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The Long Summer        

For a girl who came from drizzly British summers, it seemed like a dream


he Great American Camp Experience.

I’d read about it in books, heard the stories from cousins in the States and from friends lucky enough to go. It was a vision in my mind’s eye crowned in a halo: two months of nature and friendship, starlit nights, roasting marshmallows round a campfire, cantata and sports and a major trip and, and, and…

For a girl who came from drizzly British summers, it seemed like a dream.

I was 17 when I finally went. I remember the drive up to the mountains. Fierce sun, the asphalt on the highway gleaming, sitting in the car, arms wrapped around myself from excitement and nerves. Surely the girls from overseas had it made, I tried to convince myself. The Americans would find my accent endearing, I’d hit it off with my campers, I’d make lifelong friends…

And then we arrived.

Hundreds of girls in colored T-shirts, yellows, greens, blues. I came out of the car and stood in the hubbub in my stiff British clothes. A straight skirt, a belt. I didn’t get the memo about the T-shirts. I had a whole suitcase full of proper, formal outfits. Gulp.

But I was going to be a counselor, and there was so much to do — meet the directors, find my bunk, introduce myself to my young charges.

I did all that in a daze. Met my co-counselor and was off with a bunch of sixth graders to supper. Only supper wasn’t so much about eating — the singing counselors came on stage, and the dining room dissolved into a cheer. Voices rose and soared over my head. I didn’t know the chants and songs, yet, somehow, I had to lead my bunk. The other counselor was sweet and soft-spoken; of the two of us, it was clear I was leader. But in that dining room swirling with song, I was out of my depth.

Had I been wrong about coming? About camp?

I went down to the shack where the pay phones were housed and called my mom. Then I called a friend. In the off-time that we counselors had, I frequented the shack. And I started to count down the days until I could go home.

3 weeks 6 days. 3 weeks 5 days.

Each night down I counted down. One night, we went on a night trip, and maybe that was the night I forgot to count. That night I realized that hey, the counselor of the adjoining bunk was my speed, and maybe a couple of other people were too. I got busy with cantata — singing and motions and music and dance. The girls wanted to hear stories from far-off England.

Then came visiting day, the halfway mark. I’d made it this far, why was I still counting down?

One day in the pay phone shack, after too many phone calls, I heard a rustle. It was a mouse right there in between the phones and the door. I fled for my life.

There went my hideout. I wasn’t doing this anymore. And maybe there were other things to do instead. Join a skit with the other counselors, learn a dance even if the steps were different here.

On the last day, the girls put on their city clothes, and for once, I finally fit in — I’d been wearing city clothes all along. As my campers packed up, as the place began to clear out, to my surprise, I found myself in tears.

I cried because it had been bittersweet, because my expectations had been made of candy floss. I cried because I’d taken to counting down the days, but somewhere, somehow, I’d made connections, the campers had touched my life and I theirs. We were all going our separate ways but maybe, just maybe, these weeks of camp had counted after all. 4


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 795)

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