Tuesday, February 26, 2008

summer friends, winter tears

I'm such a space-case these days, what with cough medicine, decongestants, and migraine medication...but I wanted to write just a little bit more about the poem. Hopefully my brain works well enough that it'll make at least some sense..

The summer before I turned nine I finally got to do something my dad had been talking to me about for years: I got to go to Bair Lake. Dad went to camp there when he was a boy, and his sister did too. Grandpa even helped build some parts of it (the old fort, the mini-golf course, and a few of the cabins, if I remember correctly). Dad told me about boating on the lake, about playing games and doing crafts. He told me about Flagpole every morning, when the flag was raised and everyone did "exercises." He told me about the Lumberjack Breakfast, where no one was allowed to speak (apparently because lumberjacks are very hungry in the morning and talking wastes time and energy that could be used for eating), and Hobo Breakfast (is that what it was called, Dad?) where you were given an egg (or two?), two slices of bread, two slices of bacon, an orange, and a fork...and you had to cook your own breakfast on an upside-down coffee can with some kind of heat source (I don't remember what it's called) underneath it.

As we drove down the highway to the tiny town of Jones, Michigan I was overflowing with excitement. I might have been a little bit nervous, but I don't remember any anxiety. I was never the kid who was scared to go away from home; I begged for sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa's house, or with the cousin I called my twin. This desire for new and different places never left me. I love to travel, and since I married the Sergeant in 2002 we've lived in four states different states and now Germany. It worked out well, marrying someone else with a travel bug.

When we arrived I couldn't stop looking around. It was perfect. Cabins standing in a perfect row, with the gleaming swimming pool out front of them. The apple orchard beyond the cabins. Trees everywhere, except in the sprawling, grass-covered field with the flagpole and lots of space for running games. I stood in line with my parents for registration and my cabin assignment, and then they helped me get my suitcase and sleeping bag to Cabin 10. I spread my sleeping bag out on a bunk, stowed my suitcase underneath, fluffed up my pillow...and then practically pushed my parents to their car. Dad might have showed us around the camp, but all that sticks in my mind is the excitement at being at camp and finally being on my own.

I made friends instantly. It's hard to remember which ones I met that summer...for eight or nine years I was there at least once every summer, usually two or three times. At least one week I was a camper, when I was old enough I spent at least one week on "junior staff", working in the kitchen or with the Bunnies (the children of the senior staff members). And when I was...eleven?...my uncle took a job there, as a permanent staff member, and moved the whole family there. That meant I could spend even more time there. It was my summer place.

The friends...there were so many. Tina Meyer, easily my best camp friend. Gretchen. Alison, Shannon, and Heather. Ricky and Matt. Roach. Nicky. Cami and Noelle. Mike. Jason. Joy. Jeff. Ben. And so many more, whose names I've forgotten but whose faces are burned into my heart. They were my summer friends. I only saw them once (or sometimes twice) a year...but they were a part of me. When we saw each other after a year there was no hesitation, no awkwardness...just friendship. Some of us wrote a letter or two during the rest of the year...but it wasn't truly necessary to keeping up the friendships. Tina and I wrote lots of letters, and even visited...since we lived only about half an hour away from each other.

It was Tina who told me Ricky was sick again, I think it was in the fall of 1994. I always knew he had cancer, since he didn't keep it a secret, but he was in remission when I first met him, and I never really thought about it. Rick Laramore was the picture of life. When we reached high school age he and Matt always got up early to go running before Flagpole. Whenever there was downtime he was dribbling his soccer ball, bouncing it on his feet, knees, head. He never stopped moving, or smiling. I had a crush on him one summer, around eighth grade I think. It was the curly hair and laughing eyes. But we were always just friends, and that was okay.

I couldn't imagine Rick in a hospital bed. I just couldn't picture it. And even though I knew I could have found a way to visit him on the other side of the state, I kept putting it off. Turns out I put it off too long. Part of me is glad, because in my memories he is that bright, shining boy, full of life. And another part of me is sad that I wasn't there to hold his hand, even for a few moments.

March 27, 1995. I was watching the Academy Awards when Tina called. I had talked to her just a few days before, when she called to tell me Rick had shingles. I remember thinking later, How incredibly stupid to die from shingles. Of course I knew it was more than that, but the sixteen year old me was angry and irrational. Because even though I knew he was dead I still couldn't imagine it, couldn't imagine someone so alive losing that life. And while I'm not angry or irrational anymore, I still don't understand it.

Somehow I'm not in touch with any of my camp friends anymore. (Yes, me, the letter-writing queen.) I've been trying to find Tina (that's why I used her real name, on the off chance that she googles herself and stumbles across my blog, even though it's a common name and highly unlikely). I looked at Bair Lake's website a few days ago, and they've added so much I don't know if I'd even recognize the place anymore. But those people, that place, it's all alive inside me. Capture the Flag, Hound and the Hare, scavenger hunts, quiet moments on the deck, climbing trees in the orchard, campfires sparkling with laughter and tears, sneaking to the field to watch for falling stars...I'll never forget.


  1. What rich childhood memories you're blessed with. I never went to 'sleep-away' camp, but I always imagined it to be just like in 'The Parent Trap'.

    I hope you find your friend. I had a BFF from 4th grade through college, and we lost touch about 12 years ago. I still think about her.

    Great post.

  2. You have an amazing memory, Mama! I recently found some long lost child hood friends on myspace (don't laugh!). One friend was in Australia! Anyway, hope you find her... :)

  3. I'm so sorry about Rick. I agree with your assessment that it is stupid to die from shingles. It is stupid to die when you're 16 period.

    Your memories of him and of all your camp visits are lovely. I never went to camp as a child, but I hope my boys will have that opportunity, and will have equally good memories as adults.


  4. I hope she does Google herself plus Camp Bair. Then maybe she'll find you.

  5. It must have been so nice to have such a wonderful "summer place" with so many friends.

    It's so hard to let people we love go, especially when we're young but you captured your memory of him so well!

  6. Wonderful memories!
    Great site!

  7. I loved hearing about your summer trip to Bair Lake. I hope you find your friend, that would be so nice to reattach after all these years.

    Great post - I really enjoyed it - Kellan

  8. This took me back to the summers I spent working at camp. I think every camp must have a thread of sameness to it, from one to another. I'm glad you gave us some history here.

    The loss is very sad, and I hope you find your friend. Shared memories are the best.

  9. I think you'll always treasure those memories, and writing this all down is a wonderful way to keep it all alive, and to keep the memory of Rick alive as well.

  10. Great post. Summertime stories on a cold winter morning was just what I needed....

  11. Sounds like such a wonderful place. I hope you find Tina.

  12. I went to high school with Rick!! He was such a fun person and truly got a lot out of life! Terribly sad that he passed away so young!@