http://www.thestar.com — I was a shy, bookish girl — a lonely, introverted kind of girl, the oldest girl in my family and hence bossy and opinionated. I was not a get-along, group-loving kind of girl.I had already been kicked out of Brownies for my inability to recite the Brownie Pledge without a curl of the lip. In the words of a school teacher, I “did not work and play well with others.”My idea of paradise was my bedroom door locked, a box of Oreos under the covers, and my well-worn copy of Gone with the Wind propped on my chest.One night at dinner when I was 13 years old, my father, also a shy, bookish sort of person, while forking down a slab of bloody beef and chewing it thoughtfully, announced it was time for me to “toughen up.”By this, he meant read less and hike more. I was being sent to camp.My protests were of no avail. “Life was a series of compromises,” my father said. This from a man around whom the entire household revolved, a man who knew less about compromise than any human on the face of the earth.And so it came to pass. Off I went, my name written in a laundry-proof pen on T-shirts, shorts, swim suit and pyjamas, to Camp Wakonda in Algonquin Park.Welcome to my nightmare.I was captive in the Forest Primeval, kilometres from home, sleeping in a tent with four eager, earnest other campers.H.L. Mencken once remarked, “Earnestness is just stupidity that went to college.” That pretty much summed up my opinion of my bunkmates.I tried to explain to the counsellors that I did not do esprit de corps. Nonetheless, I was soon sitting around a camp fire singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” and “Kumbaya.”Forced singing-a-longs turned out to be the least of it. Soon I found myself on a five-day canoe trip, portaging a Peterborough canoe with a 23-kilogram pack on my back, over a land mass the size of the Prairies. I was a movable feast for every gnat, mosquito and black fly in Northern Ontario.We ran out of food the second day. All except oatmeal, which I considered not food but a member of the plywood family. I went on a hunger strike, growing weaker and weaker. One night one of the counsellors came to my sleeping bag to talk to me, to try to convince me I had to eat to stay alive. My mouth remained clamped shut.When I returned to Camp Wakonda, I wrote my parents a postcard detailing my misery and starvation. I was summarily fetched home.Twenty year later, I sent my daughter to camp. It was, unbeknownst to me and my then-husband, a Christian camp. She begged to come home. We refused, wanting ‘to toughen her up.’ Finally, she sent a postcard: “Having a great time. Your daughter in Christ, Martha.”Her father, Jewish, atheist, and an academic with no sense of humour in such matters, got in the car and fetched her home.Camp — bah, humbug!Roberta Rich is the author of The Midwife of Venice and the forthcoming sequel The Harem Midwife, to be published in October 2013 by Doubleday Canada.Summer Camp, a series of author essays, appears every Saturday in Life.