OFF TO CAMP, WITH 289 NECESSITIES
The end of June is the storm before the calm, as thousands of families prepare for the annual exodus to sleepaway camps. (rumor has it that the closer to the last day of school camp begins, the more expensive it is.)
From June 1 on, the decor in many living rooms is Early Trunk, a seemingly bottomless abyss awaiting the 289-item official camp wardrobe. In novice camping households, the trunk actually contains 289 items and in the veteran households, the trunk contains nothing. (Nothing except much of mom's wardrobe, a fact she discovers three weeks later while searching for the sensational $500 hand- knit sweater and two bathing suits for the Fourth of July weekend). Veteran packers, using the wardrobe until the last minute, pack everything in a bus carry-on bag that can be carried on only by five sumo wrestlers.
Most boys take about 6 outfits, three of are returned in the trunk in August-washed, ironed and folded exactly the way mom would do it. This is because mom did do it, and the clothes have not been disturbed since. In the Imelda Marcos School of Rugged Camping, many girls take hair dryers, flat irons, posters, shampoo and mousse, deodorants, hair spray, bug repellent, razors, enough nail polish to basecoat the Williamsburg bridge- and the older pioneer camping favorite : white lycra stretch pants to be worn under skirts. Mom types out a details list ("24 pr socks, 18 shorts") and puts it in the trunk. It is never seen again. Finally, the trunk is locked with a special key- one that opens every trunk in America- and shipped off. The interval between the trunk's departure ( around June 15) and the camper's is a send off that G.I.'s leaving for European duty in World War II didn't receive.
There is a farewell trip to grandma and grandpa-the camper's answer to a cash machine- who are unwittingly financing eight weeks of sodal machines in camp. There is the final gastronomic tour of every restaurant in a twenty mile radius of the camper's home: Chinese food and pizza, steak and sushi (all to combat the guilt that results from sending one's child to a $9,000.00 camp.) culminating in a Sunday barbecue for the extended family. The same family that, during the school year, sees the child once every five months.
Meanwhile, in the 12 days before departure, parents write 12 postcards so the camper will receive mail on arrival- at least 2 hours after he leaves home. ("Dear Richie, We hope you are having fun in camp. We are so proud of you." you write- as Richie is in the next room playing video games with his sister.)
The scene at the bus stop on the departure date is central castings version of a Cecil B.DeMille epic or a supermarket before a hurricane- a sea of bodies parts when caravans of buses serving four different camps arrive. Darting between arriving cars, campers, reunited after a year, scream and hug one another. Some carry huge "boom box" radios and headsets, game boys and the televisions and food that are, according to every camp directive "under no circumstance allowed in group".
Each mother carries the survival tools needed for eight weeks in the wilderness: lacrosse stick, baseball mitt, golf clubs, a folding dresser, a hot plate, mirrors - and a shopping bag of lunch that Daniel Boone could have lived on for three months.
About 78 mothers, carrying your average emergency-room supply of medications ( for allergies, ear infections, insect bites and asthma-some to be refrigerated: others not, some to be taken with meals, some before- all with long lists of instructions), accost the counselor in charge ( is usually an Australian who has lived all 22 years in the bush country surviving on berries and tree bark).
Fathers spend the time writing checks to the camp director and calling their offices and brokers- clutching their cell phones.
Finally, amid total chaos, someone notices that, after kissing their dogs good-bye, the campers have boarded the buses. Since you cannot see into the tinted window, you wave a poignant farewell to the bus containing the 12 year old Cherokee girls, ( A bus containing , in reality the 8 year old Senaca boys.) Not to worry: inside campers are totally absorbed by seeing who is back, eating lunch and getting out of sitting next to Hank, the boy who, every year, throws up all the way to Pennsylvania.
As the buses crawl out of the parking lot, parents stand and wave. First year parents stand crying. Others wave good-bye until the last bus disappears from sight. (an unwritten camp rule: the longer the parents remain at the bus stop waving, the more devoted they are. Thus, some parents remain there until the bus arrives in camp.)
Most parents regain their composure quickly-as evidence by the fact that you cannot get a reservation in a single restaurant the night the buses leave. As the supply of white wine spritzers and martinis dip to an annual low, mobs of jovial parents sit relaxed and smiling. That is, until the next day-when they begin shopping for Visiting weekend.
This poem was sent to us Laurel and Norm Barrie from Camp Connection; they found this article, written by Barbara Klaus for the New York Times, approximately 15 years ago. Thanks for sharing it with us, Camp Connection!
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