Young at Heart

July 1985. I’m behind the counter of Farmhouse, Inc., an East Hampton design shop my husband opened with the man who would have been his partner had he not died. It’s Saturday night. We play Frank Sinatra music, always a draw.

It had all the markings of a good plan. Keith, my husband’s assistant in his NYC interior design business, wanted to open a design shop in East Hampton. He spent half his week in the city and the other half in Sag Harbor where he lived with his life partner, Peter, who had a thriving hair salon. The Hamptons had plenty of antiques shops but nothing focused on contemporary design. Lew liked the idea.

They found a space for rent, gave it a name: Farmhouse, Inc., a gallery of craft/tech. That was February 1985. Another person might rethink signing a lease with someone just diagnosed with HIV. But that other person would not have the spirit of the man I married. By springtime Keith had full-blown AIDS but was holding steady. We had a Memorial Day opening bash filled with friends (including local luminaries), and all the promise of a creative new venture.

 

If pictures truly are worth a thousand words, how’s this one for silliness and feeling young at heart? Please ignore the socks I’m wearing. It was a time. It was a look. Do not ignore the smile on the face of my dear friend, Regina, and me.

By early July Keith was gone.

Can’t say I would ever really fill Keith’s shoes, with all that he would have brought to the partnership but we gave it our best shot. The following July would find me very pregnant and overjoyed by my mother’s visit. Sara would be born a month later.

Why is this on my mind now?

Well first there’s the Frank Sinatra connection. Almost any song on the cassette we regularly played as customers browsed takes me back, but “Young at Heart” puts me there in a flash, the wistfulness of it, hand in hand with a melancholy undertone.

Then there’s the novel I would write, sparked by the need to make sense of a very troubling time. These were the early days of AIDS. Nobody knew what was really happening. Days felt shadowed with clouds.

More and more a sense of innocence lost took hold. All those years of sex/drugs/rock ‘n’ roll free love and now we have sex equated with death. What would the impact of that be on anyone coming of age in the ‘80s? I pictured a girl, a beloved uncle, the mysteries surrounding him. I pictured her born in the summer of ’69, coming of age in the ‘80s, a time when the mysteries give way to tragedy. How does a young person, in all her innocence, make sense of it all? How does she confront the ugliness of that thing we call homophobia?

How does she handle grief?

And, what if her own sexual awakening occurs while her uncle is dying?

There you have it, the seeds of Just like February, which will at last be published next April by Spark Press.

In the words of the young narrator’s quirky grandmother: “If you live long enough, you see everything.”

Speaking of which, here I am, another July years later, the kitchen renovation I recently wrote about brought to completion but forever holding all that’s contained in those moments defined by before and after.

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Gifts

The first week of 2016 found me at a cozy local restaurant, four friends who do our best to keep ties from disappearing completely even when time and circumstance bring separation. One of the women, a gifted poet/photographer/visual artist handed each of us a small box, wrapped and ribboned in her inimitable way.  “Just a little thing,” she said as we tore open the wrapping to find beautiful tiles, each a different image of a woman reminiscent to me of cameos. Aside from how lovely they were, she loved that they fit perfectly into little tin boxes she’d put them in.tile

We caught up on lots of things, including the daughters who really are responsible for bringing us together. How lucky we all know we were, in the early school years especially, when the public school our daughters attended was small and parent involvement (mothers more than fathers) as meaningful as it was welcome. None of our daughters lives nearby, a fact we rue even as we accept the nature of changing times. A fact, too, that makes 2015 something of a gift year for me—the first in the seven my daughter has lived on the Other Coast that my husband and I got to spend every major holiday with her. Passover had us flying to California for a West Coast family seder. A boyfriend working on a film based in New York brought her here, with the kind of timing you don’t often get. Labor Day was too close to Rosh Hashanah not to insist she stay. Then there was a friend’s wedding the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Christmas week was a given, what with it being a quiet time in the entertainment world.

A day earlier a friend from SoCal left after a visit that carried us through New Year’s weekend. It was a gift of a different kind, and I was admittedly touched by her wanting to visit. In the years we met via blog posts we wrote for an online site, our web of writers connected in ways beyond our words has grown. It is indeed the World Wide Web at its best. Her visit had a certain serendipity to it, from its timing (ring out the old/ring in the new) in the macro sense to the micro moments that marked it: There was Pavarotti’s voice filling my living room, bringing us to tears, as we sipped wine, the memory made even more pronounced by the woman singing opera under a bridge in Central Park on New Year’s Day. Minutes later would come a text exchange with my daughter.

Where are you? What’s the plan?

We’re in Central Park.

We’re in Central Park too!

Central Park is a big park, so what are the odds that she and her boyfriend were five minutes from where we were?Alice and Lew copy

We were a party now—my husband and me, my CalGal (Britton) and my BFF from NYC (Joan) who had joined us, my daughter and her boyfriend—on our way to Alice in Wonderland, a statue Sara climbed many times as a young girl when we lived in the city.

You reveal things about yourself in concentrated time with friends and family. Good a writer as Sara and Britton think I am, they’re now convinced there are parts of my past I would do well to tap, fictionally or otherwise. So when they left, how could I help looking through those albums of old clippings? I remembered well the piece I wrote about visiting Jim Morrison’s grave in Père Lachaise, but how could I have forgotten that I interviewed Patti Smith? To read through that interview just as I begin reading M Train is another kind of gift.Patti Smith interview 2

Life is riddled with disappointments and struggles, and, yes, joys, all of which I can’t help but internalize. My daughter suffers a disappointment, I take it personally. My husband is in pain, I’m frustrated at my inability to ease it. A friend is suffering, I give her my undivided attention in a phone conversation. Maybe it’s true, actions speak louder than words, in which case it makes all the sense in the world that my sense of self as a writer can’t help, at least sometimes, but defer to my sense of self as someone who takes care of people. Better yet, doesn’t
each sense of self feed off the other?

All of which makes it all the more uncanny to get three particular books for my birthday, not to birthday giftsmention Bruce Springsteen’s latest compilation, which I get to enjoy on the sound system of that
spiffy new car (if you missed the birthday surprise video in Sara’s last post, trust me, it’s priceless). And if there’s a message here, maybe it’s this, a gift in its own right: those who love me won’t let me forget who I am. Even as I write what I think are the last words of this piece on the very day of a rock icon’s death, a friend sends me a text: You will write something that weaves in David Bowie, won’t you?

 

The Circle Game

Change may be the only true constant but it always takes some getting used to. A few days ago it hit me—the shift in light that seems so sudden but really has been incremental, one day invisibly shorter than the one before. One more summer slipping away, autumn around the corner, ready or not.

Every one of those six wonderful years my daughter spent at sleepaway camp got my husband and me on a road trip, the ritualistic visiting day weekend I always looked forward to. In the way that she bonded with bunkmates, we did a little bonding of our own with the parents who became friends, too. On the way home we spent a night with good friends in the Boston area.

In a flash, it seems, those years have gone: the kids grow up, move out, move on. Sure, I get a touch of the blues when I think about how nice it would be to have her around the proverbial corner instead of living on the other coast. Then I read her reflection about her years at camp, and changing times, and the power of friendship—all of which has me thinking that distance is no real measure for closeness when it comes to the ways in which a mother and daughter can bond.

Mixed in a jumble of trinkets I keep in a wire basket is a small ceramic pin in the shape of an elephant. I bought it years ago, along with a few others designed to look as if they were pulled from a box of Barnum’s Animals. These were animal crackers to wear, not pop into youelephant pinr mouth. I kept the elephant, made gifts of the lion/giraffe/bear to a few of my closest friends at the time. Just this year I bought three of the same bracelets for myself and two dear friends.

Something to be said for ritualizing long-standing friendships. In the days before email and Facebook, I’d be on the phone a couple of times a week with my closest friends. These days we call when we can or simply need to hear each other’s voice. By the same token, if e-communication diminishes the kind of personal contact we sometimes find ourselves missing, it also allows us to make up for lost connections.

Intention in the Buddhist/spiritual realm is really a very specific thing, even if it has become an overused metaphor, and I do think we’re basically well intentioned: a friend I haven’t had contact with in a very long time sends an email out of the blue; anoOld friendsther one finds me on Facebook; we start the back and forth, eager to catch up, determined not to let the renewed contact dissipate. We may even meet if geography allows.

But somehow, within a time frame shorter then we like to admit, the emails become few and far between, the Facebook conversation becomes more intermittent. It’s not for lack of interest, though it may be for lack of time in a world that demands so much of our day-to-day, up-to-the-minute attention. We scroll through newsfeeds, skim emails (more than half the time missing at least half of the message), get on with our lives.

Maybe it’s this simple: some knots are tight, others loosen with time.

Sometimes you open a box of animal crackers and those lions/tigers/bears (koalas now, too) come spilling out mostly intact; other times not so much. But even if they’re more broken than whole, doesn’t a bite into what may (or may not) have been a monkey’s head hold at least some of the same  power as a madeleine?

 

 

#Throwback Thursday: A celebration of summer camp

It’s 1 o’clock on a Saturday in Maine and my friend and I are frantically running around a local grocery store. We’ve been tasked with the real struggle of food shopping for the weekend for twelve women we are renting a house with. We brainstorm to accommodate the different food restrictions and diets in our house: we’ve got vegetarians, celiac sufferers, low FODMAP followers, people on diets, people not on diets (to say that we once came from a simpler time would be an understatement). But I’d say that managing a 99% success rate in pleasing our friends with our food choices is something to be proud of (I mean gluten-free graham crackers for s’mores, HELLO!).

Reunion 1Let me backtrack. I spent the best six summers of my life at an all-girls’ sleep-away camp in Maine — probably the greatest place on Earth you didn’t know you were missing out on (if you didn’t feel that way, I’m sorry — it was probably Julie Horowitz who put pine needles in your bed). Every five years, the camp celebrates its anniversary and invites former campers to come back for a three-day reunion. I missed 2010’s because I thought my job was more important than taking a few days off at the time and have regretted it every day since, so I was not going to miss 2015, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary year. Of the twenty-one girls who made it through to our last summer as campers, twelve of us were able to make it to Reunion. I’d say that’s a pretty neat turnout. And we got to mingle with campers from as far back as the ’40s, with every decade between then and now in full representation.

Reunion 2Aside from catching up with old friends I haven’t seen in 10-15 years, it was very cool to talk with campers from before my time and discover that we may all have our own stories, but our experiences were so much the same. Traditions from as far back as 1916 still exist, like the Honor System the camp was founded on and the deep trust we all have for each other because of it. Songs written by campers in the ‘60s are still sung (and campers from different generations still complain that they’re not being sung “right” or in the correct tune). Current campers tell us how much they loved our theme uniforms and looked up to as a “cool” bunk and then proceed to tell us that they were born the year we were in our final bunk, Bunk 12.

For all that has stayed the same, some things have changed: sure, there’s been the expected updating of facilities but other things—like a warning on our welcome packet that camp is now “nut-free” — reflect changing times and an increased sensitivity to individual needs. Much like my food shopping excursion, I think it stems from a good place, a desire to make sure that everyone can enjoy an experience equally (as a vegetarian camper 15 years ago, I would really have appreciated all the vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free options now available; one can only eat so many veggie burgers and so much vegetable lasagna). I’m sure the underground food exchange has changed, too. While we weren’t allowed to have candy in our bunks because of obvious rodent and bug concerns, we hid it anyway. You can bet I’d be hiding peanut butter and almond butter in this day and age!

I think that it’s fair to say that camp has just had to change with the world. (Helicopter moms, please chill out and back off, your daughters will be fine; I mean my mom seemed to cope perfectly well with a letter written home about being in a van accident on a trip when I was 11 and getting lost on a mountain when I was 15!) All of which makes me feel very lucky to have been a camper in simpler times — my last summer was the first summer that parents were allowed to send emails (they were printed out of course, since we didn’t have or need Internet access back then). Do parents even send snail mail anymore aside from filling requests for packages of things that their daughters forgot or “need” or more accurately, want?

Reunion 5Reunion 3

The long weekend culminated with a campfire at “Peace Circle” — a place not only named for its serenity on the lake, but as I learned this weekend it also marked the end of World War II. On August 14, 1945, the former owner of our camp, who was a truly amazing woman to anyone lucky enough to have known her, apparently interrupted dinner when it was announced on the radio that the war had ended and took everyone down to this spot by the lake for a true moment of peace. We sang songs in reflection of what our camp experience means to us and sent out candles on the water for those of us who couldn’t make it or were no longer with us. With no dry eye in sight, we said our goodbyes and promised to return in five years. You can sure as hell bet that I will.

Snowball Wedding

My parents’ wedding album is, by any standards, a treasure. Leather-bound eggshell white, photo sleeves edged in stitched piping, it pretty much took a shelf of its own in a small foyer closet mostly for sheets and towels. Pulling it down was something I could never take lightly: it was an investment in time, going through the photographs, beginning to end, enamored in a way by the prince and princess who would become my mother and father. She was gorgeous, elegant, smiling. He was handsome, dapper, clearly in love.bride and groom

Takes a certain kind of bride to want a snowball wedding—her bridesmaids all in white, like her. It was November 1948, she was barely twenty-one. From the first pages of the album, a satin doll posed at a vanity in my grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment, to the ceremony and celebration in what seems a grand ballroom, there’s an intoxicating splendor to it all. Not to mention the cheap thrill of recognizing even a small number of relatives and friends in a younger incarnation. We’re talking solid working class, whatever resources it took to do it up with style.

My own wedding album is of a more makeshift variety, put together by yours truly. No bridesmaids, thougThe ring pleaseh the ceremony was traditional by Jewish standards. It was November 1984, I was a few weeks shy of thirty-five. I’d been seeing the man I would marry for about a year and a half. I liked the sound of doing something life-affirming in an otherwise auspicious year. Here’s how the marriage proposal went:

Setting: an Upper East Side studio with a panoramic view looking north (and in which everything, from the colors to the lighting to the custom-designed furniture, speaks to the interior-design brilliance of its occupant).

She says, I think it’s time for us to do something . . .

He says, You mean like get married.

She nods. Yes.

He says, Okay. After which her nerves get the best of her and she goes into the bathroom to throw up.

La Belle Epoque
Within months we’d chosen a venue in downtown NYC , a club/ballroom designed to evoke La Belle Epoque. No wedding planner, just the two of us making all the arrangements—catering, music, flowers, invitations. I had no interest in a formal wedding gown. And even if years on my own made me feel a little awkward about the notion of being ‘given away,’ I took it in stride—pleasurably so—when my mother and father walked me to the Chuppah. It was a granWedding day smilesd day, on every level.

 

Yes, coming of age in the ‘Sixties can do a little something re: a woman’s consciousness when it comes to career/marriage/family. I’d pretty much lost contact with high school friends, and of those I was closest with, only two married in their early twenties. I made my bridesmaid’s dress for one wedding—a jumpsuit—ice blue satin, fitted bodice with soft, flowing pants, which, for all practical purposes, looked like a gown. The bride did not like the idea of pants. These were pure palazzo, so wide I could loosely stitch the inseam of each pant leg together and no one would ever know.

Weddings of post-college friends are what I remember most, few and far between as they were.

By the time this year comes to an end, my daughter, in contrast, will have attended four weddings. Last weekend it was Aspen, a camp friend’s wedding. She was a bridesmaid. A few weeks earlier it was New York, a high school friend’s wedding. October and November bring her back East again. Clearly the wear and tear (traveling long distances for short weekends), coupled with pressure (money spent on air fare, dresses, shoes, bachelorette parties, wedding presents), is no match for the need/desire to be at a best friend’s wedding. Besides which, isn’t there something binding about rituals and rites of passage? And doesn’t friendship itself have a new face in a world where BFFs are only as far from each other as their smartphones?

 

 

Summer of Love

I’m now at that age where it seems like everyone is starting to get married. My fridge is full of invitations and save the dates. My desktop is full of links to registries. And it’s just beginning . . .

All of which has me thinking about all the time, money, and effort that go into planning a wedding. Aside from the weddings I don’t remember going to as a kid, one of my first real experiences in the factory of wedding making was as a PA on what I prefer to refer to as an unnamed wedding show. I think we filmed at four or five weddings in a span of five or six weeks (it’s been awhile) — one of which I missed out on to attend a wedding as an actual guest. It was nice to be able to enjoy the wedding for what it was and get dressed up and feel pretty and eat and drink my face off — as opposed to standing on my feet for countless hours, tired, making little money and being totally turned off by the consumerist aspect of a wedding going on around me. I won’t deny that it made me a hater for a while; it also definitely put things into perspective with regard to my own priorities when I think about getting married one day (a day far in the future, if my father has anything to say about it, and since he’ll probably be paying for, maybe he gets a tiny bit of input). I’ll wedding shoeswear the blue Carrie Bradshaw Manolos and eat a cake made by my talented friend. And this will all take place in Bora Bora, so please send money if you can’t make it!

At just about every wedding I’ve been to, one parent in a toast, makes a joke about the money spent on the wedding. And at every wedding, you can tell where the money went — what the couple’s main focus was, be it food, or venue, or band vs. DJ. You marvel a bit at the spectacle. You let your bride or groom friends complain about different planning aspects — do we include a tissue paper separating the inserts in the invitation? Is it tacky to include a meal choice with the RSVP? How many bites do we have at cocktail hour? You listen and try to give an opinion but whether you’re informed or not, it’s not your day and you can’t read your friends’ minds about what they actually want.

As a guest you worry about what to wear, what to give as a present and in some cases, how to get to the wedding and whether or not it’s something you can afford to do. You make all these big travel plans months in advance and then the weekend arrives. You worry about over-packing, but what if you can’t decide what shoes to bring? You obviously need two choices “just in case.” What about what to wear? If you decide last minute that what you packed isn’t right, you justify a need to go shopping for something new (as long as your wedding destination is in an area where you can do that).

Then you attend the event. An event that your friend or family member has spent months and months planning as close to perfection as possible (no one ever wants rain, but you roll with the punches knowing that it’s going to be an amazing occasion no matter what). They do whatever it is they do before the ceremony, primping, taking pictures, probably freaking out a little. In this day and age, the ceremony is the shortest part of the wedding, but in actuality the most important. It’s why you’re there. For a half hour to an hour or so (depending on the religion or non-religion of the ceremony), you’re reminded of what you’re actually celebrating — a lifetime of love and companionship. Your friend or family member has deemed you important enough to be celebrating arguably one of the most important days of their lives with them. For that short amount of time, you’re reminded why you’re there. It’s not about the lamb chops at cocktail hour or the open bar or busting your moves on the dance floor. It’s about love. And in a blink of an eye the ceremony is over. In another blink, the party is over. All the planning that went into the wedding on both sides of it is finished. You take as many photos and videos as you can to remember it, maybe even a flower centerpiece or two, no one’s looking!

As this year goes by, with the weddings I attend as a guest and as a bridesmaid, I’m embracing the celebration of love. I’m truly honored that my friends have chosen to include me in their special days as a guest or a member of the wedding party. I know the stresses they feel when they get caught up in the planning and the money aspects of their weddings, and I have my moments, too, in my own travel planning and all the money that goes into it on the guest side. But I look back on the weddings that I missed out on for those exact reasons — the planning around jobs, the money I would have spent — and it’s something that I truly regret, missing out and not being there. I remind myself that it’s all worth it in the name of love. That one day or night that I witness my friends commit to a life with the man or woman that he or she loves and then subsequently celebrate, really, truly is priceless and a reason to party on.

 

 

It’s a beautiful day; so why are you on Facebook?

Sure, you’re outside on your deck, laptop/iPad/iPhone/iWhatever at the ready. And you’ve set yourself a time limit, twenty minutes max. Only curiosity trumps will power once you start scrolling through status updates of friends, perusing pages you follow. Overload is an understatement, but something is bound to slow you down, make you take note; how quickly twenty minutes roll into thirty.
Ruscha copyNo matter how you slice it, you’re kind of hooked. ‘Vacation from Facebook’ should be a hashtag (if it isn’t already), considering the growing body of commentary on what-Facebook-has-wrought. I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me, writes Matt Honan in a piece largely about the FB algorithm and its insidious effect on his news feed. Laura Dimon’s piece in The Atlantic last year, What Witchcraft Is Facebook?, considers whether a woman’s symptoms of conversion disorder were ‘contracted’ via social media. The comments the piece engendered tell a story all their own. Then there’s the blog, Facebook Detox, or you can cut to the chase and read Heather Hummel’s Huffington Post piece, How a 21-Day Facebook Detox Makes you More Creative.

Duh

I’ve backed off a little of late. No epiphany or demanding life circumstances pushing me in that direction except maybe the sense that there is no revelation without some reflection. Maybe, too, my curiosity re: how our neurology got so entangled in social media has gotten me searching for answers. Didn’t have to look very far. An opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review two weeks ago (Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain), tells me that on a typical day we take in five times as much information as we did in 1986. The time we spend reading status updates, tweets and text messages competes with time spent on often meatier issues. It’s a brain drain.

So why do we do it? A friend of mine (prior to our Facebook days and forever), a sensitive, poetic soul, once likened Facebook to the town square. We share thoughts, post photos, foster interaction. When it’s good, it’s really really good. Connecting with long-lost friends is a blessing. Connecting with kindred spirits in that serendipitous way Cyberspace brings us into circles outside of our immediate, physical world, gives a different meaning to friendship.

What I genuinely love most is the give and take. Show me a striking photo or piece of art, link me to a poem, post a quote about or by a writer I admire and I stop scrolling. I pay attention. I share.  Everyone needs a good music break during the day, give the brain some relief from headline news with its pounding repetition.

What I like least—and I know I’m not alone here—is the diminishment of boundaries a public forum like Facebook fosters. Its very framework makes us feel the need to say something—about ourselves, about a friend’s status update, about world affairs. If you can’t change a cousin’s political persuasions at a family gathering, what makes you think you’ll fare better on his Facebook wall? Of course, those gatherings may be few and far between these days, what with families more dispersed, but the need to connect is as primal as it gets. And a world that seems smaller and scarier by the day has us reaching for all the reassurances we can find. Or playing the provocateur.

We all want to be heard, if not seen. A selfie that goes unnoticed only affirms the delusion that there’s nothing we can’t do ourselves; what does it take, really, to let someone know you saw/you liked/you commented?

We want all our needs met. We want the president we like to do the humanitarian thing/we trust his motives.  Except if we don’t. Except if he’s the president we don’t like, in which case everything he says is suspect.

It’s too easy to be cynical but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re in collusion. We’ve given so much away in terms of privacy (unless there really is something insidious in the Facebook framework akin to the amount of nicotine that gets smokers hooked). Can’t turn back the clock, and you’d be hard put to go home again; the metaphor of cozy comfort may be ingrained in the word but neighborhoods change, parents move to retirement communities, and what we think of as ‘home’ needs some rethinking.

Facebook is a far cry from home; it negates intimacy even as we share our griefs and joys, and there’s every good reason some of my closest friends won’t go near it. But those of us who see it for what it is at least have the option of what we choose to be swept into on a day-to-day basis.

And when that sea of ships passing in the night starts to overwhelm, it’s a sign to drop anchor. Someplace. Anywhere but Cyberspace.

wall detail copyThese days my curiosity takes me outside. The excavation of my front yard is finally taking a new step – literally, as I watch the front entrance become grander than ever. I’m especially fascinated with the methodical work of the stone masons—combing the property for stones, pounding away at the large ones, chiseling them to fit the puzzle of the beautiful wall they’re building. Pouring concrete for footings. Placing a tier of concrete block for the steps.

Such attention to precision leaves no time for taking a break to check in on Facebook.

Dear mom, please send tampons . . .

SomethingSara copyLike many other white Jewish girls from Westchester, NY, I spent the best summers of my life at sleepaway camp. When June rolls around, my camp friends and I, all still in touch, feel nostalgic for what we used to anticipate so greatly. Nostalgia often leads to a slippery spiral of looking at past relics – something we’ve been doing more as we start to try and gather camp memories for our camp’s centennial next July (and we’re not the only ones!! Older generations have already started booking houses a year in advance.) I asked my mom to send me some letters to share with friends and we’ve been discovering some gems.

Exhibit A. Sara’s first letter home (click photo to enlarge)

Well that was cute: Mom, I don’t really miss you, but here’s a laundry list of things I forgot that I need you to send. Keep in mind we weren’t allowed to call home at all for the first two weeks as young campers, so back in the ‘90s all correspondence was through the USPS (I’m told things are a little different now with that ol’ Internet guy). The letters (spanning 1997 – 2002) have a consistent pattern: usually a short update about what was going on at camp, followed by a much bigger list of things I wanted my parents to send . . . magazines, stationery, clothes, candy, CDs (but hidden of course!!). Reading through them made me feel kind of like an asshole. Hi guys! You’re paying thousands of dollars for me to go have fun, but I need more things! My mom, being the dear that she is, sees it differently. She said that I’m not a bratty asshole and to her, these letters were just reminders of how much fun I was having away from home and how happy she was that I was happy riding horses or practicing my tennis swing.

I did write home occasionally without asking for anything.  Walden 1997 car accident copyI’m sure my mom loved finding out about a car accident through a letter! It couldn’t have been that bad: I mean we still continued the hike that day. Worse was getting lost on Mt. Washington five years later, like really lost, for about five or six hours maybe? And having to be guided down the mountain by professional hikers.

Exhibit B. Tell Dad or Don’t tell Dad

Walden 1998 Mt Pleasant copy
The funniest things about these letters are the reminders of how much I haven’t changed – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Every young girl (and adult girl, I might add) confides in her mother in ways that she doesn’t necessarily confide in her dad. Please DO NOT tell dad that I used tampons for the first time and that I need you to secretly send me some because, ew, Dad doesn’t want to hear about my period. These days it’s more of the Don’t tell Dad I bought a new pair of shoes variety (Don’t worry, Dad, I didn’t–just giving an example!) or Don’t tell Dad I was in a car accident. (It’s okay, Dad, that one was like four years ago and you know about it by now). 

Obviously it’s perfectly okay to tell him not to wear a Speedo on visiting weekend, though – something he threatened me with every summer.

Speedo

Exhibit C. Six years later

Six years after my first summer my grammar has improved quite a bit and so have my letters, I think! I’m still into pop culture (later that year when Catch Me If You Can  and Gangs of New York come out, my love for Leo will return), and I’m now  comparing my parents to the Osbournes because all my friends thought they were like Sharon and Ozzy. Turning 16 my last summer of camp was a big deal. My birthday was always after camp ended, so I needed something to look forward to like possibly a Jetta (it only took another six years to get one!!). And peaches.

Exhibit D. The Dog

Walden -- Maggie 1998 copy Another consistent thing . . . I cared a lot about my dog. I even wrote her a letter. The hardest part about being at camp, or at college or across the country, is the relationship we have with the pets we left behind. You know why? Because it’s a physical one. We can’t talk on the phone. They can’t write to us or tell us how they’re feeling. We can picture them wagging their tails, but it’s not the same. Thanks to things like Skype and FaceTime we can have a little bit more of a relationship with them, but let’s be real – they can’t really hear us or see us and they have no idea what’s going on.Dogloo

And it’s sad, too. My last memories of my dog through FaceTime were of her suffering through lymphoma. This was years after my camp days and witnessing her slowness and skinniness through a shitty camera really sucked, even if it reminded me that she was the reason I left camp early my first summer. Trust me I DID NOT want to leave early. There were lots of tears and lots of silence in the car ride home, but I really wanted a dog. This dog I ended up finding was the only thing worthy of me leaving camp early my first summer, and I’ll never regret it.

As we prepare for the centennial next year, my non-camp friends still like to tease me about how much I loved this place. I, personally, don’t think there’s anything crazy about loving something so much that brought you together with some of the most wonderful people you’ve ever met. My favorite travel buddies to this day are my camp friends. A few of us had an epic time in Spain a few years ago and got along so well because of the things we went through as young teens. At one of our friend’s weddings, the bride explicitly told us that the groom did not want us doing any camp songs or cheers. This was a wedding, not a camp reunion. Sorry, Kyle, it was really a camp reunion, because we ate all your rejected cake the night before (one of our group is a talented baker and cake decorator, who made the wedding cake; Julie Horowitz, I am plugging you here: http://duckscakery.com), while looking at old pictures, reminiscing, and drinking wine.   The memories are priceless and the friendships last a lifetime. What’s there NOT to obsess, or get a little nostalgic, about?