Same Old Tawonga, Brand New Almond

Tawonga alum and award-winning author Steve Almond revisited his childhood home-away-from-home this past season at a family camp weekend with his wife and three children. In the audio story and short essay below, Almond reflects on the impact Tawonga has made on both him and his daughter Josie. Almond was a camper at Tawonga in the 70s and is a New York Times best-selling author (Candyfreak, Against Football). He co-hosts WBUR’s Dear Sugar, a popular podcast offering advice on love and relationships, with Cheryl Strayed (Wild). 

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If all goes well, this summer my daughter Josie will be the first Almond to attend Camp Tawonga in 36 years! And chances are, she’ll be the only camper in Session II who’s come all the way from Boston.


This probably sounds a bit nutty. But as with so many things Tawonga, it all makes sense if you don’t mind a lengthy explanation.


It’s best to begin back in 1974, when my parents decided—for the sake of their mental health—that it was time for their three rambunctious boys to head off to sleep-away camp.


This was not a decision about which I was consulted. And I can still remember the knot of dread in my stomach as my dad drove us up 280 toward the San Francisco JCC.


The first few years, as we piled onto the buses, I would have to bury my head in my lap, so nobody could see me crying.


But a funny thing always happened round around Oakdale, where, as I recall, we stopped for lunch: I stopped being homesick. In fact, aside from waiting for care packages, I forgot about home altogether for the next three weeks.


All I thought about was hiking to Twin Pools and playing gaga and wolfing s’mores and (as I grew a bit older) girls, and whether it would be possible to sneak over to their side of camp.


And so naturally, I told my kids about Tawonga. Two summers ago, I was lucky enough to be able to bring my brood to a weekend family camp.


Josie, my first born, was smitten. She got the Tawonga vibe instantly: the singing, the dancing, the eating, the gossiping, the intense friendships that form when kids have a chance to bond away from the baggage of family and school.


This is why she began lobbying us to attend camp, and why—after many hours of consulting the calendar and airline websites—we pulled the trigger. Josie is so excited that we have to remind her, every few days, that she does not need to start packing just yet.


Come late June, I’ll be the one driving her up to the JCC in the early morning hours, and watching her load onto those big yellow buses. And just like in the old days, I’ll probably have to find a way to duck out of view, so nobody sees me crying.



P.S. In Almond’s advice-giving podcast, Dear Sugar, he shares that the best advice he ever got was at Camp Tawonga!

P.P.S. Almond also shares a poignant reflection on returning home to Camp Tawonga in this edition of Southwest Magazine!