Sunday, February 1, 2015

Summer Camp Stories (part I) .....

I was sent to sleep-away camp every year that I lived with my uncle and his wife.  When I was younger, it would be for two weeks at a time; as I got older, it was for four weeks.  Although, as a rule, I usually enjoyed being out of the house for a while, my uncle's wife did at one point -- in one of her usual fits of frustration -- tell me that the primary reason for sending me was so that she wouldn't have to deal with me.  I wasn't surprised to hear that, but it still stung.

Regardless, off to camp I went.

In 1969, my uncle and his wife decided to take a month-long trip to Wales while my younger brother (who was, temporarily, living at home) and I were away at camp.  I don't know where he was sent, but I went to a local Girl Scout camp.  Unfortunately, in her narrow-focused desire to be free of me, my uncle's wife neglected to notice that the camp didn't offer four-week sessions.  Instead, the sessions were two weeks in length, and the counselors told me I was required to go home the weekend between. 


I actually didn't mind heading off to summer camp, as it let me escape the abuse from my uncle's wife.

My uncle's daughter, who had dropped out of college after one year, was living at home for a while.  (She came and went a few times between first leaving home and getting married a few years later.)  The Camp Director was able to reach her by phone and she was able to come get me the Friday afternoon the first session ended -- and could bring me back the next Monday.  It turned out to be a fortuitous mistake, because that Sunday was July 20, 1969 -- the night that Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  My brother didn't get to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon live, but I did.  As an avid fan of science fiction and TV shows like "Star Trek," it was incredibly exciting to watch.

Summer camp always presented one problem, though, as they all included a swimming program.  The ear surgery I'd undergone a few years earlier had resulted in a permanently perforated ear drum in my left ear.  Because of that, I was under strict physician-mandated guidelines NOT to swim and not to even get water in my left ear.  If I were to get water in my ear, I was at risk of completely losing all hearing on that side.  My uncle's wife was well aware of this restriction, and I think she probably included that on camp registration forms.  However, it was a struggle every summer when I would have to explain AGAIN that I couldn't swim and that I wasn't allowed to LEARN to swim and that, in fact, I didn't have a swimsuit and therefore couldn't even go in the pool/lake.

For some reason one summer, when I was in my early teens, the swimming instructor insisted that I get in the water and try to learn.  I managed to splash around a little, keeping my head above water the entire time, and was eventually told that was adequate.  When I got home, I told my uncle's wife what had happened and, upon hearing the details she became angry.

At me.

Never wavering from her steadfast belief that when anything went wrong it was MY fault, she insisted that I should have refused to get in the water (I tried, but no one believed me), that I shouldn't have let them try to teach me to (I did), and said that had I lost my hearing THAT would have been my fault as well.

Despite her displeasure at that summer's activities, a year or so later she signed me up for a month-long YWCA camping adventure, during which I would join a group of 50+ girls and three chaperones in a trip to Qu├ębec, Canada.  During that time, the group would be wilderness camping in a national park approximately the size of our New England state.  We would travel from campsite to campsite via ..... drumroll, please ..... canoe, traversing small rivers and deep lakes.  Skills required of campers?

1.  Ability to swim

Oops, again.