My Summer Escape
I believe that every kid needs a champion. Mine was my cousin Mary, one of my few relatives who had attended college and gone on to teach high school chemistry. For this, she commanded special respect in our family. When I wanted to do something different or adventurous, I enlisted her support, and she pleaded my cause to my parents. As a team, we had a flawless record. So it was that in 1950 I begged, and she persuaded my parents to let me go to summer camp in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
At Camp Starlight, I was a new me. This me ran barefoot through the grass. This me played the lead in “Annie Get Your Gun.” This me had a bunk full of new friends. This me could watch the rain move across the lake and race the raindrops to my bunk. This me felt free.
I didn’t live in a dingy apartment building in Brooklyn. I didn’t sleep in the living room. I saw flaming sunsets that weren’t blocked by high buildings. I had trees…and a lake!
Early in July, we gathered at Port Authority terminal to catch the bus. My camp trunk had been shipped weeks ago through Railway Express. Six pairs of shorts, 10 polo shirts, two of them white, all with name tags sewn in, everything specified in a two-page list, typed and taped inside the lid of the trunk.
Then we’re on the bus, and I look out the window and wave. I’m ready to go. It’s a five-hour drive to Camp Starlight in the Moosic Mountains of Pennsylvania, just above the Poconos, near the New York border. We pass Woodbridge, Middletown, Monticello, then towns I’ve never heard of: Florida, Goshen, finally, Hancock, then an old steel bridge over the Delaware River to Pennsylvania. Up a winding road with forest on both sides, and, camp!
That was the first of a string of wonderful summers at camp. Every summer I boarded the bus, starting as a “senior girl,” and working up to “counselor.” Every summer, I came home and rolled into an emotional dive as I saw all the flaws in my household and neighborhood afresh. But being young and resilient, plus the fact that school was about to start, always helped me over this week in the dumps.
Camp Starlight took middle class city kids who had never seen a meadow and gave them a country experience complete with boating, hikes, campouts and toasted marshmallows around a blazing campfire. Arms around each other’s shoulders, we swayed back and forth, singing:
“Friends, friends, friends we will always be
Whether in bright or in dark stormy weather
Camp Starlight will keep us together
To white and blue, we will e’er be true
Love will pervade us till death separates us
We’re friends, friends, friends!”
All this, thanks to cousin Mary, my champion, who made it possible for me to escape the gritty city and spread my wings at Camp Starlight!
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