Summer Memories

Posted on in On Our Radar by Jon Bailey

Finding Firsts at the
Lair of the Bear


Each summer from the time I was five years old, we spent a week together at a family camp called Lair of the Golden Bear. The Lair, as it was fondly nicknamed, was open to alumni of the University of California system. Since my dad was a Class of ’51 graduate of UC Berkeley we were invited to attend.

Back in the day the camp was divided into two “camps,” actually, separated by a fire road through the trees. Camp Blue and Camp Gold were named for the school colors. We chose Blue. Since those halcyon days the Lair has become so popular that it built a third enclave called Camp Oski.

My dad, mom, brother, and I packed up the car with our sleeping bags, folding chairs, bathroom supplies, snacks, and copious amounts of booze for the adults (more on that booze later). It was the late 1960s, and my dad drove a champagne-colored Chevy Impala station wagon that I would eventually be wildly embarrassed to drive as a teen. We packed that sucker to the brim for the four-hour drive to Pinecrest, near Yosemite. We would be joining several other families of close friends, forming a compound of sorts amidst the “cabins” made of wood floors and sides topped by canvas roofs. It was as close to camping as my family would ever get—just fine with this gay boy!

A Cabin in the Woods

To prepare for this sojourn my sweet naïve mother bought my brother Chris and me all new summer clothes. Arriving at the Lair, we were greeted by college-age camp staffers with glasses of punch and directions to our cabin. They looked downright grungy and I remember Mom making a remark about hippies. One kind staffer jumped on the hood of our car and directed us through the dirt paths to our home for the coming week.

Now, that drive to our “cabin in the woods” kicked up a fair amount of dust from those racy station wagon tires. I was wearing brand-new white sneakers with white tube socks up to my knees, shorts, and a white t-shirt. I probably looked like a miniature version of Mr. Clean (who really is a gay man anyway, don’t you agree?).

fire in a plate

Within minutes our friends surrounded our car in welcome, gathering to help us unload and set up camp (code for “cocktail party area”). The kids grabbed me and Chris, showing us around and eventually taking us down to the stream, stocked with fat trout for fishing. Rocks smooth from years of rushing water made perfect stepping stones, and whoosh! Within seconds I had experienced my first Lair dunking. Headed back to our cabin, sopping wet, through the forest dirt and dust, my once-white shoes made that sklerch sklerch sklerch sound as I walked. When Mom saw me she screamed; I was covered in black mud from the waist down.

Those white shoes were never the same, and neither was I.

Campfire Traditions

I fell hard in love with the Lair and everything about it, dirt and all. My parents and their friends threw raging cocktail parties at our compound that made other families jealous. During the ten-year span we attended, the cocktail parties grew in scope and popularity. The moms would stockpile appetizers for weeks in advance. The dads would pour the drinks from an elaborate bar setup complete with all the accompaniments. We kids would play on the sidelines, sneaking occasional munchies and later a sip or two of someone’s dregs. It was a rite of passage we were all too ready to embrace.

My dad moved a little slowly after those legendary Lair cocktail parties.

On the Saturday night we arrived there was always a massive campfire where all the campers and counselors converged to welcome the beginning of an awesome week of fun. I can still remember the song:

Saturday night, Saturday night
The week always starts on a Saturday night
Summer is here and the snow is gone
The mountain air is full of song
So come on, everybody, let’s sing along
Hurray, it’s Saturday night!

It does sound a little hokey now, but hey—it was the ’70s. I wonder if they still sing it?

The big downside for me was the shared bathroom and shower facilities. This does not bother most people but the sound of some guy farting two stalls down (or worse yet, your own farting for someone else to hear) was just too much to take. I did, however, learn many dirty limericks and jokes from the bathroom stalls. My fav: “Here I sit, broken-hearted, tried to shit but only farted.” It was the beginning of a wicked sense of potty humor that pervades my life to this day.

A Whole Lot of Firsts

The Lair became a pivotal part of our childhood, and the families who converged in the Seventh Week of camp each year became bonded to this day. Some of my closest childhood friendships were forged at this camp and have endured through the years because of the family bonds formed at the Lair.

After all, the Lair represented a lot of firsts for me. My first slow dance happened at the Teen Lodge, swaying to “Hotel California” with a girl a good foot taller than me. My first French kiss (with a girl!) and my first girlfriend (now a lesbian) were part of a summer week at the Lair.

It was my first taste of alcohol (sneaking leftover sips from those crazy cocktail parties), my first toke of pot (hastily stuffed into a makeshift pipe since no one knew how to roll a joint yet), my first crush on a straight boy (who would later become a good friend). Ah, good times.

On the flip side, it was also my first lanyard woven, my first pottery thrown, my first tennis tournament (we won doubles), my first volleyball game, my first horseback ride through the towering pines, my first time jumping off a rock ledge into nearby Pinecrest Lake—a lot of wholesome firsts.

All these memories and more made me want to be a Cal graduate too and now I have the diploma to prove it. But to this day I cannot camp.

I cannot sleep in a “cabin” with no plumbing. I don’t care to share bathroom and shower facilities with strangers down the hall. And until recently I never wore white tennis shoes.


Jon Bailey owns i.d.e.a. (, an integrated marketing agency in San Diego, and is father to two teen girls and husband to one outstanding man. He also stewards, a growing social gathering space focused on savvy family travel, tips, and tales of the everyday adventures of two gay dads raising two teen tempests.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join our once-monthly newsletter to get all the latest news & resources

No spam. Unsubscribe any time.