SUMMER CAMP MEMORIES

Decades later, days at summer camp linger in my memory.  I find myself treading the soft beds of needles in the fragrant New Hampshire pine groves and thinking about people I once knew.

This morning, my cousin, Marvin, and I reminisced about camp and, for fun, I surfed the net to find the camp’s website, which pictured campers happily boating on the lake in kayaks and small craft—no canoes in sight, no ponderous old-fashioned row boats—and  no mention of nasty little bloodsuckers.  Are the critters still there lying in wait?

To me, the camp has gone elitist; they now boast a swimming pool and even tennis courts, and they say the buildings have been refurbished— do the bunk houses have electricity and are they heated? I feel an icy chill when I remember the freezing August nights. After evening programs followed by a bugler playing taps, we would return to our pitch black accommodations to wash quickly by flashlight and huddle under three layers of scratchy wool blankets—no cozy microfibers in those days–lucky to be young, to sleep through the night without my, now habitual, mid-night stumbles to use the facilities. We showered only once weekly in a seperate outbuilding, but daily swims kept us more or less hygienic. Does the camp follow the same routine or do they have showers en suite in the bunkhouses?

Romance always filled the air at camp.  Most of us paired off with someone for the season to attend dances with and to snuggle with behind the recreation hall while we watched old Mark of Zorro movies.  I vaguely remember Evan, my first camp boyfriend, as being tall and dark; I liked him and I liked his name so much I chose it as my son’s middle name.  Mike became camp boyfriend number two, and another Mike took stage during season three—the first two of several other Mikes I dated over the years. One summer, I heard that a cute guy had been waiting for me to arrive for the August session.  I was so excited. But before we had a chance to connect, a young hussy vamped him away. I still haven’t forgiven her. That may have been the same year a counselor told me, “You look very wholesome.”  What a blow when I wanted to look sexy. I haven’t forgiven her either.”

I don’t recall having any deep or heart-to-heart conversations with any of my romantic partners.  Mostly we made moon eyes at each other and exchanged chaste kisses at the entrance to “Girls” camp.

Two or three camp boyfriends reappeared when I attended college in Boston, but somehow the magic had evaporated and the relationships came to naught. A few years later, I was shocked to learn that one young man whose entrepreneurial abilities I had always underestimated went on to develop a successful chain of retail stores.  So much for my skills as a prognosticator!

From time to time, I have crossed paths with camp friends. On a ship returning from Europe, I encountered Ricky, the ever-laughing girl who always occupied the bunk above mine and disrupted my peace and quiet by exiting hers none too gracefully.  A few weeks after the ship docked in Canada, we both headed to New York for jobs where we continued our friendship.  Joan, my New York roommate is also a camp friend. Then on an exotic trip to Mongolia and Central Asia, my husband and I met Bob, who turned out to be a former camp mate. We hung out, and, a couple of years we later shared another adventure in Tibet with Bob and his wife, Carol.

These days, as a resident of Southern California, I have little contact with old friends from camp.  But one acquaintance told me that her grandson attends the camp and loves it.  In checking the website’s posted price list, I am astounded to see that four weeks in July cost $4,000 and four weeks in August cost $3,800. When I attended camp, sessions cost only $200 each. I don’t know why I’m surprised, considering that gas went for 27 c. per gallon during my adolescence and is $4.19 as of today.

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One Response to SUMMER CAMP MEMORIES

  1. Loved this. Have not been following your Blog as my blog site changed its format and following is harder than it used to be. Could hardly believe you could write a post on Camp without a mention of a Lanyard. This is one of my faorite poems:
    The Lanyard – Billy Collins
    The other day I was ricocheting slowly
    off the blue walls of this room,
    moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
    from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
    when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
    where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
    No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
    could send one into the past more suddenly—
    a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
    by a deep Adirondack lake
    learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
    into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
    I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
    or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
    but that did not keep me from crossing
    strand over strand again and again
    until I had made a boxy
    red and white lanyard for my mother.
    She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
    and I gave her a lanyard.
    She nursed me in many a sick room,
    lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
    laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
    and then led me out into the airy light
    and taught me to walk and swim,
    and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
    Here are thousands of meals, she said,
    and here is clothing and a good education.
    And here is your lanyard, I replied,
    which I made with a little help from a counselor.
    Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
    strong legs, bones and teeth,
    and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
    and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
    And here, I wish to say to her now,
    is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
    that you can never repay your mother,
    but the rueful admission that when she took
    the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
    I was as sure as a boy could be
    that this useless, worthless thing I wove
    out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

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