Like most children with active imaginations, I spent a lot of my childhood in my head, madly fantasizing, cooking up alternative realities. Most were pretty pedestrian. Who didn’t want Jeff Stone on Donna Reed as her big brother? Or Dr. Kildare as her boyfriend? Or to go westward-ho-ing with Flint McCullough on Wagon Train? And don’t get me started on my love life with Spin, the cute guy on Spin and Marty. (Hey, I watched a lot of TV.)
Not all of my fantasies were TV-related. Plenty of them were based on the books I was reading. (While watching TV, I always had a book open.) So of course I wanted to be one of Nancy Drew’s chums, sporting around in a roadster solving mysteries. And in my pious moments, I was there with Lydia Longley, getting kidnapped by Indians and – lucky us! – ending up in Montreal, where we were converted from Pilgrim-hood to the one true faith and got to be the first American nuns.
And then there were the generic stories that had nothing to do with specific TV shows or books, but which were, of course, informed by them.
One was going to boarding school, and another was going to camp.
I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood where kids went to camp. Camp was pretty much your mother kicking you out of the house after breakfast and locking the door after you. That is, unless she had some swell chores in mind, in which case you got to stay in the house and iron and clean the toilet. Or stay in the backyard hosing maggots out of the garbage can. But if you got out of the house, camp was heading to a city park where you made gimp lanyards and lolled around on the swings.
But the kids I read about went away to camp and had super adventures, and got to do things (Protestant things, in my mind) like archery and horseback riding.
One year, however, I did go to camp. One week of Brownie and Fly-up (fledgling Girl Scout) camp, held on the swank grounds of Leicester Junior College.
Neither of my BF’s – Susan or Bernadette – went, but I was friends with Carol and Mary A, and they were fellow campers, as were Carol’s sister Joan and her friend Kathy.
Each day, I waited by myself for the bus at French Square. (The other girls got on a few blocks earlier.) While by myself, I got to memorize the plaque dedicated to Private Charles French, a Worcester boy killed at the age of 21 in France, during World War One. And ponder why the place where Apricot Street veered off from Main Street was called a square. It wasn’t. If anything, it was a scalene triangle.
Anyway, the bus came soon enough and I was transported (a couple of miles up Route 9) from my humdrum existence to camp.
There I got to rub shoulders with actual Protestants. Excitement. Plus I met another girl my age named Maureen. (She was, of course, Catholic.)
But camp was pretty meh.
We made sit-upons out of newspaper, that you got dirty sitting upon.We made figures out of pipe cleaners that looked like Reddy Kilowatt. We went for a swim in Lake Sargent. We played some lame games. Then the counselors and Bob the Lifeguard got sick of us and told us to scram. So we sat around talking.
The “highlight” of the week was a talent show, and I was going to do a can-can with Nancy (a Protestant). I provided the can-can skirts: full cotton skirts – one red-striped, the other blue-striped – printed with stagecoaches. These belonged to me an my sister Kath, and were the best that Nancy and I could come up with. On the day the big show – the last day of camp – I realized that I really didn’t want to do a can-can in my stagecoach skirt. So I faked sick and went to rest under a big fir tree. From there, I had a bird’s eye view of the counselors and Bob the Lifeguard sneaking off to make s’mores for themselves. I thought it was a pretty rotten thing to do, but my friend Kathy – she was seven to my nine – also saw them sneak off and had a total meltdown. She wanted a s’more. Who could blame her. Kids on TV and in books who went to camp had s’mores. Why couldn’t we? My last image of camp is Kathy, throwing herself down on the ground and weeping copious tears.
So much for camp.(You’d think they could have waited until we were on the bus to make their s’mores. Sheesh…)
The rest of the summer was much better.
My Dineen cousins blew in en masse a few weeks later and stayed a week. What a blast: 10 kids under the age of almost-12 (plus 4 adults) in a pretty small house. (Mostly a blast: my cousin Ellen, unfortunately, stepped in a hornet’s nest…) Plus we had a new baby in the house, and although she was pretty cranky, she was awfully cute.
The campers I read about and saw on TV had a far different camp experience than I did. They went away. They stayed overnight. They lived in cabins. They wore cute uniforms. (You’d think after 9 months a school year in a green jumper and white blouse, I’d have just about had it with uniforms. But, no.) They wrote letters home. They bought candy bars at the camp canteen. And, of course, they had campfires, around which they sat in the dark with their charming and helpful counselors who were more than happy to make their beloved campers s’mores.
Sometimes reality ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.