Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Days Drifting Away, but Uh Oh!

In my post earlier today, I was critical of the perception of threat to the French language, but I did not intend to diminish the importance of identity or dates to remind us of who we are. Fete de St. Jean de Bapiste is important for Quebecers to remind themselves of who they were and are. My point was mostly to suggest that Quebec and Quebecers are better off than they were, and that the perceptions of threat outside of Montreal about Montreal are outdated.

And just as June 24th is important to Quebecers, today is a very important today to me, although it took some reminders. One of my Facebook friends posted that he was reuniting with his brother and his father at Camp Airy—I guess his father is still one of the camp doctors that surge on the first day of each session to check the incoming boys [I wonder what the H1N1 pandemic is doing to their process of intake]. And, today, on the way to the train home, I listened to a podcast of the Vinyl CafĂ©, the Canadian equivalent to Garrison Keillor, Stuart McLean went through a list of his summer jobs, ending with his favorite—a counselor at the camp my daughter now goes to every summer in the Montreal highlands—the Laurentians.

These reminders helped to reset my internal clock. For the past 23 years, I could usually figure out what the day it is in the camp calendar and what is likely to be going on at that time down south at the camp in the Maryland “mountains.”

For me, summer started on the third or fourth Monday in June. Actually, for me, that day meant that my life was starting again, while the rest of the year was mostly about waiting for the next summer. Camp was incredibly important to me, as it was a place of firsts: first ultimate experience, first rock climbing, first kiss (there was a girls camp 10 miles away or so with more than weekly interactions between the two), first play (an Agatha Christie murder mystery), first lead role (David and Lisa, playing a troubled boy who had a hard time connecting with the girls [method acting?]), and first job as a summer counselor.

It was not only a place of firsts, but of bests as well. I was one of the more adequate athletes of my age cohort. It was not a sports camp per se, so the best baseball players were at baseball camp, the best wrestlers at wrestling camp, and so on. Which mean that the competition was not as stiff—so I could win pretty much all of the wrestling tournaments in which I participated the last several years of camper-ness, usually as the underdog against fairly fearsome foes (I can still remember their names—which is amazing given how poor my memory is of most details—as my wife would attest).

I did most of my acting at camp, with my favorite role as the aforementioned socially unskilled David. Of course, my acting bug was partly driven by the opportunities it presented—to hang out at the girls camp. It never paid off in the way I had intended, but, given my years since in front of big crowds, the acting experience back then continues to pay dividends today. [Forgive the short shorts, but this is the only digital picture of me at camp--and with Mike Magenta, the drama director at that time].

I developed skills there that seemed quite valuable but have long gone un-used: porchball, uno, spit (the card game), cleaning up each morning, the art of taking cold showers when the hot water would run out, hiking and bitching at the same time, and, of course, the ability to count down to the day camp started again

I am more nostalgic about camp than any other of my experiences. I loved Oberlin and the people there, but never really felt as I fit in. That was probably apt since Oberlin defines itself as a place for people who do not fit in. I was incredibly lucky to be part of a great cohort in grad school, with the academic stuff supported by heaps of softball and bar-b-q’s. The junior faculty at TTU helped me get through that place, and the guys on the Joint Staff made each “half day” (from 6am to 6pm or so) more than bearable. But camp was what ultimate remains for me—the time and place where I can be my best with people who made me feel like I belong. I was one of the few kids each summer that spent the entire eight weeks there, with most only there for two or four weeks. So, I really felt like an insider, one that belonged there, year in and year out. Becoming a counselor was a pretty easy transition, and I only stopped when I spent the summer after my junior year traveling in Europe.

I am sadder this year when I remember camp, as some of the legends of that time are now passing on. I have only recently re-connected with some of the Camp people thanks to Facebook, only to find that the very best were facing cancer and Alzheimer’s. The good news is that the victim of Alzheimer’s disease can still remember his days at Camp Airy. If I have to forget everything else, I would hope that Camp would be my remaining memory as well.

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