It wasn’t the last thing that happened that triggered the thudding sensation that our summer times were over.
The last thing would be spotting the buses rolling in through the Mess Hall window, as we finished our last lunch (“scoops” of salmon, tuna and egg salad, none of which I would touch) before our departure back to Toronto (or “civilization”, as it was called in the song which now went, “No more days of starvation, now we go to the station, back to civiliza…tion, the bus will carry us home.”)
It wasn’t the second last thing that signaled the end of eight weeks of enforced activities, which for me were comprised of things I hated and things I just didn’t want to do. That would be lugging our metal trunks and canvas duffel bags to the playing field, searching out the staked-out area, flagged by the letter representing the first initial of our surnames, an organizational arrangement that allowed our possessions to arrive successfully at their intended destinations.
(The paralleling arrangement at the beginning of the season had once misfired, requiring me, until my luggage was finally tracked down, to dress in the same clothing for ten days.)
Taking our stuff to the playing field was the concluding step of our “Final Clean-up”, during which our now bare cabin – no clothing in the shelves, no personal items in our night tables, no bedding covering the now visible the two-inch thick, not entirely immaculate mattresses – was scoured to a farethewell, as if some grand inspection was to take place, the consequence for dereliction being the lash or the Firing Squad.
I never got the reason for our scrupulous “Spic ‘N Spanning.” No one would be using the place for ten months. We were cleaning up for winter.
It wasn’t the third last thing that wrote finis to summer, returning us to the deadening rhythm of home and school. That would be the last night’s “Counselors’ Show”, and the following “Candle Lighting Ceremony”, the latter calculated to make us blubber and sob, and sign up for next summer.
Besides entertaining us, the “Counselors’ Show” – performed not just by counselors but by the entire staff – which inevitably included the gruff and burly canoe trippers donning tutus and performing a ballet – allowed campers to see their captors let loose, free of the onerous burden responsibility and rank. A Unit Head who had, all summer, seemed imperious and aloof, submitted to a softening self-mockery, her arms held straight out from her shoulders, palms downward, wailing, “Who put cement in my deodorant!!!”
It was not the fourth last thing that announced that two months of “self discovery”, as was boasted in the brochure, were now drawing to a close. That would be the “Final Banquet”, which, along with the steaks, which were served only twice a summer – on the last night, and immediately prior to “Visitors’ Day”, so upon hearing that campers were served steak the night before, their parents would mistakenly assume steak was a regular item in the menu – the “Final Banquet” also included a rearrangement of the tables, now set up end-to-end around the circumference of the Mess Hall (if a rectangle were permitted a circumference), allowing campers to dine, not in cabin groups, the members of which on one occasion had earlier in the summer tried to hang up, but in self-selected, more congenial company.
It wasn’t the last “Mail Call” or the last “Tuck” (twice a week, we could order candy bars along with our toiletry requirements, without whose nourishment I may well not have survived to write what you are currently reading) that meant a halt to the experiment into what many of us would ultimately become.
Nor was it the cessation of activities, where the sports equipment was now packed up and stored away, in the hope that the arrows missing their heads and the gaping holes in the tennis racquets would miraculously heal themselves and become whole during the interim.
All of the aforementioned sent the message that our time there was winding down. None, however, portended the seasonal demise as powerfully…
As when they brought in the horses.
The horses’ arrival was the trumpeting indicator that the end was undeniably imminent. Two days before our departure, a squadron of heavy-legged horses were escorted to the beach by their local farmer owners, animals whose brute strength was employed to dismantle the swimming docks, for transportation to parts unknown, and safekeeping for the winter.
Normally, you didn’t see horses at the beach. They generally hung out at the stables. Even on hot days, they seemed to prefer it up there. Besides, these beasts were entirely unlike our riding horses, who were aging, congenitally listless, a precarious phone call from glue.
These specimens were energetic and robust. I can imagine them, being trucked by our stables, catching sight of their substandard counterparts, and shaking their heads, bemoaning the fact that impressionable Jewish campers would go home, thinking that’s what horses were supposed to look like. It was like they were an completely different species.
Why did the appearance of the horses pack such a breath-emptying wallop to the midsection? I have thought about that. And my conclusion is that by end of the end, the reality of what’s happening has been internalized and accepted.
The real jolt comes at the beginning of the end.
Once again, it’s
So long, summer.
So long, Camp Ogama.
As the sign says, as we exit beneath it,
Till We Meet Again.