We’ve had a major heatwave this week. It’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit before the sun even rises in the morning with humidity not below 70% most of the day. As I walked out of my garage this morning around 8:00AM to water the gardens, the sweat literally poured from my body like a fountain – I’ve changed my clothes five times over the past 24 hours…Needless to say, a bike ride has been out of the question. Anyone who knows me knows I love riding my bike, but there’s a line drawn in the sand when the weather is too cold or too hot. If I’m not enjoying myself, what’s the point?
The highlight of my week was last Sunday when I took the kid to the Poconos to visit some friends working at a Jewish summer camp. Having worked as an advisor/parent liaison/trainer for eight summers at one of these camps, I know visiting day is a big deal. It’s when the vomit-induced homesick, straight up miserable and incorrigibly rotten campers get to finally go home and thirty-six hours of relief is bestowed upon the staff until the next load is dropped off. It’s also the day when all the helicopter parents arrive and descend like locusts on an unwatched field to make sure their child/children is/are still alive, despite staff reassurances on a daily basis for four weeks straight.
When I first started working at camp, if you had a cell phone, you had no service…ever (although sometimes if you stood in one particular spot on the basketball court on a sunny, cloudless day you might get a few minutes of reception…that is, only if you had Verizon service). Over two hundred staff members shared two pay phones and six desktop computers that worked as long as there was no wind, rain or clouds anywhere within a 50 mile radius…and you had zero privacy. The only communication between campers and their families was letter-writing hour once a week (and mail service was so slow parents wouldn’t receive those first letters for two weeks, halfway through the session). Otherwise, the only information parents received was from (you guessed it) me and my three co-advisors/parent liaisons/trainers.
The summer the administration decided to start downloading photographs of campers onto the camp website was probably the worst I had over that eight-year period. The reception was so bad, it literally took days for pictures to download, thereby spawning a new position just for that job – downloading. As internet connections advanced over the years, the administration then decided to lock us all out, creating secret passwords that only they could use in order to work on their own laptops. Towards the end of my term there, I was one of the very privileged few permitted the password, but only if it was work related.
This was Cheryl, one of my bestest friends ever in a lifetime. We were co-advisors/parent liaisons/trainers over the entire eight-year period, she having started many years before me and staying several years after my departure. All four of her children spent their entire lives at camp with all three eventually working there as adults. She made camp tolerable. For nine weeks every summer, we were there for each other through everything, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We ate our meals together, lived and slept next door to one another and sat with each other at every meeting, sporting event and fireworks show. Refusing to learn how to drive the golf carts, I was her “chauffeur” and she would buy my favorite frozen custard in return.
Every year we would dress up for our final staff meeting before the campers arrived . At my final meeting we wore our pajamas, messed up our hair, taped fake telephone messages all over our bodies and wrapped telephone cords along with the handsets around our necks. Sitting at our desks and making/receiving phone calls was pretty much all we ever did at that point, barely seeing the light of day from our windowless hole-in-the-wall office often used for excess storage. Some of my fondest memories are of Cheryl driving me and various other individuals driving into New York City the last day off each summer – an 8-hour round-trip journey filled with laughter and entertainment – some of the greatest fun I’ve had in my life. Aside from my husband, I can’t think of any other human being I’ve spent that much time with and didn’t want it to end…and then it did.
On May 7, 2012, a post on Facebook from a mutual friend caught me off guard. Cheryl had died suddenly from a massive heart attack following a brief illness during a vacation to her summer home at the beach. That was the year Cheryl decided to stop working at camp. Not only were we getting older and the job becoming more difficult, she had found full-time employment to which she wanted to devote her time and energy. But, of course, that’s not what happened. Apparently, due to a staff shortage, the week before her death Cheryl decided to go back one more time, calling and leaving me a voicemail message telling me about her excitement and wondered if I could be convinced to change my mind as well. Believing I was “just to busy” (or perhaps a bit jealous), I didn’t call her back right away. It’s a regret I continue to have five years later…
So dropping the kid off to see her friends, I decided to continue further north to the camp I had left seven years before, but not without stopping at the kosher pizza stand for sushi and having my favorite frozen custard.
Memories of those eight summers flooded my brain…I missed it dearly. I missed being outdoors – even when it rained for three weeks straight or the heat was so oppressive you couldn’t breathe during the day or sleep comfortably at night. I missed my shitty little bunk with the leaky roof and not caring or having to clean or cook or do laundry. I missed the co-workers who had become my closest friends in adulthood. I missed being part of some kind of secret society that one could only understand and explain after having experienced it yourself.
But no one was left. Except for the maintenance crew, with all new staff and renovated buildings, my camp was no more. Spending an hour talking with my maintenance buddies, we reminisced about our time together and caught up on our lives over the past seven years…and I felt sad. It was a time of my life that I cherished, albeit very stressful at times, but nonetheless some of the best times I’ve ever had in my adult life. However, for seven years I’ve also regretted not staying home and spending those eight summers with the kid and my parents in their pool, eating ice cream and drinking soda pop. If I had known those years would be lost forever due to my father’s declining health and dementia, I would have stayed home. That’s the price I must pay for the rest of my life – the best summers of my life versus lost summers with Peepaw and Meemaw.
As I rolled down the first hill descending the mountain, teary-eyed over my fate, a turkey suddenly appeared on the side of the road…thanks Peepaw…
“Hello Muddah, hello Faddah
Here I am at Camp Grenada
Camp is very entertaining
And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining”
Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (Camp Grenada Song) – Allen Sherman
“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump