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.