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An Occasional Post

Summer camp

Once upon a time, before most of you were born, I had the amazing good fortune to be sent off to summer camp by my parents. I was seven; the camp was eight weeks long. We had no money, but the polio epidemic surged through Washington (DC), my parents both worked full time, and my mother suffered attacks of cluster headaches, probably the worst pain known to humans. So they pulled together the funds; I’ll never know how.

Camp Lakeside –and this is not an exaggeration—changed my life forever. Why? Where to begin? A start:

1. Safety. Senator Joe McCarthy was on the warpath, and my family was not immune to his rantings. FBI cars parked on our block (an apartment project immortalized by Carl Bernstein in LOYALTIES as “wretched.” Wrong.) At camp, there were others like me, and I could relax a little.

2. The natural world. Woods, islands, and a deep, clear lake surrounded us. The crisp night air contrasted to that of Washington. I swam all the time, or at least until my lips turned blue and a counselor called me out. Okay, copperheads and/or water moccasins also inhabited the lake, but childhood can protect us from some awareness.

3. Community. My lifelong dream of the perfect community developed at Lakeside. Plus, the counselors were incredible creative and imaginative, providing hours of music, theater, dance, water ballet, art, and ping-pong (I list this only because I was a p-p champion; we had no other competitive sports). I’ll describe a few uniquely Lakeside experiences in another post.

4. Reading aloud. Here, if you’re still with me, is the connection to children’s books. Every night, in our small and funky cabins, we climbed into old bunk beds, pulled up our mildewed wool blankets, and listened as our counselors read to us by flashlight. We’d drift off to sleep one by one, and often in the morning the first words we spoke were, “What happened in chapter four? I fell asleep.”

It is absolutely incontestable that I have a terrible memory. Yet I remember some of the books read to my bunk. Much of James Thurber, particularly The Great Quillow and The Thirteen Clocks. The Little Prince. Mary Poppins. Sholem Aleichem stories. Stuart Little.

Oh, I was a reader anyway. But being read to in that truly enchanted place led to something new for me. What was it? Are there words? I listened while my bunkmates breathed quietly, sometimes whispering to each other. “Shh,” someone would warn. Crickets and other night sounds floated through the screens (no glass). Above all, we shared the devotion of the counselor reading to us no matter what.

I was and remain transfixed by the power of story. Can I express this any more articulately? I think not. I leave it to you to imagine and, I hope, share similar experiences.
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