Bathing Suit Hell

fullsizeoutput_4001When the latest spring swimwear catalogue dropped through my letter slot last week I thought Wo, here’s one expressly made for me! It even said so, right there in black and white! It took me a whole minute to realize they  were talking about plain old terryCLOTH and not cloth made for me, the former Terry Sheehy now living under witness protection as Terry Marotta.

All my life it’s been painful to shop for swimwear even when I was a little kid going to summer camp and one of the suggested items for every camper’s trunk was a forest green get-up seemingly made of wool. Anyway it was this heavy furry stuff, done over in a kind of waffle weave that caused even the slenderest camper to look like she’d been rolled in a thick layer of batter.

God had the taken the trouble to roll me in my own personal coating of batter so you can imagine how I looked in it. However my sister and I were told we had to have it because our mother and aunt as the owners/directors of Old Camp Fernwood felt we should set an example. I hated that suit and was so glad when I could pull on the simple cotton one with the ruffles. I wanted badly to look like those glamorous older campers striding long-leggedly toward the lake for a swim.

Friendships 13

Instead I looked like this – and if I tell you that for all my life I’ve had wild curly hair, you’ll pick me out at once in this little lineup:

Olymp off to the lake

But all that was in the past. The task I now face is to find a couple of suits for the present.

Some suits today have weirdly longish skirts. These I am unable to wear as I can’t help but think of them as Eleanor Roosevelt Goes to the Beach.swimdress

Some are tankinis, which means they have two pieces, a very nice feature that eliminates the need to peel off the whole tight cocoon of a thing every time you have to go to the bathroom.

tankini

I tried one tankini with a spilt top two summers ago and looked like Who Pitched a Pup Tent on Top of THESE Two Solid Columns?

Then last year I went with the full sun-repelling line of swimwear, consisting of a skin-tight zip up ‘jacket’ tight and bermuda-length ‘shorts’ but that was wrong too: too darn hot for summer wear and talk about Sausage Party!

sausage partyAccordingly last Thursday I ordered this bathing suit and it just came and it is perfect in that it covers my sun-damaged chest, spares the world yet another cleavage shot and lets me to dart free as a minnow through whatever waters present themselves.

saved by the mesh

Now I just need a sarong to cover my thighs and a lightweight ‘shrug’ to cover the ruin of my upper arms and I will be SET!

Now and at The Hour…

mom 6 mos pregnant

my mother, with her firstborn Nan inside her

Do most people believe in ghosts? I think they do, if by ‘ghost’ we mean that sudden sensed presence of one now departed. In fact, show me the person who claims never to have had this experience; never to have ‘heard from’ such a one.

I know I did, once. Only once, but I ‘heard’ all right. It happened about three months after I lost my mother, who died very suddenly, right before my eyes.

She was 80 and I was 38 and still a child myself in some ways. All I knew was that living my life without her seemed impossible; she was still that much of a parent to me.

She had a pragmatic kind of sense that she expressed with a wonderful bluntness.

Take the time I called to tell her we’d be welcoming a 19-year-old Austrian girl into our home to help care for our baby while the older children were in school, she laughed right out loud.

“Great! Now you’ll have FOUR kids!” she said, and come to think of it she was right about that. I felt such tenderness for this sweet young woman, so far from her home in the Alps, that my ‘office hours’ as a listening mom never ended. A full 90 minutes after I was supposed to be at church for choir practice, say, I’d still be sitting on the front hall stairs with one of them, whether the seven-year-old, or the nine-year-old, or the 19-year-old, listening, listening, car keys dangling in one hand – ‘til it got so late I knew the only lights on at church would be the outdoor ones illuminating the steeple.

She was pretty frail by then and she could hardly see, but she weighed in on things just the same.

“An aging actor in the White House?” was one tart remark from the spring of 1980.

Another: “Cookies IN the ice cream? Isn’t that going a bit far?”

Every week I would drive the 20 miles to my childhood home to see her and if I was ever delayed because of a deadline she’d be equally frank.

“Just write anything!” she would cheerily say on those occasions, even knowing that the wonky, stay-up-all-night-doing-homework daughter she had raised could never do a thing like that.

She loved to laugh. here she is the day she came home from the hospital with a broken hip that would keep her out of work for a month. Still smiling, as you can see.

mom nan '67 mom broken hip

Twenty years after, with Nan beside her

Eventually, she moved to a wonderful assisted living facility in my town – and brought her renegade ways with her: Once during a fire drill there, with sirens blasting, she buttonholed her best pal Alice, who was obediently caning her way toward the elevator. “Never mind that nonsense!” Mom told her with a wink. “Come, we’ll hide in my room here, and have some sherry!”

Ah, she was something. And what a hole her passing left in my life. In the weeks after it, I listened for her on every frequency I could think of. Where WAS she?

I heard nothing for months. And then I had this dream:

In it, she and I were descending a wide flight of stairs; kind of sprinting down them, in fact, with that galloping rhythm you develop when you do that.

I suddenly realized what was happening. “Mom you’re RUNNING!” I said.

“I know, isn’t it great? I’m not old anymore!” she said back.

And that was the dream. It lasted maybe two seconds.

Still, it comforted me.

And in these weeks with so much stirring and returning to life, the thoughts of powers beyond our ken? Well, those thoughts comfort me still.

Nan says goodbye to Mom

and twenty years after that, as Nan looks upon her face one final time

Reunion

The young tend to shudder at images of their own earlier selves and attempt to disown them. With time you stop doing that of course. I look at a picture like this of a girl from my camp days and all I can think is how lovely she is. If we could have found her for this camp reunion I’m on maybe she would think so too.

Yesterday we visited the place that lives in our memory, Camp Fernwood in the Berkshires it was called then. Now it’s Camp Emerson and has been for 40 years and more.

But enough remains of the place we remember to have held us there for two whole hours; in fact a few of us would have stayed longer; would have loved to play a quick game of softball on that field.

Other kids have loved it there since, as all the graffiti shows. This scribbling from the early 1990s was made by a boy who could well be an investment banker by now. Was he threatening not to ‘come back’ next year, or  mourning the fact? From what I know of Emerson, my money’s on the second one.  My own child came here for the three  happiest summers of his young life. He was happy there as we had been – because at camp you’re free from your school, your neighborhood, your family even. You make a new family, strictly of your peers, and it is wonderful.

Many of us were only five years old when we started camp and the little-kid section was fun enough. We had swings and a sandpile only occasionally blessed by a visiting skunk. But it seems to me the fun really started when we got to be around 12. That’s how old I was when we made this pyramid. I’m the funny-looking one in the second row on the right. Beside me is Meredith Chapman, my best friend and cabin-mate that year and for all of five of the years she attended.

She was there with us yesterday. We stood in front of the 1920s-era cabin that we first lived in together, now slated for demolition. Meredith lives on Lake Champlain now and reads to the blind and does hospice work. I live here and do this work, whatever you might call it.

In an hour we will all pack and go home, we women in our 50s 60s and 70s. But yesterday and the day before we were all campers and young, reaching high adn higher still again and playing  under a sun that never sets.