As distinguished from the last night, with its trio of rituals – the banquet, the counselor’s show and the traditional torchlight ceremony at the beach where they float lit candles on the lake as they read off each of our names and play a scratchy record of “For All We Know (We May Never Meet Again)”, which I’ve written about elsewhere, I address herein the last day, the day the buses were coming to take us back to the city, the countdown for which we recorded every morning, singing,
Four (or whatever it was that day) more days of vacation
Then we go to the station
Back to civiliza-tiooooon
The bus will carry us home.
There were signs everywhere that it was almost over, two of them signified by the deployment of horses. A few days before camp ended, trailers arrived to pick up the horses at the stables, to return them, hopefully, to barns, but, given the age and condition of some of the horses, possibly elsewhere. Riding was over for the summer.
At about the same time, sturdier horses – Clydesdale hairy and workhorse hunky – were brought down to beach, where they helped haul the dismantled sections of the H-shaped, wooden swimming dock onto dry land. That would be it for Swim Instruction. Which suited me just fine.
The final week was punctuated by a series of “lasts.” Last laundry pick-up. Last Saturday morning cinnamon buns. Last “tuck” – a twice-weekly snack distribution, whose sustaining Snack Bars and Crispy Crunches had kept me from becoming so thin, it would be necessary for me to hold up my pants with my hand. Each “last” fel like a funeral drumbeat, heralding the inevitable end.
The end of summer. And the end of camp.
Dark blue metal trunks with the brass trim, and oversized canvas duffel bags were lowered from rafters and storage spaces. It was time to pack for home. Maybe a week before the end, we began strategically counting backwards, to insure – since there were no further laundry pick-ups – that we’d have clean underwear and socks – or at least some underwear and socks – to go home in. Nobody wanted to greet their loved ones, sporting underwear they’d been wearing for three days.
We also rationed our clothing, so that our “going home” ensemble would be the most presentable outfit we had – which pretty much meant the clothes that been shrunken and dyed pink the least by the camp laundry.
Hidden clothing was invariably discovered behind the now-empty shelves, missing items many had been searching for the entire summer. Sometimes what was found were items the camp Clothing List included as “Optional”, but the mothers packed them anyway – like hankies. In those cases, no one would ever speak up to claim them, promoting the belief that they had been there for years. We would then just put them back where we found them. Let next year’s campers worry about the hankies.
Trunk packing followed a specific plan. The big stuff – pants, jackets, raincoats – on the bottom, shirts, sweaters, underwear and socks neatly stacked on top of them, piled tightly side-by-side, so as to avoid toppling. All shoes, rubber boots and – if you were wimpy enough to bring them – slippers – were inserted with the soles facing outward, away from the clothing, to prevent them from getting stained by camp path shmutz. That’s dirt, of a vaguely nasty variety.
After hours of meticulous maneuvering, you thought you were finished. Your trunk looked perfect. Trunk Packers Monthly could easily put it on their cover. Then someone would come in after completing their “Clean-Up” assignment of checking the clothesline holding up a forgotten, still-damp bathing suit that had fallen on the ground, and was now caked with patches of mud and assorted sticks and leaves. After two months together, everyone knew whose bathing suit was whose, so deniability in this case was futile.
It was now necessary for the forlorn owner to revisit a believed completed and breathtakingly perfect packing job, to figure out how to include this soiled and sodden bathing suit, the issue, beyond the frustration of rearrangement, being that, if you packed wet stuff with dry stuff, when you got home, your entire trunk would smell moldy, and the clothing therein would have no future as wearing apparel.
A plastic bag could be the answer, though, back then, there were not that many of those around. Second best was to wrap the bathing suit in a towel, which reassured no one, but had to do, being the best available alternative. Other than burying bathing suit in the ground.
Sometimes, when you’re a kid – or even now if you’re me – you will do something that will reveal hidden feelings that you never knew you had. This happened to me on the last day of camp the first summer I went, when I was nine years old, the time, regular readers may recall, when I was sent to camp without knowing I was going.
I was not happy at camp. I suffered through a host of activities I was terrible at – from baseball to swimming to lacrosse (what am I, an Indian?) – and I enjoyed a turbulent relationship with my cabin-mates, which culminated in an effort on their part to string me up.
Yes, they had put me in the pageant, and given me a song to lead the camp in, which brought me some much needed positive attention, but it seemed as if – a view supported by my continual complaining – that nobody would be happier to be sprung from camp than I would.
I am totally packed. The clothes in my trunk look beautiful. When my mother looks inside, they will smile up at her and say, “Hello. Look how neat your Sonny Boy packed”, and my proud-of-me mother will smile right back, and give me a cookie. It was an exquisite packing job. I was truly content.
We are sitting at our last lunch. “Scoops.” Meaning a platter, offering ice cream scoops-sized mounds of egg, salmon and tuna. I, of course, eat nothing. I hate “Scoops.” And I never eat before long bus rides, fearing the necessity of requiring the bus driver to stop, so I can throw up in a ditch.
Suddenly, my counselor, with whom I had had a generally positive relationship, informs me that he is unhappy with my clothing selection and that, before the buses arrive, I will have to go back to the cabin to change.
I immediately explode. This was extremely unusual for me. I have numerous inter-relationional bad habits, but losing my temper is not one of them. Nor is swearing. On this occasion, I did both, screaming at my counselor at the top of my lungs,
“I’m not changing my clothes, and I don’t give a damn what the hell you say!”
After which, I bolted from the Dining Hall.
Only in retrospect – and I mean decades later – did I realize what was happening.
Despite its liabilities and inconveniences, camp was Neverneverland. And they were shipping me back to school – which paid little attention to me – and the mind-numbing bludgeonation of television.
Wherefrom the tantrum?
I did not want to go home.
It’s embarrassing when you’re noisily proclaiming one thing, when you are actually feeling the opposite.
But sometimes, that’s just the way it is.