When I went off to Methodist Youth Summer Camp in early August of 1983, I was 11.
I had already gone to Boy Scout summer camp at Sid Richardson Scout Ranch the month or two before. It had been a long week of hiking, canoeing, and sweating. More significantly, however, it had been my first week away from home.
At Boy Scout camp, I remember going to my tent one evening, and crying. I still can recall hearing my best friend, then and now, remarking on it to someone (his father?), who said, "Leave him alone." Fabric walls don't stop even gentle words of concern. Grateful for the time alone and yet embarrassed that my sobs hadn't been effectively muffled by the Coleman sleeping bag, I stopped, and by and by joined the rest of the troop for supper.
It wasn't so much that I was a Mama's Boy (I'm fairly certain that I was) that drove me to cry "I want my Mama" into my sleeping bag, as the fact that I was away for the first significant time while my parents were beginning the separation that would eventually lead to their divorce. While I later felt that things actually got better for us kids after the divorce (Dad was very attentive as a divorced father, meaning that we actually seemed to see more of him afterwards), it was a time of Change, and a boy who is uncertain during change seeks his Mama. She wasn't there. Only boys and good men who volunteered as Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters were there.
The next month (or the next-- a quarter century has obscured some facts), I went off to Church Camp. It was way up at Lake Texoma, and we all gathered at a large regional church to get on the high-capacity vans to go. My father took me up there, and as I waited to get on the van, he handed me a paperback book. He asked me if I was nervous about the time away, and I said that I was not. (I felt that I was past that weak point, so long ago, about a month or two before.) He told me that a lot of boys were not used to leaving their families for any time when they were eleven years old, and somehow managed to compliment me for being mature enough to deal with it. I felt embarrassed, a little-- I should be mature enough. Just look at me: about 5'11" to 6'00" tall, eleven years old. Probably about 170 lbs. I was man-sized, in most cultures. [But still a boy.]
I got on the bus, and had an enjoyable ride with kids that I would get to know over the next 7 days. It's amusing that I still can remember some of the songs that we listened to on the radio; they tended heavily toward the Eurithmics. When I arrived at church camp, I found that our "cabins" were kind of bungalows spaced widely about the camp. I was in one with a group of 7 other boys of widely different cultures. I was neither the center point of our group, nor the outcast. I was an island unto myself; I was approachable, but discrete.
Well, a bit of loneliness almost set in, one night, when I opened my paperback (I think I was supposed to be studying a text for vespers, or something), and found an inscription from my Dad. I can't recall if it said anything more than "To Matt, Love, Dad." But does it matter? That's about the only part that matters in any inscription I've ever read: Who, why, and from whom. I seem to recall that he dated it. The paperback was a thick one, and had a painting of D.D. Harriman looking wistfully up at the stars with a spaceship in the background. It was The Past Through Tomorrow, a compilation of stories by Robert A. Heinlein.
I started with the first one, "Life Line." I was hooked.
My reading of Heinlein's works continued, with me consuming all that I could find in the school libraries (almost exclusively juveniles, but I found, inexplicably, a ratty hardcover copy of I Will Fear No Evil, which was racy stuff for a rural junior high school library). I kept it up long after the man died (I remember that hollow feeling, standing in Fultz's News when the counterman told me he had passed), and long after I had come to the conclusion that he was an idealist and a Dirty Old Man.
I don't doubt that a lot of my current philosophies have been influenced by a science fiction writer who died 21 years ago, and with whom I disagree about 1/3 of the time.
It's funny where you get your beginnings.