The Kinderland Affair
Camp was life to me for many years. It was the center of my existence and the core of my being; there was no other important reality. I was a full time addict, hooked on camp people and high on camp life. Going home from camp was painful and while the ten months passed ever so slowly until the next camp season, each day at camp was so filled with momentous happenings, it seemed as if a year had passed from morning til night.
Camp was not just friends, lovers, and lifelong attachments. Camp was a way of life, a pattern of thinking, a way to deal with the world. I don't know if it came from the strength of character and the political philosophies of the counselors who were immense influences on my life, or from some higher political direction of the camp, but the values that were instilled in me then, I still basically carry around with me now; an assortment of baggage that includes love of life and humanity, a deep and abiding hope for the betterment of society, a belief in equality and in socialism as a more rational form of distributing the wealth of the world.
How could all of this have been learned while swimming, sunning and sportsfielding, which is about all the activity that occurs in other normal camps? I haven't yet been able to understand it some twenty years later BUT maybe it had to do with being in Camp in the fifties. It was a time of loyalty oaths, disclaimer affidavits, of the execution of the Rosenbergs, McCarthy hearings and state investigations. Camp was an escape from a hostile outside world, a haven where I did not have to be fearful or secretive about my opinions and beliefs. The battle of dialectics waged itself more gently than in the outside world, or so it seemed to me at 14, but the climate of the times entered our camp like the night fog.
There was a summit conference during the summer of 1955. It was in Geneva, Switzerland, far away. But its message of peaceful coexistence somehow reached the stage of the camp casino in Hopewell Junction, New York through the music of "Ale Menschen Zeinen Brider," the words of Elsie Suller explaining what it all meant, the poetry and dances taught by Edith Segal, and the moving appearance of Pete Seeger that summer. He sang a logger's song while swinging an axe into a huge log on stage. I have saved a log chip which sailed into the audience until this day because I was so moved by his effort to give the songs of the working man dignity and respect.
But camp in the fifties was not just messages of social significance. It was also secret hideouts in the treehouse, gentle goats wandering around, Pajamas with his burlap bag, Sadie Hawkins Socials and other ordinary events of growing up. It was a wonderful mixture of social conscience and socialization.
We learned on a daily basis to carry out certain concepts. We learned not to be selfish but to cooperate. We learned not to avoid work but to share work, not to tease those who were different but to appreciate differences. We learned not to say "Boogy Man" and to appreciate the wonderful cultural heritage of the world's peoples. We complained about the food in the dining room but the food of the spirit was more delicious. We sneaked out of chorus but we remember the words of the songs we learned until this day. And somehow through it all, camp made us feel like very special people. And I started to learn how to be me.
I have a few very special personal memories. Among them area home run hit for me. A warm, sunny head on my lap. A boy who became a man who became the love of my life. A counselor who bothered to tell me what infinity was. Another who answered all questions in the dark at night and then had time to tell a story too. A flashlight under the covers, for reading after everyone else was asleep. A solitary walk to heaven. A sleepout in hell. Taking turns looking at the stars. The excitement and total involvement of an Olympics. The ever present Sylvan Lake. Mattresses on the roof of Bunk 18. Bagels and Lox and missing parents on Visiting Day. Moods and feelings I haven't thought of in years.
Each person and generation has its own memories. But mine include most of all an appreciation of all the magnificent people I met in camp, those who are still part of my life and those who aren't, and a fervent hope that camp in the future will be as meaningful for our children as it was for us.
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