Last week, I got picked for Jury Duty. This morning, we all gathered, and nothing happened. Apparently there was an issue which the judge will (or will not) tell us about later (sometime after 2:00). Right now, it’s 12:42 and I’m sitting in a cafe on Orange Street.
So I need something to write about.
What presents itself is a weird theme in three parts. A memory–a set of memories-that flashed by me early today.
PART I: Summer Camp
When I was around 10 or 11, my parents shipped my brother and me off to summer camp. It was a camp run by the YMCA about 40 miles from my folks’ house, and it was fairly typical.
There were sing-alongs, arts and crafts, and the piece de resistance, an overnight camping trip.
It’s the last that sticks in my mind. We were equipped with large canvas backpacks with leather straps (this was the ’60s, remember), loaded with gear, and we hiked about ten miles. The ten miles is what I remember being told, anyway.
We camped in a little clearing among trees and bushes, not terribly far from any road, but it was nice, except for the mosquitoes. For dinner, I think we ate hotdogs and had smores. The next morning, we cooked up some kind of farina (I think it was actually Malt-O-Meal) and put a can of pie filling into it, creating in me forever a fondness for improvised cuisine.
Then we packed up and hiked back to camp. Along the way, we paused at an A&W and the counselor bought us a gallon jug of root beer. Now, I had never had Root Beer in my life. Like “eggplant,” it was something that sounded just too awful for words. But when the jug reached me, I sipped, and then gulped. I had never tasted anything so good! Our little gang lay on a hillside and drank that gallon down, and then continued on our way.
When we got back, there was a ceremony, and a little plaque was affixed to the camp’s history board. It was a little shield, and it had the names of each of the cabin’s residents on it.
PART II: Diabetic Camp
When I was 13, I was diagnosed with diabetes. So my parents did the best they could for me, and that included making me self-sufficient, something for which I will always owe them. When I was 14 they shipped me off to–surprise!–the same camp. I remember visiting the history board, and seeing that same shield.
However, my parents had not counted on what was going to happen. I did not spend the week learning about diabetes care. Instead, early the second morning we were all chased down to the camp’s main square (we had been cabined on the far outskirts) and told to get on the bus. We were off for a week-long canoe trip.
It was wild. The river was higher (and faster) than usual, due to a heavy rainfall in the area that spring. On the first day, we actually broke the keel of one aluminum canoe going through a rapids, which flexed like a waterborne banana for the rest of the trip. I think all of the canoes got overturned, and all of our food and sleeping bags were soaked.
That first night, we broke into an abandoned house, made a fire in the fireplace, and tried to dry things out. I think we had Vienna sausages and crackers for dinner; the spaghetti that the counselor had packed had gotten wet, and turned into a solid brick. We were not the first visitors, we learned from certain scatological evidence, so we didn’t feel too guilty.
The trip continued, with rapids, dunking, and rain–lots of rain–for the rest of the week. I remember two more things. The last night, it was once again pouring rain, so we slept on picnic tables, in our ponchos–some of which had been burned or melted in various campfires–under sheet metal picnic shelter roofs. It was horrid. We were all dirty and disheveled and it was just awful.
So the bus picked us up and took us back to camp and we were fed. And nobody cared that we were diabetics–there was SO MUCH FOOD. I think there was a moon landing on the TV in cafeteria. All I remember clearly is food, including strawberry shortcake.
Then our parents picked us up, and I learned that I had received my ham radio license–WN0IKW–from the FCC while I was gone.
PART III–A Fine Romance
When I was 17, I was on the same grounds again, and saw the same shield plaque again. As an honor student, I had been nominated to go to something like “Boy’s State,” but I took second place, and so was routed to this thing, run by some group like the Kiwanis club.
I don’t remember much about it other than that it was a weekend long, and that it had one major advantage (from my perspective) over Boy’s State: it was co-ed. At some point during the day, I fell in with a girl name Kathy from another city. She thought I was creative and funny, and I thought she was cute. And smart–she had to be, to appreciate me. Right.
We had a great time; there was a dance that night in the rec hall, and we were exclusive. She was impressed when I sang out the words to Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”–not great dance music, but that’s what we had.
Later that night we slipped away from the dance and made out on the steps below the rec hall. I walked her back to her cabin in a daze. We hung out the next day, too. It was a Sunday and there was a priest giving communion and since Kathy was Catholic I got in line with her and took the wafer. No big deal.
And then on Monday we all went to the state capitol for a tour and then it was all over and I never heard from or spoke to Kathy again. Ironic, because the first thing I did when I got back was to break up with my then-girlfriend because of Kathy. Ouch. And so it goes.
I don’t know why Camp ___ popped into my head this morning, but it did. It’s also funny that although all of the events I’ve described here took place within a period of less than ten years, I can’t make the chronology fit. I have always thought that I was 13 when I went to diabetic camp, but that doesn’t work because there was no late-summer moon landing the year I was 13; I also thought I got my first ham license in 1971, but that would make me 13, and that doesn’t fit the moon landing. I also remember talking politics involving McGovern and Eagleton, which makes 1971 hard to fit. I guess things tend to blur over time. I wonder if that plaque is still there. I wonder if Kathy ever thought of me again. I wonder about all the other campers. I wonder if anyone else flashes on old memories the way I do…
Some questions, even the internet can’t answer.