Several decades ago, I compiled an extensive accumulation of notes on my experiences at summer camp. Over the years, I have drawn on those notes for blog posts under the umbrella title of “Summer Times.” Today, I offer a short offering (with minor adjustments, and additional commentary) dating from, if not the time of the events themselves, a time decades closer to them than today.
Three purposes are served by this exerptation from my notes:
I have an example of how remarkably little my “back then” writing style and point of view differ from my considerably more recent offerings.
I have a July-appropriate camp reminiscence.
I have a virtually pre-written story, so I am relieved of having to come up with anything new. It’s like a day off. But with a story.
The locale is Camp Ogama, nine miles from Huntsville, in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada. The specific locale is Fox Lake, a two-mile expanse of often refrigerator-cold, brown water.
I am presently an unwilling participant of Swim Instruction, an obligatory activity, scheduled twice weekly for every camper. I am cowering on the dock, a nine year-old non-swimmer, though things changed very little as I got older and more buoyant.
A gargantuan Swim Instructor hovers over me, waiting impatiently, as I prepare, in my own deliberate fashion, to submit my quivering body to the uncertainty of the Deep.
Which was actually only up to my chest.
Let us begin.
There are a lot of people who say, “There are two kinds of people.” My Third-Cousin Herschel was one of them.
“There are two kinds of bald people,” Cousin Herschel would say, “those with hair and those without.”
That’s a bad example of the genre, but I use it so mine won’t sound so bad.
Observation: Mine isn’t bad at all. Saying it was was lazy writing. Today, I would fess up and say, “That’s a bad example of the genre. I just used it, so I could start funny.” I have gotten more honest over the years.
Sorry, Cousin Herschel. (For selling you down the river.)
My version is this. There are two kinds of people – people who dive in and people who ease in. There is a consistency in those actions. Those who dive in always dive in. Those who ease in always ease in.
I always ease in.
I was sure if I dove into the water, my heart would say, “What!” and stop, and I’d be dead. I am totally convinced that it would be a terminal shock to my system, even though I see people diving in all the time and their systems don’t seem to be shocked at all. Some of them appear to actually enjoy it. But that’s them, and this is me.
I always ease in.
How? The traditional “easing in “ procedure. You wade into the water up to your knees – keeping away from the splashers. You reach into the water, pat some on each wrist and on the back of your neck – it always drips down, and makes you shiver. Then, you ease in a little more, maybe up to your bathing suit.
The process so far takes about ten minutes.
If the water’s wavy, some will slop up your chest, giving you more shivers, and reminding you what it would feel like if you dove in.
You ease in a little further, maybe up to your ribcage, submerging your heart, and some feelers in your chest that seem extremely sensitive to temperature changes. I don’t know if they even exist, but they’re there for me.
Finally, you bend you knees, and you duck down up to your neck. By then, you are hopeful that Swim Instruction is over and you can get out of the water.
Additional Observation: There is no question of immersing myself completely. If they had required me to put my head under water, I would have immediately called my mother and demanded that she take me home. I had had surgery on both eyes when I was two, and was certain that if I went totally under, the water would seep in through the (long healed) place where they’d put in the stitches and drown my brain.
You can imagine that easer-inners experienced considerable difficulty acquiring “buddies” for General Swim. * Who wants to wait that long for the entire ritual to unfold?
* The twice-daily, maybe forty-minute-long General Swims were a supervised free-swimming activity, where campers were required to swim paired up with “buddies.” A whistle would be blown every few minutes, at which time, all water activities would cease, the buddies would grab each others’ hands and raise them high in the air, to be counted and matched with the number of swimmers recorded on a “Sign-in Board.” This safety process was meant to determine that nobody had drowned since the previous whistle. It would seem to be unnecessary. If your “buddy” had disappeared under the water, you would think you would not wait till the next “whistle” to report it. Unless you were having a really good time without them.
When I was a counselor assigned to “Swim Duty” I was required to count those pairings when the whistle blew, double-checking other “Swim Duty” counselors engaged in the same operation. Especially on busy “General Swims” when campers were all bunched together, I abandoned the possibility of an accurate count, and simply went along with the counters who had gone before me. I dreaded being asked first, invariably saying, “Ask someone else.”
Even two “easer inners” had their own tempos, so that slow as each of them were, they could still get on each others’ nerves, one going straight to “knees”, the other taking a minute or two to acquaint his ankles with the wonderful world of water.
You can see these two groups falling into their predictable patterns in non-watery pursuits. Check out how a guy removes a Band-Aid from a place on his body where’s there’s hair, and you will know for a certainty how he gets into the water. You can count on a slow Band-Aid remover being an equally slow water getter-inner.
I bet there’s not one person in a million who pulls off Band-Aids fast and gets in the water slow. Or vice versa.
Easer-inners ease into everything. Relationships, a career, trying new foods. The behavior is invariably the same – always cautious, always methodical. It looks like the hard way of doing things, but, the way things are for them, it’s those people’s only choice.
And by “those people”, I mean me.
We have this firm belief about how our body is going to react if we pull something shocking and sudden on it, and we don’t do it. Of course, our culture picks a favorite way of how people should behave, and they picked fast, so we slow ones take a lot of heat. Rather than bold and decisive, we are branded tentative, even cowardly. Which, I believe is wrong. It takes a ton of courage to face pulling a Band-Aid off really slow. You have no idea how painful that is.
There are dueling phrases reflecting the two kinds of people. There is “He who hesitates is lost” and there’s “Look before you leap.”
I find a lot of wisdom in that second admonition. And the person who thought it up?
I bet they really took their time.