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Tag Archives: summer

Sleepaway Camp

 

It’s probably the heat that made me think of sleep away camp. I spent five summers in upstate New York, supposedly in the Berkshires, pretending it was cooler out of town. The memory that started the ball rolling was of Friday nights in the dining hall. The whole camp would eat together for that one meal, eating half-burned, half-raw, Kineret pre-frozen challahs, and singing Shabbat songs.

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“I could eat.”

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“Food? Where?”

Friday night to Saturday in camp was a big production. First, on Friday afternoons, we had to clean up the field in front of our bunks, then we had to clean our bunks, and then shower, and then dress up, in something other than shorts and t-shirts. All of the kids on A-side (ages 8-12) would go to one Shabbat service, and all of the kids on B-side (ages 12-16) would go to another, and then we came together for dinner in the dining hall, with all of the counselors, and visiting parents, and staff, and various random adults. And we would sing. The acoustics were glorious! And everyone joined in, even the coolest of the cool kids.

Friday night services at camp were a little awkward, because we were all dressed up and self-conscious and mixing with the other age groups with kids we didn’t know as well. And it was formal and serious, something else we weren’t used to. But once we got into the dining hall something changed. Everyone knows food. We sat by bunk, with our counselors, and listened to the noise level grow as everyone else entered the building. Then we went up to the front tables to pick up extra challah and extra chicken and potatoes. And once we finished eating, and cleaned our tables, we started singing Friday night songs, and even if you didn’t know what the words meant, the huge sound of clapping hands and stomping feet pulled everyone along. There were call and response songs, and bouncy songs, and slow, sweet songs.

It was perfect. I could forget for a moment about the cool kids at the next table who wouldn’t even deign to make eye contact with me, and just sing and feel connected.

After dinner we went off by age groups, and the night dwindled down, and we returned to our bunks in the dark, with only the bathroom lights to guide us (because we weren’t supposed to touch the light switches until the Sabbath ended).

Saturday was taken up with prayer, and some sort of “meaningful” activity, or napping. We ate cold cuts for lunch, and macaroni salad, and egg salad, and Butterscotch pudding for dinner (because the kitchen staff wasn’t allowed to cook, or even heat up any food, on the Sabbath).

On Sunday morning, we went back to the normal pace of life. We went to prayer services every morning, back in our shorts and t-shirts, and thinking about other things. We had to clean our bunks, and go to swim lessons, and play some god awful sport in the hot sun, and paste pompoms on Styrofoam cups or some such thing.

There were no dogs at camp, and I missed Delilah and her restful presence. Even her barking would have been okay with me, compared to some of the shrieking that went on at camp. Had no one ever seen a spider before getting to camp? I mean, really.

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My Delilah, looking much more serious than she really was.

I’ve always felt like there was a novel in those five years of camp, or a memoir, or something. But then, I tend to think everything belongs in a book, if it happened to me.

Camp was a constant balancing act between enjoying the freedom of a whole world of mostly children, and the strangeness of being away from home, and feeling the deep down fear that I would never see my Mommy again.

The memories come back in sharp bursts: like the campout on the hill; and the girl who ran through a glass door; and the girl who was stung by 39 wasps; Color War, when my bunk was split down the middle, and my counselor was on the opposite team; the Violent Femmes singing A Blister in the Sun; sitting on the stone steps by the lake, and singing Little Boy Blue and The Man in the Moon; or lining up in the community building to play Human Foosball.

In a way I felt outside of my body even when it was all happening the first time around, and not just now as I look back and try to narrate.

A lot of time at camp was spent keeping us busy, and keeping us Jewish, rather than doing things that actually interested me. There was no writing class, or voice, or dance, or acting class. I had no TV, or access to a phone. We had one musical show per year, per age group, and we had to audition, so sometimes I got a role, and sometimes I didn’t. We went swimming twice a day, and chose between aerobics, or softball, or basketball, or soccer for sports. In the afternoons there was woodworking, or radio, or arts and crafts, or photography, or nature, and I wasn’t much good at any of it.

But Friday night was my night. I didn’t feel left out, or weird, on Friday night. Everyone sang. Everyone was there, and I fit in.

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Just like baby Cricket,

Ellie between two beds

and not-so-baby Ellie.

The Heat

I’m dreading the summer. I don’t do well in hot weather. I start to wilt, and I get nauseous and dizzy, and then I get extra self-conscious about how I look, and smell. Cricket doesn’t mind the heat at all. She loves the extra vibrancy of smells during the summer, especially any rotting carcasses she can find, by the side of the road, or up in the woods behind our building.

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“I didn’t roll in anything, yet!”

Most of the summer I end up wearing a jacket outdoors, to keep my arms from going up in smoke, and I still have to put sun block on my arms in case my jacket is too weak to protect me. Every once in a while I forget what the sun can do to me, and end up with sun poisoning on the backs of my hands, because I washed off the sun block by mistake before getting into the car to drive.

And then there are my allergies, which seem to have super powers, and see my allergy medication as a puny little enemy to be ignored. For months at a time it feels like I swallowed fly paper, through my nose.

I really do love all of the colors of late spring, and all of the flowers and trees I can’t identify, like the pink one, and the red one, and the purple one, etc, but each blossom tries to fly up my nose, and every blade of grass, as soon as it meets the lawn mower, lands in my eye. My Mom, who has similar allergies to mine, has more fortitude, and manages to pretend that she can still see and breathe while she digs and plants and weeds to her heart’s content in the heat of the day; meanwhile I’m resting like an invalid in front of my air conditioner.

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Cricket stole my spot in front of the air-conditioner.

Summer is obviously not my season. I end up feeling like a steamed dumpling, even indoors, because of the humidity. Cricket still begs for long walks, and really, it makes sense; I can’t even imagine how much more fragrant the bird poop must be when it hits 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“Where’s the poop?”

Cricket has no wardrobe changes as the seasons change. Her coat seems to keep her cool enough in summer, and warm enough in winter, so that any attempt on my part to try to dress her up is met with a hardy “fnuh!” That’s Cricket’s favorite curse word. I can’t even begin to translate it from dog into human, because I don’t have enough of the right kind of words in my vocabulary to do it justice.

I tend to wear the same basic clothes in June as I wear in January, just with shorter sleeves. People seem to think I should be willing to wear shorts in public as the weather warms up, but I refuse. I stick with my jeans and trousers and if anyone has a problem with that, all I can say to that is, Fnuh!

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I want to swim

I have this idea, probably because it still feels vaguely like winter, that this summer I want to go swimming. I’ve barely gone swimming since I was a teenager, except maybe wading in once or twice at the beach. I got as far as buying a swimsuit, two times, but I couldn’t convince myself to wear them in public. Maybe if I’d lived in the era of bathing costumes for women, with ruffles and fabric covering the whole body, maybe then I could have gone swimming more often. But, still, maybe not.

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This is not my picture, but I wish it were

 

There’s something odd about a whole society expecting women, of all ages, to feel comfortable in skin tight Lycra, barely covering a third of the body. When did this happen? And why? There are certain adaptations available, like blouson tops, and skirts or swim shorts, but they mark you as overly modest and strange, if you wear them.

I had to swim every summer as a kid, at sleep away camp. And I couldn’t wear my t-shirt and shorts over my swimsuit when I went into the water, though I kept them on until the last possible second.

My fear of swimming is about more than how I look in a bathing suit, though. There’s also how I feel in a bathing suit – slimy, and trapped, and sick to my stomach. And then you get sandy, or covered in chlorine, or salt water, or sea weed. And really, who knows what’s in the water with you. And then there’s the breathing problem. I’ve always struggled to breathe correctly when I swim. I almost drowned a couple of times: once, when my father shoved me into the backyard pool fully dressed; and again when my father capsized our rented sailboat and I was caught under the hull.

I was also sexually abused in a swimming pool, as a little girl, by my friend’s older brother. So there’s that.

Given all of this, the mystery is why I would ever want to swim. But when summer comes and I’m choking from the heat and sweating to death, a pool starts to look good to me, and I feel left out and isolated. And I have this underlying belief that everything needs to be overcome, eventually, or else I’ve been wasting decades in therapy. Even though that’s really silly.

I’d rather swim in a pool than at the beach. A pool can be temperature controlled, and indoors, with clear water. And the ground can be level under your feet, depending on the pool. And you’re not trapped, because there are ladders out. But also, I don’t want to sit on the beach and get a tan. I don’t tan. I burn, or get sun poisoning. And I feel like a sheet of cookies left in the oven too long, after three minutes.

Ideally I would have my own pool, in my own backyard, and I could swim in whatever I wanted to wear at whatever time of day. I could have one of those enclosed pools with a glass ceiling in a building of its own. Like the old guys in the movie Cocoon.

            I wonder what Cricket would think of an indoor pool. It’s possible that she’d see it as an enormous bathtub and run screaming back under her couch. But that’s more pool for me.

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“You can’t make me swim, Mommy.”

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“No, really. You can’t make me.”