A Perfect Summer

Gracie gets in the way during the photo shoot of my camp mementos.

Gracie gets in the way during the photo shoot of my camp mementos.

The summer I was seven was a perfect summer. I went to sleep away camp. My grandmother paid for it so that my mother could have the summer off; I was getting on my mother’s nerves. Saint George’s Camp for Girls was a traditional camp, run by the church that housed my brother’s Cub Scout troop. 

My brother was going to the boy’s camp and I insisted that if he went I went. I didn’t want to be stuck at home with my mother. She did not know what to do with me.

Sending us to camp was a lot of trouble for my mother. She had to buy trunks, sheets and blankets, sleeping bags, and camp uniforms. Labels had to be sewn into everything, including our socks and underwear.

I’d never spent a night away from my parents. I’d never been allowed to pick out my own clothes. The camp uniform was a pair of navy blue shorts topped by a white T-shirt with “Saint George’s Camp” in large red letters across the chest. Campers were only required to wear uniforms for prayers and dinner, but I wore my camp uniform all the time. I was proud of it and liked it better than what my mother had packed for me. I also wore my New York Mets cap; I only removed it for meals, prayers, swimming, bathing, and sleeping.

I learned to make my bed and fold my clothes; to keep my trunk clean and organized. I pretended I was in the army. I remember two wishes from that summer. I was in sitting in my bunk waiting for the rest period to end so I could go swimming, and I wished that I had a pair of navy blue swim trunks and a hairy chest. I was getting dressed in the morning and I wished I could wear my camp uniform to school and never have to wear a dress again.

I got to swim in the river, shoot arrows at targets, make lanyards, and practice riflery. The rifles were real. The counselors made us follow all the safety rules on the rifle range. Campers practiced one at a time, lying down on a wooden platform. I braced the rifle, concentrated to line up the scope with the target, and pulled the trigger. I was a good shot, and earned a Pro-Marksman. When I cleaned out my mom’s apartment, I found the certificate on a plaque in a closet.

Camp was the first thing that I was good at. I was brave, I didn’t whine, I didn’t miss my mother. I liked swimming, I liked getting dirty, and I loved riflery. The counselors liked me, and let me tag along with them.

I went back home and entered third grade. The girls teased me for being a tomboy. They knocked my Mets cap off my head and played keep-away with it. Mrs. Crawford told me to cross my legs at the ankle and act like a lady. I was miserable. No uniforms. No guns.

I went back to camp the next year, but it was different. I was different. Something was off. Perfection eluded me and I never regained it. I keep my camp blanket on the foot of my bed; the label still securely sewn into the corner. I use it to remind myself that perfection is possible. I once experienced it. I could experience it again.

Note: Despite my early exposure to the joys of shooting, I believe in gun control, and keeping guns out of the hands of children. When I hear a news report of a kid shooting a parent, I feel a pang of empathy for the kid. I remember being abused and angry. It is a good thing that when I got home I could not get my hands on a gun.

12 thoughts on “A Perfect Summer

  1. RonaFraser

    I loved your camp story. Isn’t it annoying, though, when you have such a great time, where everything feels right, and you try to get back there but can’t? I’ve had that too — rarely, but I remember it. That feeling of fitting in with the world, of contentment, of peace. I’m having an anxious morning (for no reason — work? hormones? lack of sleep?), so thanks for the moment of relaxation while reading your post! 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      What was amazing about that summer was that is temporarily cleared the air of all of the sturm und drang with my mother and grandmother, and with the kids at school. For one summer no one had a problem with me, it was the opposite of my regular life – everything I did was right! The other kids were supposed to act like me! Too bad I couldn’t extrapolate it into the rest of my life, but maybe someday.

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  2. anexactinglife

    Your camp experience sounds very empowering. Mine was the opposite: while the Boy Scouts went winter camping and learned to build fires and lean-tos and go ice fishing, the Girl Guides stayed in a lodge and did crafts. I remember having an especially good year when I was 9. I was quiet and a daydreamer, and spent a lot of time contemplating the nature of the universe. Nobody bugged me that year and I could just be myself. Later, there was a lot more pressure to be girly and flirty and social.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      There is a whole history of how camps got started and the purpose that served that I almost provided a link to but edited out: http://www.faqs.org/childhood/So-Th/Summer-Camps.html
      about how camps started out rustic out of a concern for boys being soft and without manly skills. There is also a bit in it on the history of camps for girls. Daydreaming and contemplation were not on the list of activities.
      I am a little embarrassed to be writing about being empowered by a rifle (I am an anti-war activist) – but it is important to tell the truth. I edited out the next camp I went to – Camp Eisner, a camp run by the URJ (Union for Reform Judaisim) which I dubbed camp JAP (Jewish American Princesses). A bunch of 10 year old girls talking about dressing up and which of the older boys they wanted to date. They didn’t want to swim because the lake was “dirty”. Needless to say, I was unhappy there too, but it didn’t fit with the rest of the post.

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      1. anexactinglife

        Fascinating article – especially the communist children’s camps! I think my Brownie and Girl Guide camps had a lot of good qualities, but I wished for more survival skills and rugged outdoors stuff.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Precious, but buried and somewhat out of reach. I don’t think it is possible to look for perfect places, but every once in a while I find myself in one by accident and try to absorb it.

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  3. txbridgefarmer

    I love this story. I loved camp. It was always cheaper to send me to camp than to pay for day care. It was the only place I could be “me”. Ball caps were expected to keep the sun off your face. Playing with sticks and ropes and getting dirty was the norm because we were in nature! I hated swimming, simply because I didn’t want to wear a girls suit.
    Thanks for sharing this memory. And you are right. Perfection is obtainable. It’s just a matter of being patient enough for it to come back full circle.
    Infinity. There’s never just one chance for anything.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m glad you liked the story. The best part about camp for me was probably being out of my mother’s reach for the summer. No criticism, no sarcasm, no slaps, no comparing me unfavorably to my brother or other girls. Having a respite from her negativity – and seeing that not everyone saw me that way – was really important.

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      1. sarashanmugham

        Your camp story is wonderful. I loved it very much. Be yourself do not care about what people say. your dog looks great.

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