Our mom and aunt owned and ran that camp, and how they agonized over it during the off-season, mailing their hopeful brochures, driving to meet mother-daughter pairs in the tearooms of the old hotels, anxiously counting and re-counting the number of campers signed up already.
And then how they worried as they ran it all summer! Would they have to deal again with that bear who appeared out of nowhere, nuzzling the little kids’ beach towels on the lines behind their cabins? Or with some misfit counselor who was mean to the kids, or the one who cried for hours, or the one with a bad yen to slip out nights and drink in some roadhouse? Would lightning, God forbid, strike one of the buildings, as it had that one summer?
They fretted constantly over these things, but Nan and I scarce gave them a thought.
We only loved the place.
We loved the weeks camp was in session of course, but we also loved the weeks beforehand, when we were the first kids of the summer to whack the new tetherball, big as the moon and buttery yellow; the first to visit the camp store pre-season, helping ourselves to the bottles of Halo, to the tubes of Gleem and Ipana, those health-and-beauty products of yore.
Then camp started, and we learned again all over again how to bunt and hit a backhand; how to make a fire and do the overarm sidestroke.
There were plays and track meets.
This is Nan as Anna in The King and I:
a summer’s-end banquet when even the six-year-olds won awards; and that magical last-night ceremony involving candles, when the big girls wept prettily over the pain of parting and the little ones made mischief with the wax.
Then suddenly by 5:00 the next afternoon they had all gone home, counselors and campers alike. That’s when the fun resumed for Nan and me, as we took off into the empty camp, two kids alone with a world of sporting goods. For hours we high-jumped. We played badminton. We shot arrows – thwock! – into a by-then mighty ‘thwock-marked’ target. We went again to that little closet that doubled as camp store again and helped ourselves to more Halo and more Ipana. We invaded the infirmary and took turns playing Broken Leg and Busted Appendix, then used the nurse’s chart to measure ourselves and see if we’d grown.
And we knocked that old tetherball silly. We ran to the lake and swam ‘til our fingers went blue and jumped and dove and cannonballed off the diving board.
We were giants for those weeks, champions, giants, amazons.
And then Labor Day came and we were home again, two pale kids in school uniforms, exchanging wordless looks when, escorted by a flying wedge of nuns, we passed in the no-nonsense hallways of that no-nonsense convent school.
Maybe it’s the feel of who you were in summer that’s slowest to fade as fall approaches.
I close my eyes and see Nan now, graceful as a deer, arcing up and up in a swan dive, then, in an instant, jacking her hips to reverse direction and slice narrow as a knife-blade into the water. I am ten and she is twelve which is what she is in this picture below (Nan on the left) and for me we are ten and twelve still, somehow; just as somewhere, for us all, summer lasts and lasts, and never ends.