The wardrobe and weight loss hysteria starts about two weeks before the actual event. Like girls going to a school dance, middle-aged women trade e-mails and facebook posts about their outfits and where to find great sales on shoes (the guys are more interested in what time to meet on the basketball court and who is going to buy the first round of drinks (Incidentally, I make sure to hang around the guys who are buying. Aah, the wonders of facebook.) I pretend that I couldn’t care less about what I look like, that these people wouldn’t notice if I came in pajamas because there is a TOTAL lack of judgment, but quite frankly, I berate myself for not starting a diet or exercise routine at least two months prior.
It is very hard for anyone who has never been to camp, spent 2 months away from home, living in a bare-bones bunk with about 20 people who end up becoming life-long friends, to understand a weekend like this, something akin to being on ecstasy without the ecstasy (DISCLAIMER–I have never taken ecstasy, and to my knowledge, there wasn’t any at the reunion weekend.)
What’s always been most impressive to me is that everyone remembers the summers they spent there: “I was there from 1974-1981.” I can barely remember what I did yesterday, but I know that I was at Camp Delaware from 1967-1982. 15 summers. Yeah. I started when I was three.
Okay, so I know that sounds nuts, and when my daughter was three the last thing in the world I could imagine doing was sending her to sleepaway camp (she cried after two days of day camp when she was 6, so clearly, she inherited her father’s goyish sensibilities.) The story goes that I came up on Visiting Day, always held smack-dab in the middle of summer, to visit my brother and sister and begged my parents to let me stay. When I type that, it sounds preposterous. Do three-year olds even BEG? So, like all good parents, they left me there (To be fair, my father knew the owners very well, having been there as a camper, and, there was in fact a bunk for the kids of staff, so, there was a place for me.)
This particular bunk was co-ed. I vividly remember a male counselor showering with us with a very skimpy towel wrapped around his waist. Now as an adult, this clearly sounds very suspect. I remember sextuplets (who the hell knows, maybe they were just triplets but that’s how I remember it) and I remember the swingset coming out of the ground, tipping backwards, and Regina Cooper gashing her chin. I remember us walking in a line to the dining hall and everyone telling us how cute we were.
I can’t recap 15 of the most priceless summers of my life on this blog. I spent 30 months of my life there, a total of 2.5 years. Suffice it to say, I know every inch of that place, I knew where to go to stalk the guys I had crushes on, where to go for some peace and quiet. It was the one place where I was a star of the plays and “composer” of winning Color War songs. It was the kind of place where no matter how popular or picked-on you were in the “real world”, noone gave a fuck. The playing field was level from the get-go (except for the girl’s softball field which is still a mass of mounds and divots.) But I digress.
It might appear politically incorrect, but “Jews Gone Wild” is what these reunion weekends are all about. Held every other summer on the grounds of our old camp, where over the years bunks and structures have literally fallen in on themselves and subsequently have been demolished, a sample of 4 decades of tri-state area Jews (some with tri-state origins have moved to Florida, perpetuating a cliche that makes me smile) come together, no spouses, no kids, no tagalong friends, to morph into a combination of the “then” them and the “now” them. The accents remain priceless.
Faces are unchanged. “You look EXACTLY the same” is exclaimed hundreds of times, addressed at everyone being seen for the first time by someone new. And you know what? It’s true. Our faces really DON’T change. Bodies, maybe. Some noses and breasts tweaked, sure. But, if I were to post a collage of us then, and us now, and had you draw lines between the two, it could be done in minutes.
Sitting on the very strategically-placed porch on Girl’s Side, a group of us sit in great anticipation watching as people arrive. We see legs first then bodies from far away, our older eyes straining to see who it is (oh, and also because most of us have smoked endless amounts of pot.) And then “OH MY GOD’s” erupt, woman spring from their benches and chairs and get up to hug their favorite old friends. There is the equivalent on Boy’s Side, enthusiastic hugs and endless grins. They run up and down the basketball court like they’re in their teens, but a bit more slowly. Star athletes from back then often end up with ice packs on their knees or a lingering limp, but this is THEIR highlight, their ultimate joy of the weekend.
Small pockets of friends form in circles, scattered around the lawn, porches, bleachers, or sit on the hard wooden ping-pong tables. Cameras are EVERYWHERE often with one person snapping one group shot out of seven different cameras (this is the reason almost all the group shots look exactly the same on facebook.)
If you are curious to know who is smoking all the pot and cigarettes in this country, truly “representing,” come to Winsted, CT the first weekend of June in 2012. I, for instance, smoke once every two years, at camp. That’s it. I smoke my brains out and don’t do it again until the next time. Trying to justify this is futile, I know.
Instead of wallet-sized pictures of our children, we use our cellphones, digital cameras, Blackberrys and i-phones, passing them around to the oohs and aahs of our friends. Unlike in past years, there is cell service on the grounds, and in some strange unplanned ritual, people use the softball field, walking around the bases with their phones up to their ears. A friend observing this said “Hey, it’s the phone lap.” I equated it with the scene in Midnight Express when the prisoners are walking around in a circle pushing that thing that hangs down. I don’t know why. It wasn’t like that at all. Except for the walking in circles part.
The new owners of the camp make us a barbeque lunch giving us a central gathering place to greet all the people who have initially been missed. More pictures. More memories shared. More “nice to meet yous.” We scatter, we nap, we shower, we dress for phase 2.