Last weekend I went to my camp reunion. I was a camper in the late 70’s to early 80s, and although I can barely muster the memories, when I walked into that NYC bar and saw familiar faces, it all came rushing back.
Camp Hadar was your basic, coed sleep-away camp for kids of all interests – more like “Meatballs” than today’s fancy camps that you might mistake for a country club, and with no competitive specialty like circus camp, space camp or fashion camp. There were wooden cabins with clotheslines for wet bathing suits and towels, unkempt sports fields, jungle gyms and swing sets, an arts & crafts lodge and a fenced in swimming pool. We had the typical camp traditions (e.g. Miss Hadar awarded to the male counselor that looked best in a dress, Gangster Day, 50s Social, Carnival, Olympics), and we lined up at the flagpole for the pledge, sang camp songs, cheered and even prayed for our food (Hadar was, like many, a Jewish camp). We looked forward to getting out of camp for trip day and, if we were good, were treated to Friendly’s Fribbles at midnight. It really wasn’t anything special…but it was.
I drove to the reunion with my friend Missy who I hadn’t seen in 15 years. We both live in Westchester, she in a huge stone mansion with its own pool house. She still had the same red hair and tiny hips, and an ongoing banter and spirit that kept you smiling.
When we walked in, the first one I spied was our very own camp celebrity, and the owners’ son. You couldn’t miss Bobby with his Keith Urban hairdo and brown leather jacket, but with the six-deep line of women waiting to say hello I decided to walk deeper into the bar to see if there were any other familiar faces.
I guess there are always a few people that never really move on from camp – or that special time in their lives when things really clicked. Wearing a 30-year-old Camp Hadar t-shirt, I was greeted by Ron. He looked great, and he knew me immediately. He had all the camp lore down, and seemed to know an awful lot about me. When I shrugged when asked by another what years I went to camp (a standard question that evening), Ron jumped in to inform them that it was either ’78 to ’81 or ’82. He remembered the name of my boyfriend, a muscle-bound hunk who was the canoe counselor and four years my senior – 20 years to my 16 (which my brother found very upsetting). He even remembered my black bathing suit. Apparently, I wore it often and turned cartwheels in it to the delight of the male campers and counselors (why was I so innocent?). But what really got me was when he recalled, “Remember when you won ‘Best Chest’?” Yes, I did, and I think it took me 20 years to get over it.
One of my CA (counselor’s assistant) fellow campers and counselors was also there, both looking terrific! Funnily, the first thing my counselor said to 40-something me was, “You were a great camper. So well behaved.” She recalled when I got the lead in the camp play and then lost my voice from belting out my solos. Apparently I drank water all day and miraculously, my voice came back.
I was re-introduced to a few more campers-come-men including one whose claim to fame was “head of the canteen.” What a way to be remembered, although the Nestlé’s $100,000 Bars were a big highlight.
I found Missy again. The crowd of admirers had cleared and she was talking to Bobby. He looked up at me and “whoosh!” Talk about a blast from the past. He was a camper when I was a camper, a waiter when I was a CA – and even back then, he was always a bit out of reach. We did a bunch of reminiscing and he sang us a camp song. I remembered when he got a modeling job. I remembered when out of college he opened a dance club called, “Polly Esther’s.” I remembered bumping into him in the Chelsea-neighborhood of NYC with his little daughter who had just returned from an intense pre-school interview and thinking that I wouldn’t want to go through that with my baby. And, most recently, I remembered that he had dated a Broadway celebrity.
Bobby remembered too. He even remembered that I was his first kiss.
Camp was a series of firsts. First time being away from home and the care of your nurturing parents. First time living with other kids. First time having a boyfriend/girlfriend. First time being a part of a close-knit community where all you had to do was have fun. For me, it brought me out of my shell. It allowed me to try new things including auditioning for the camp musical where I discovered my love of performing. It gave me a new found confidence and I loved it.
Camp farewells were always difficult and filled with tears. The drama was thick. Most of us were glad to see our parents pull up to our bunks in their 70s sedans and station wagons, but leaving that green and brown outdoor world where you could be yourself, or whoever you wanted to be, was like ripping off a Band-Aid and exposing something that still needed time to heal.
Camp is and always will be a good thing. Long live the memories of Camp Hadar. (Cue the Alma Mater…)
Camp Hadar Alma Mater (To the Tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”)
Somewhere we found a haven, green and still,
It’s a camp that we’ve dreamed of high on a friendly hill.
Somewhere, we’ve sealed our friendships, deep and strong
That’s what we will remember, all the winter long.
When snow about us gently lies, we’ll think of starlit summer skies above you.
Our camp will be remembered there, the glow of treasured memories rare
That’s why we love you.
Someday, we’ll leave this haven and go far
But we’ll always remember SUMMER AT CAMP HADAR!