I had lunch today with a woman who was a camper of mine 35+ years ago (yeah, makes my mouth drop open too). She ‘found’ me on Facebook, which had a small cascading effect of other people who remembered me from my days as a camp counselor. The exchange of memories is arguably a topic in and of itself – how some remember so acutely, while others remember through a murkier lens. But to go there, is to digress dramatically from where I think I want to go (and anyone who reads this blog knows that I have a flair for tangential thought – oh look! A chicken!)
I recognized her immediately – she is no longer a little girl, yet the features of the little girl I thoroughly loved for multiple summers remain the same. Love. I loved these girls for eight weeks every summer for years – from the time I was 15 through my freshman year in college (sophomore? – I’m one of those murky lens people). These summers informed so much of my personal and professional narrative – the good and the less-than-good.
Summer camps sell dreams for kids – and perhaps even more so for their parents. Eight weeks out of the city, sylvan settings (outside of the bunks that is – ‘pristine’ is not the adjective that comes to mind while girls throw wet towels on the floor rushing to get enough hair dryer time before short circuiting the system) instant camaraderie, songs, playful athletic competition, instruction in gazillion sports, kids walking arm in arm in that “Laverne & Shirley” way. To a large extent, it’s all accurate. What isn’t mentioned is that each child – boy or girl – is entering this fantasy land already toting some of the emotional luggage they are going to carry for the rest of their lives. And that makes the experience remarkably unique for each person as well as remarkably similar.
I was not popular with people my age. Don’t misunderstand – I was well-known, I was ‘ok’, but I was never going to be cool enough to hang with the people in my peer group. My saving graces included singing, being really committed to the kids and not pushing the social limits of a system I didn’t fully understand. I’d sneak cigarettes behind the bunks with one girl, keep the secrets of a lot of people and outwardly accept that I was available at the behest of anyone who needed to talk. As much as I loved those kids, I remember feeling pretty lonely most of the time and looked forward to being “On Duty” at night, for that way I didn’t have to go up to the canteen and realize that while people were in various stages of hooking up, I’d have no one to talk to.
There’s the backdrop – metaphorically great weather but for when the rains of adolescence pounded my skin. And here’s the gift of the epilogue – I sat with one of my ‘campers’ who is now a peer. I could have talked with her for hours. She is an amazing human being, with a full and colorful life, enormous talent and an adored partner. And her memories of me were of how much I cared, the perception she and others share that I was ‘there’ for those kids and that my presence was genuine. She never saw my bungling and awkwardness – how could she? Though I was convinced everyone saw my clumsy efforts at inclusion, she viewed me through the filter of her little girl vulnerabilities and insecurities – and she felt love. I have said before that we don’t see ourselves as others do. What a gift it is when others see you with far kinder eyes than you could ever imagine yourself. I think that is the beauty of ‘old love’ – it doesn’t try to impress, it doesn’t hyperventilate at the mention of a name. Old love graces you with an air-brushed portrait of your best self. It is comfortable with who you are, because it is so sure of who you were – and the distinction between the two are not as stark as you think. I love L for giving me that today. Old love – I think I’ll take it.
32 thoughts on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
A philosopher, ready-to-bend-backwards and questioning the society norms is what I was known in my growing years. I never really felt lonely as I have had amazing friends in every phase of my life…even now. Thanks for this post. Let me connect with my crazy little loves too… :).
I’m so glad it touched you in the right way!! Thank you very much for letting me know..:-)
Thank you for a lovely reminder of how we are our own harshest critics. It seems you were genuine in your love for others, and that is being reflected back at you now, and probably was then but you weren’t able to see it as clearly. I think your lens is clearer than ever, now that it has filtered out the important bits.
It was really illuminating for me. I agree that we can feel such harshness towards ourselves, and miss the cues that suggest we could be a whole lot kinder in our self-perception. I’m so glad you liked the post! 🙂
Love this story. “Keep the secrets of other people.” Therein lies the core reason for your popularity.
I’ll never tell. 🙂
Sounds like it was a serendipitous mutual gift, the two of you seeing each other. And how wonderful, and moving, to learn that she’s carried you around inside all these years as a small beacon of love.
It really was a mutual gift, Deb – you’re right. And I’m overwhelmed that someone has remembered me in this way after all these years – especially while I was caught in the clutches of adolescence and its aftermath (which was not very kind to me as you undoubtedly recall) xoxo
I’ve started to write this sentence atleast 5 times. I never knew you experienced such inner turmoil. I saw a confident, vibrant, and, yes mega-watt loving individual from the moment we met. I do realize that I was already involved in my own adolescent drama not 10 blocks and one state away (whether in high school or sleepaway camp). You have made the most delicious lemonade from those traumatic moments of your youth and the fact that your own turmoil did not effect what you wanted “your girls” to feel the most – safe and loved – is a gift you have always had and a tribute to the successful adult you are. So happy you had the day to see you how we have always seen you. ❤
Jo sweetie, you are more biased than most and I love you for it. And we all had inner turmoil – no one gets to grow up without it. I really was gifted with a lot of love – not always from the sources I might have thought I wanted it – but it filled me nonetheless. And kids? When have I not had a crazy, crazy love thing for kids? We’ve shared that since you and I were in junior high…<3
As one of your first campers you have to know that you were so loved in the bunk! I guess as 9 year olds we did not see what went on with your life outside the bunk and the time not spent with us-we only cared when you were with us! Funny thing-my mother just gave me letters I wrote home that first year. I wrote about my bunkmates, camp activities and the weather. But I also wrote about the counselors and how I loved my cit Mimi but really could not stand someone else-they will remain nameless although I thought I liked that person. Oh-well.
Anyway- we were so disappointed when you either did not come back to camp or we did not get to have you to ourselves one year(how dare they give our Mimi to some other group of girls!). We did get to have you one more time! And when you stopped coming you were sorely missed.
Hi Amy – I’m so touched that you read this! You girls were truly the reason I came to camp. And I wanted to have one big bunk with all of you because it was with you that I really experienced the fun and laughter (and the drama) that the summer’s promise always held. And when it was time to stop my summers there (somehow I think I was already a junior in college, but I can’t remember with certainty), I felt the loss of not being a part of your lives anymore. I send you huge hugs…me
How heartwarming. What a gift for you to have this encounter so many years later.
It was so special Christine – and I felt so lucky..:-)
I love this. It took me back to my childhood with similarities. Your gift is so amazing.
Thank you so much! And thank you for stopping by and reading the blog…I’m glad it resonated with you and hit a note in your heart. Have a wonderful weekend Marquita!
What a wonderful, touching story! My son was a camp counselor 12 years ago and his stories are so sweet to hear. He also thought that his troop saw him much the way he viewed himself. I hope one day he will get a gift like you did. Thank you for sharing.
I closed this day feeling inordinately blessed – and surprised. As a teenager, you are so involved in your own struggle to evolve, you don’t realize that despite the discomfort, there is still room to do the right thing for others..Thanks for you kind words Tina..
I, too, carry these images of myself from past to present…reading you speak of your surprise at the impact you have /had on others is touching…but (and there is always a but), you are one of the most admired, cherished, and giving individual I have had the blessing to have in my life..thank YOU!
I love you Sus…and you know this is not how I see myself, though I try to be this person you see. Thank you for reminding me time after time..
I’m still involved in my camp community and it is funny to hear the memories my campers have of me. One of them tells how she went home after the two-week session and raided her father’s underwear drawer because she wanted to wear men’s boxer shorts the way I did—how she thought I was so cool she wanted to be just like me. While I am quite sure I was going through my days feeling awkward and not cool enough.
We never know how other’s see us, and the impact we make on impressionable lives.
So true…thanks so much for stopping by.:-)
I love the story, and the feelings it brought up in me. But I love the way you write it even more. Your ‘way with words’ brings to mind soft days, being hugged, and tucked in. Does that mean you are my mother? Silly yes, but true.
Your campers were lucky to have had you as a model for them…especially since you were not but a teen yourself. Knowing they were not more than 2 or 3 years from entering the arena where the ‘mean girls’ (all high schools have them) play, you gave them a glimmer of hope that they could meet others like you.
Your comments were a gift to me this morning Rhonda – thank you so much!! I have always wanted to be able to write in the way that is most authentic to me – and that is informal and loving and enveloping – cause that’s my nature. That it touched you in such a way humbles me – thank you ! And, I was lucky to have those kids too – for in many ways they let me ‘hide’ behind them instead of feeling as out of the loop as I did with my peers. Focusing on them allowed me to not focus on me if that makes any sense. If not, forgive me.. 🙂
Your description of your writing is perfect. That’s exactly the feeling. Being enveloped. And what you say of your time with your ‘girls’ makes perfect sense…but what you saw as hiding or shifting focus was actually part of the process of your becoming who you are now. I have a feeling you place others’ before yourself yet today, you ‘envelop’ them still. Look at your chosen profession…you spend your time helping and developing yes? You are the gift Mimi.
Oh Rhonda, I don’t know what to say..We’ve never met and you have touched me more than you’ll ever know (in a good way :-))..At the risk of redundancy, I think your generous spirit and the willingness with which you give to others is a gift to anyone who is lucky enough to have their paths cross yours. Thank you thank you…
What a beautiful story. Summer camp made me who I am today – probably because of great counselors like you who I need to look for on Facebook! Thanks for sharing this honest and thoughtful story. And for helping give so many kids that summer adventure!!
I never realized that I was having that kind of impact. They were as important to me as I was to them…:-)
Mimi, I absolutely love your blog’s aliveness! Thank you. How I would love to “sit on the porch” drinking coffee with you and reflecting upon the many visits of the “karma truck” to all of our lives.
Your writing always touches something deep in me but somehow this post most especially. As an Englishman who has looked at US summers – and the summer camp idyll – with envy from afar (decent camp-weather summers are not guaranteed in the UK, albeit that they can be lovely when we do have them) – I am moved by the honesty and vulnerability you share here. How deeply blessed were the youngsters who knew (and know) you as camp counselor. I share your joy for the way in which the blogging community links us with some quite extraordinary and delightful people.
I also delight in the way that blogging open avenues of communication between lovely people of every faith tradition and / or philosophy and nationality under the sun. I noted somewhere that someone had made you an award for happy contribution towards the healing and well-being of the world. I second that … and I’ll keep coming back. Maybe some day, sitting on a porch someplace, drinking coffee, one or the other of us will say “don’t I know you?”
Thanks, love and encouragement from one of your peers! 🙂
What thrills me is that I have been able to offer you some of the joy and warmth that I have derived from reading your posts. In fact, earlier this week I gave YOU an award (I don’t remember which day though) – and in turn you can pay it forward to others that you enjoy in this blogosphere of ours. I love the thought of one day looking closely at someone I am sure I’ve never met, yet somehow know in my soul and greet you with enthusiasm and joy…Please check out these past posts over this week – for you are mentioned in there! 🙂
Thank you very much indeed. You are really very kind and encouraging, and I have responded with a note on your nominations post 🙂
It is easy to encourage writing that I genuinely enjoy – as I do yours!