Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Summer Times - Mail Call"

My mother was not much of a letter writer.  Especially later in the summer, when the intervals between my letters from home expanded further and further.  For me, who had originally been sent to camp without knowing I was going (or so I insistently believe), a letter from home was a message for an “outside” that would some day be taking me back. 

Without those letters, it was like there was no outside.  There was just camp.  And I was doomed to spend the rest of my life there, suffering ”Swim Instruction” in ice-capped water, and Mess Hall offerings, including Welsh rarebit, and liver.

I always hoped that during her eight-week summer hiatus, freed from her childrearing responsibilities for two wilde chayas (wild animals, the “ch” pronounced with a throat clearing expectorance), that my mother, widowed at thirty-six, was having fun while we were gone.  My imagination steered clear of specifics – because that’s a little scary – I just hoped she was enjoying her free time. 

Still, could she have not taken a moment during her “Thank God, They’re Gone!” celebrations to drop a line to her unhappy Sonny Boy, involuntarily exiled to a mosquito-infested hell-hole?  A few words – “I threw out your TV Guides and your hockey cards.  Your room looks a lot neater now.”  Anything!

As the time between letters stretched longer and longer, every day (except Sunday when there was no mail delivery), I was the first to approach our cabin’s “Mailman” (“Mail” was one of the rotating assignments on our cabin’s “Duty Wheel” that, among other daily chores, included “Sweeper”, “Dustpan”, “Raker” and “Shelf Inspector”), of whom I would hopefully inquire if there was anything for me.  

Nothing, I was told, as he distributed letters to my cabin-mates, dutifully penned by parents who apparently loved their children better.  Some even got food parcels, including pretzel sticks and potato chips, cookies, Smarties  (Canadian M&M’s) and licorice whips.  Fortunately, these goodies were all shared, apportioned equally, even to children whose families had forgotten them.

Despite my mail miseries, camp went on.  And in the later weeks, the provided activities demonstrably heated up.  In the sixth or so week, our regular routine was interrupted, “horseshoes” and “tether ball” replaced by a large-scale camp-wide program, inevitably themed – the Senior Staff were highly politicized – around world peace.  

The premise of every camp-wide program was the same:  The world was on the verge of extinction, and could only be saved through a vigorous process of mutual cooperation.  At our camp, this cooperation would be played out via three days of and running and jumping (and falling down), and water competitions involving greased watermelons.

Along with these always seriously themed Color Wars (rather than colors, the campers were divided into teams representing countries from around the world, or, in the case of the “Hungarian Revolution” program, the “Students”, the “Miners”, the “Workers” and the “Farmers”), camp-wide programs were notable for their imaginative “breaks”, a “break” referring to the manner in which the camp-wide’s arrival was introduced.  

Midnight wakings were common, in which startled campers were extracted from their beds, and led down to the beach, where a wild-eyed “Mad Scientist” would report that it had fallen on the shoulders of the campers of Camp Ogama to unilaterally rescue the planet.  Can you imagine?  We had just come there to play badminton.

Camp-wide programs opened with dynamite explosions, sea-plane arrivals, parachutists landing in the lake who were quickly “rescued”, and sped to shore where they would deliver an emotional “Call to Arms”, after which our names were read out, and we were divided into teams.

The “breaks” were often more memorable than the programs themselves.  And each year, there was an effort to top the break of the year before, in originality and in surprise.

At that point, however, I did not care about programs.  I just wanted a lousy letter from home.

It was a Wednesday afternoon.  We had just had lunch (“Scoops” – you made sandwiches out of ice cream cone-sized scoops of egg, tuna or salmon laid out on side-by-side a platter, unless you didn’t like egg, tuna or salmon, in which case, your entire lunch meal was bread.) 

After lunch, was “Mail”, the routine being that a representative would appear at the “Office”, they’d receive their cabin’s allotment of mail (and food parcels), after which they would return to the cabin, distributing the mail during the post-lunch “Rest Hour.”

Somehow, word had gotten out that there was a letter for me.  (Everyone seemed aware of my predicament, as I have never been able to keep my complaints to myself.  Have you noticed?)

“Finally!” I exploded. 

I could not wait for my letter to arrive.  Though it was against “Rest Hour” regulations, I exploded out of the cabin, and raced off to intercept our “Mail” representative along the path.  Out of breath, I finally found him.  He handed me a single, long-awaited envelope, addressed to me.

I tore open the envelope and eagerly slid out its contents.

It turns out that that summer, the camp-wide program was, for the first time, “broken” through the mail.  Everyone got a letter, announcing its arrival, and their allocation to a team.

My letter informed me I was a member of “Argentina.”
A "Special Birthday" shoutout the Mama Rachel.  Rachel's a mother, and much, much more.  My wish for her is a rich and rewarding future, her loving "Stepladder" rooting her on.

Happy "Special Birthday", Rachel.  And many, many more.

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