cabin, we made our way down toward the lake. A campfire was already burning brightly, its flames clearly reflecting in the calm lake water.

We sang silly songs and learned even sillier accompanying actions. We made s’mores and ate them. Then we sang some more, prayed together, and suddenly I didn’t feel quite so homesick. I felt warm (in a good way) and safe and loved. And that was my very first campfire. (If you’re wondering, Dad didn’t have to come and rescue me, after all.)

Do you remember your first campfire? Tell me about it in the comments below, please. I can’t wait to hear.


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.


  1. Thank you, Gail! I’m jealous of your memory. Mine, too, would have been church camp unless you count burning brush piles. We built the brush piles when my little brother and I went with Daddy to cut firewood on Saturdays. That began happening slightly earlier than going to church camp, which we did for a couple of years beginning in 1971 or 1972.

  2. We burned our trash, we burned fall leaves, we had fires to cook at our picnics, fires on Boy Scout trips. I don’t really remember them but know we had them. The only camp fire I remember was at church camp. Her name was Crystal.

  3. First campfire was probably in Girl Scouts in the 60’s. All I recall was making hobo stew and wondering who puts tomato soup in a stew! There have been so many since then. Camping with my boyfriend (later husband), with the kids, Boy Scout camp for years with the kids (all 4 made Eagle!). Then camping solo after my husband passed and starting my own campfires. There is something about sitting and staring into the flames……..

  4. It depends. We had fires at home, but an actual camp fire was at 4-H camp when I was 9. The other kids were mostly from the city and didn’t have a clue about how to build a fire or cook on one. I helped the counselor build the fires. They all were with friends, but I didn’t know anyone in my shelter. It was an open three-sided shelter with a fire pit in the middle and cots around the perimeter. What I remember about the kids was that most of them were fighting with another, fussing, and crying to go home. I had a splendid time, learned skills like lashing; did long hikes; regular meals were in the lodge where we sang a short blessing before each meal and other songs in rounds while the table hoppers brought food. Everyone assembled in a big circle to raise and lower flags and properly fold them, never allowing them to touch the ground. At the shelter, we did the usual smores, we made hobo stew in one pound coffee cans that were on the list of stuff to bring, when coffee came in real cans and opened with a key. Each night, there was a meeting of the entire camp around a big fire with skits, singing, etc., and was great fun. One person from each shelter was inducted into a group as being the best camper. I won that distinction, probably because I wasn’t squabbling with anyone. I made a friend in another shelter. We were very lucky to have such great camp leaders. It was probably the start of my camping which I did at home, across the creek by a little spring with my German shepherd and my cat. Dad stretched a canvas in the trees to keep the dew off and set a pipe in the spring to get my water from. I took some of the horses’ hay for a bed. I was fine with one little skillet, a mess kit, pocket knife, and hatchet. A person doesn’t need much more than that and a dog.

    • This was in the 50s. Too bad things changed so much. There were no phones, radios were not allowed, nor was money or candy or any other food. Seems like we did just fine.

  5. First campfire (and camping trip) was in the Boy Scouts in the 50’s. I grew up in Chicago. I have NO recollection of where we went, but it was in the woods somewhere, and I loved it.

  6. Wonderful story Gail. It reminded me of countless Scouting campfires. My first camp fire was with my parents in a Rocky-mountain National campground above the tree line. It would have been about 1961. We were camping in a rental pop up trailer with an Aluminum roof and no insulation. So when it got dark and too cool to be outside dad lit the built-in LP gas lamp inside the trailer. Within a few minutes it started raining inside the trailer. LP gas heated the AL roof which caused excessive condensation hence the rain. Made for a memorable camping trip!
    Lesson learned about poor RV design – my folks were glad they had just rented it!

  7. I remember many from the 60’s but one does not stand out. How about the time mom and dad heated a few rocks, wrapped them up and stuck them in our sleeping bag for warmth? Oh the smell of bacon over a campfire!
    Kids today, around the campfire just means the glow of their phone on their faces…. Long after the fire died because no one bothered to buy wood at the market and the embers are dead.

  8. Love the article. Don’t remember the first one precisely, maybe because there have been so many in so many great places. We are very fortunate!

  9. As a senior citizen, my memory isn’t good enough to remember the date or year I was introduced to campfires, but I can remember what they meant to me. Being new to church camp brought a lot of new things into my young life. There I learned that life is to be shared and our experiences in life can be beneficial in later years. That campfire time taught me to appreciate life in general and I learned that loving one another is God’s plan for us all, and in today’s society, if we all did that, how much better our world would be.


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