Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dreams of My Children, Part 2

The man sat down on the stone wall next to his daughter. They were both wearing their blue baseball caps. A breeze wafted up Summit Mountain and touched their bare arms and legs as they looked out beyond the camp buildings at Western Pennsylvania spread out before them like an ocean of green hills. It was 4 o'clock, and parents would soon be asked to say goodbye to their young campers.

Yes, this sure is a nice place," he said. "I sure do wish I could spend a week up here."
And the little one, in her quiet voice so that no one else would hear, said, "I sure do wish I could spend this week at home."

The man put his arm around her and squeezed her shoulder. He knew that nothing he would say would end her trepidation or dam the tears that were sure to come.

The camp was such a pleasant, unthreatening place, he thought, with well-scrubbed walls and benches, and well-scrubbed counselors in their green shorts and white T-shirts, all smiles, friendly and wholesome as cracked-wheat bread. Kids in pairs and threes darted from building to building, squealing with excitement. But something about the place reminded him of his own first experience away from home, and the fear and anxiety that came with it.

Things got worse in the dormitory. "This place is like an asylum," the older brother said. "Do they lock them in at night?" he asked, earning him and icy glare from his mother.

When time came for the families to leave, the little girl could not hold her anguish any longer. She sobbed into her mother's shoulder. She would be brave, though. She sniffed and wiped her cheeks and promised the man that she would.
As they drove away, he peered into the rear-view mirror, expecting to see her crying and running after the car. But no one came running. He felt heartsick.

Two days later, the first letter arrived from camp. Her first day, compounded by a stomach ache, had deteriorated even further. But it was the second letter that made him feel worse. His daughter was beginning to like camp.
"Today was much better," she wrote. The days would become better still, he thought. And next year, she'd probably go off to camp and not miss home at all.

The man sat on his porch and read the letters over and over again. It was so good to be missed, he thought. And he yearned to pick up his little one and hug her and squeeze her and never let her grow up. Why do they have to grow up, anyway?

His melancholy hands slowly unfolded and folded again the letters from camp. He tugged down the brim of his baseball cap and in his solitude, raged against the passage of time.

- July 1988

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant columns. Thank you for sharing these passages.