Summer Camp

Tuesday, June15, 2021

The closest thing to summer camp I ever experienced was in the backyard, curled up-fetal position-in an aluminum arm chair screaming my head off when those horrid June bugs whirred around me and crashed into my arm or leg or forehead. It’s always the forehead because everything in the universe has a special attraction to it. My uncle bought sparklers a week before 4th of July and he’d light them for us. I was afraid of those too. I’m no dummy, I didn’t want to catch myself on fire. Lights, bugs, and fire weren’t my favorite things.

I did want to go to summer camp, though. It looked fun from the comfort of our couch on a hot summer day, flickering on the other side of the TV screen. Pile up in a bus with friends, lug around a ton of luggage (don’t forget the swimsuit), and wave the parents goodbye for a week or two of bunkmates in a rustic cabin with plenty of outdoor activities. Of course, they never show the mosquitos, and you can’t smell the bug spray. It looked fun though.

My sister and I had healthy imaginations and a knack for re-creating and staging things we missed out on. Especially during summer breaks. Long summer days at Nana and Papa’s were the norm while my parents worked. Occasionally, my dad “watched” us while Mom worked twelve hour shifts sewing the pockets onto Levi’s jeans or inspecting the denim to make them. I don’t recall where Mom worked that summer, but we did experience our own little camp. Once. Under the bed.

I took my first-born role seriously and coordinated a real camp-out complete with a campfire. One of my cousins was with us that day, so the three of us grabbed a flashlight, matches, and my mom’s votive candles. Mom’s bed was high off the floor so we easily fit underneath. The bedspread hung down low enough to conceal us. We had the perfect tent. On our tummies, we prepared our camp to tell ghost stories.

I arranged the candles in the middle and lit them. We sang goofy songs and started telling ghost stories, made up on the fly. The candles flickered and went out. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. Strike, no light. We used all the matches to no avail. Without a campfire, we can’t tell good ghost stories. I remembered watching my mom when she cooked and a burner didn’t cooperate. She’d rip up a brown paper grocery bag, twist a strip, and light it with another burner. Then she’d turn the faulty burner back on, the gas flow would pick it up and voilĂ , it’s on.

Aha, I can do that! We wriggled out from underneath the bed and I retrieved a paper bag. Mimicking the procedure, I handed my sister hold the lit up “match stick” and bring it into the bedroom while I scrambled for a candle. The flame quickly made its way down and before we could light the candle, it found her finger instead. “Oww!” She didn’t quite know what to do as the flame grew and there was no time for the candle. I grabbed her arm and led her to the kitchen sink. “Throw it in!” I ran the cold water, doused the flame and put her finger under it. I went to the fridge and took out the tub of margarine and doctored the burn slathering some onto her finger, another kitchen observation.

I returned to the sink to make sure the flame was completely out. There wasn’t much left of the singed paper bag strip. I was relieved the flame didn’t get worse. It didn’t occur to me that we shouldn’t light candles under the bed either, but hey, we wanted to go camping. We crawled under the bed to try again, but it wasn’t the same. Camping mood extinguished, we didn’t continue with the ghost stories either. Putting the candles back, we left no evidence of our outdoor adventure. Dad didn’t suspect a thing.

Senior Skip Day

April 20, 2021

My sister’s impromptu and welcome visit this weekend prompted a backyard hangout around the fire pit. Defaulting to high school memories, we discussed skipping school. Rule follower here, mostly. Classic first-born people pleaser characteristics. I wore my responsibility with honor, like a Hogwarts prefect. Except that I grew up in a small town where everyone can easily find out your business.

The first time I ever skipped school was the spring semester of my senior year. I think it was the first time I was absent since my bout with chicken pox when I was in kindergarten. Starting with first grade, I was in the running for the Lifetime (Sort of) Achievement Award for perfect attendance, the most embarrassing award I received at the end of every year. After that first absence, I went to school sick. No one sent me home because I learned to deal with discomfort. Boxes of Luden’s cherry cough drops were staples in my backpack. Halls eventually took over and Chloraspetic throat spray tamed my raw sore throats during winter months.

When most cool kids planned to skip school, they took off out of town. There wasn’t anything to do, so unless there was a plan to hide out in someone’s home and run the risk of being seen driving around during the school day, most kids drove an hour to the nearest big “city.” We heard about mall adventures, proved with matching Guess t-shirts or sunglasses or earrings. First, it must have been nice to have a car to leave town. Followed by knowing how to get to the mall without an adult. And having money to shop for matching Guess shirts.

One day, when my mom asked if I wanted to go shopping, I wasn’t sure what she meant. We usually ran errands on weekends. It’s mid-week. She said we’d go shopping. I didn’t think much of it until she added the part about missing school. Being a responsible mini-adult, I asked about missing class, making up class work, and returning to school. She assured me she’d write a note to excuse the absence.

We took off on our excursion with Uncle Danny tagging along. Uncle Danny was the best shopping partner. He still is. I wasn’t with friends, but we wound up at the mall. We hit the mega-clearance aisles and I wound up with two prom dresses. A bit guilty about getting two, my mom mentioned the other one could be saved for my sister the following year. They were such a good deal, she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to save major cash on another prom dress.

We ate out at a real restaurant. Took our time. Ran a few errands and headed back home by late afternoon.

The following morning, Mom wrote a note. I opened it and re-read it several times before I made my way to the office. There it was, her note, explaining that I was absent from school because I had a cold. I was nervous turning it in because I clearly had no signs of a cold. I mean, when I did have a cold, I reeked of cherry cough drops. I gave it to the secretary. My stomach churned. They took my note and I lingered as if waiting to be reprimanded. Surely they could see my lie. Or rather, my mom’s little made up story of a cold-less cold.

“Okay, get to class.”

That was it? I went back to class. It was so, easy. And I only had a few months left to do it again. Only I didn’t do it again.

I don’t remember having my classwork pile up on me. I don’t remember anyone making a big deal out my absence. I picked up where I left off. I couldn’t even skip school, the right way, but I did it. And it was one of my favorite days. My induction into adulthood.