My dad was a camp manager while I was growing up. I spent my formative years at camp, literally. There were 68 acres of wetlands, woods, ball fields, tennis courts, a pond, and a swimming pool. It was the best place in the world for a person to grow up. We would go outside to play and be gone for hours without ever leaving the property. In the winter, we would sled down the steep dikes onto frozen beds of water and cattails. In the spring, bird banders would come out and I would sometimes help them (read as: tag along and watch them) as they banded the migratory warblers that stopped for a brief respite on their 2000-mile flight to Canada from South America.
Then, summer, when the campers would come, and we would eat dinner every night to the tune of “Get Your Elbows Off the Table” and other melodies that are permanently implanted in my memory. In the summer, there was mowing, and swimming, and campfires. As the boss’s kid, I sometimes got to participate, and I remember once, when I was 12, I got to be a junior counselor for a session, because they were short-handed.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I walk along the dikes, along familiar escape routes. The pain of growing up was mitigated by nature. In fact, when my parents divorced, I chose to live with my father at the custody hearing, and I think now that it was because I couldn’t bear the city streets knowing that the camp’s fine trails could still be available.
The converted chicken coop housed the dogs. Butch was in the back, with a large “box stall” (my craze for a horse wouldn’t let me call it anything else) and then a decent-sized grassy area to run in, a black lab who had seen better days and who always made a run for it when he was left out unattended. He ran back to the lake, to where his old owners used to live. I always felt melancholy, thinking of him running home, only to be brought back to us every time. He had to cross a major highway and it was at least ten miles away. I wonder now how I would feel if I went back to the camp to reminisce, and I was brought back to where I live now.
I used to hatch up crazy escape plans using the dikes. If someone broke into our house (to take what?) and was trying to kidnap me (highly unlikely), I would run away to the dikes behind the house. I had walked them so many times, and later, when I was older, I rode the three-wheeler along the same routes. If I stopped, and turned off the noise in my head and the noise of the three-wheeler, I could just listen. The birds would jabber away, and sometimes there would be rustling in the undergrowth or a splash in the water. I would discover a wildflower, smell wonderful wafts, feel my soul relax.
When we moved away from the camp, my heart wasn’t so much broken as it was slumped. I look back now and wonder if there could be a better place to grow up, and I look out of the window and realize that if there is, then I’m there. Our farm has an enticing old barn, a field full of sheep, and a fence row that probably has discoveries galore (along with the poison ivy). We have cousins close by, and farm equipment, and barn cats (not as many as we’d like, though). Even the house here is an experiment in discovery; it’s at least 100 years old, and sometimes, early in the morning or when I am here alone through the day, I find myself much younger, wanting to just go to a dusty corner and imagine what it must have been like here, back then.
Maybe, wherever we grow up, there are these connections and ways of wishing for others to share. Maybe, someday, my daughter can tell me delightful stories of what it was like to grow up in an old farmhouse on a small farm, with cousins close by and all the adjacent adventures.