At 29, my best friends are my Camp Balcones Springs friends

By: Annabelle Baskin, former camper and counselor

Throughout my life, I’ve spent many minutes that have turned to hours thinking about friendship - what it means, whether I’m good at it, how much do I have of it, and in such a strange and isolated time, how much I miss the ones I rarely get to see. Lucky for me, I have always had many “pods” of friends, small groups of roughly 2-4 friends from different occasions in life ranging from high school, to college, to adulthood. Each of my pods serves different needs or holds different keys to my personality. Some my heart. Some my laughter. Some, who may not be “the closest” to me, have the most important key for me in a moment in life. The idea of having one singular best friend just doesn’t seem to be language that fits my reality anymore - the million-room-mansion of identity cannot overlap perfectly with just one best friend.

But I will say, my camp friends have a key ring on their hip with lots of keys.

If you did not attend summer camp, or more specifically, Camp Balcones Springs, you might not get it: what’s happening there to make friendships so enduring and special? After all, in the grand scheme of childhood, camp is a relatively small fraction of the experience. And yet, during those brief couple of weeks, I’ve found that those friendships continue to be my most enduring. At age 29, I somehow feel most seen, wanted, and appreciated by the female relationships I made over 14 summers at Camp Balcones Springs.

Camp, as it turns out, is uniquely suited to provide all the very best ingredients to form life-long friendships: an escape from routine, shared experiences, all under the supervision of the coolest 20-year old counselor you want to be exactly like. You are essentially living in a female lifeboat for 3 weeks of the year, sharing clothes, pranking the boys’ cabin, planning your award-winning music video. The list goes on and on.

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13 year-old Alyssa, Annabelle, and Anna (left to right) in 2007.

My camp best friends are Anna and Alyssa, two girls with whom I have not lived in the same city for 15+ years. We were in the same cabin every year at Balcones Springs. We spoke our own language. We won “most original” music video four years in a row. We would see who could eat the most butter bars every Sunday at camp without throwing up. We would complain and complain about girl’s campout–the nighttime activity we loved to hate– where we had to sleep on tarps in 90 degree Texas heat with bugs in our sleeping bags, staying up late telling ghost stories and not getting a lick of sleep (CBS has thankfully since nixed this activity). During the school year, we would have our annual Christmas break hangout and cry upon departure. “Only 157 more sleeps though!” Alyssa would say, tearfully.

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16 year-old Anna, Alyssa, and Annabelle in Italy in 2009.

The nature of our friendship has always, logistically, been difficult. It is hard to fit into each other’s lives when you live all over the country - I’m in New York, Alyssa in LA, and Anna in Dallas. But it doesn’t really matter. The nostalgia and memories from camp provide a magical mix of elements that make us feel like no time has passed when we’re together. Today as adults, we take trips with boyfriends and fiances who stare at us in confusion as the three of us melt into giggles like we’re 13-year olds back in Ladybird cabin.

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28-year old Anna, Annabelle, and Alyssa on a trip to Santa Barbara, CA in early 2020.

Alyssa got engaged last year to the love of her life, Cody, the absolute dreamiest guy. I was ecstatic when she facetimed me to tell me all the details of the engagement. A few weeks later, she sent me a text that she later told me she was nervous to send: “Will you be my bridesmaid? I know we don’t get to see each other very often anymore, but you’ve always been such an important part of my life and a friendship that I hope to have for many years to come. You mean the world to me and I’d love to have you standing by my side on my wedding day!”

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28-year old Anna, Annabelle and Alyssa in Santa Barbara in early 2020.

Of course, I said yes. Alyssa is getting married at, you guessed it, Camp Balcones Springs. Alyssa, Anna, and I have done life together, shoulder to shoulder. We’ve celebrated each other during happy times, and we’ve supported each other through uncomfortable challenges. Seeing that for the prize it is makes Alyssa’s camp wedding so symbolic. The magic that happens with camp friendships should not be underestimated. Life-long camp friends emerge from every corner during those short and sweet summer weeks, holding the many keys that will serve you for years to come.