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An Ode To Friendly-er Times


At Camp Watitoh in the Berkshires in 1971, If you cleaned your bunk well enough for seven straight days in a row and scored perfect 10s during morning cabin inspection, you earned a trip to Friendly’s on Route 20 in Lee, Massachusetts. The winners for the week were announced at Evening Flagpole. They piled us into an old US army panel truck reminiscent of M*A*S*H. The planked wooden floor was covered with beat-up mattresses and we were protected by nothing more than a clanging back gate. We sang at the top of our lungs as we were transported over Mt. Greylock, the canvas canopy whipping and snapping in the warm summer wind. This was this boy’s first rendition of destination food. We were all of about 10.

Pictured, the author in blue pajamas.

Packed into red pleather banquettes, we took over the joint, ordering Fribbles and fries and the “double cheeseburg deluxe” – two patties, lettuce, tomato, pickle , a smear of mayo and and melted American cheese smacked flat on a couple of slices of lightly toasted white bread. My lifelong passion for food began in that unassuming white clapboard diner.

Friendly’s of Lee has since permanently closed and the venerable chain has been purchased. Still, the memories remain as strong as a hot summer’s day, our bellies content and full, as that Army truck carried us back to our temporary home in the Berkshires.

Today, I am a grown man with a serious job and four grown children of my own. Remarkably, Camp Watitoh soldiers on and bunks full of kids still congregate every summer on the shores of Center Lake for general swim, Color War and mess hall dinners full of laughter and song. I wonder if our current generation of kids – cell phones crammed full of the memories they made – will look back with the same nostalgia we Watitohans do. No matter. If I can round up the troops for a weekend on the Cape, we’ll hit up a local Friendly’s on the drive from New York. My kids know what a sap I am. And I’ll never have to twist their arms for a thick creamy Fribble and an order of fries.


Ken Carlton

Ken is the author of FOOD FOR MARRIAGE and co-author of THE HUNGER. His screen credits include a screenplay with the folks who brought you "Babette's Feast." He is an inveterate midnight chef with a penchant for all things tartare.




  1. Jill eldheim Abrams on July 20, 2023 at 3:48 pm

    LOVED reading this, Kenny! I was recently in the Berkshires and witnessed a “boarded-up” Fiendly’s! It broke my heart! Now, where will the inspection winners go to celebrate?

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