I was ten years old when I learned the fine art of begging. There was something I wanted more than anything, would die if I didn’t get, life would be over, I’d be stamped a loser for eternity, all the cool kids were doing it, please Mom and Dad please don’t make me stay home all summer, please let me go to sleep-away camp! For those not in the know – sleep-away camp is where Jewish kids and one or two stray non Jews went in the summer for 8 glorious weeks at a time. Yep – two months of childhood freedom somewhere in Pennsylvania or the Berkshires, or other places Jews learned no one else wanted to go and so they built a bunch of cabins on a bunch of lakes. Talk about a congregation of nerds and the largest collection of flat irons the world has ever known. (In fact – I learned my first hair straightening trick back then which involved wrapping your hair around a soda can.) I grew up in Staten Island where all the Jewish kids fled for two months every summer to magical places where no parents existed. I wanted in and I wanted in bad. The camp I chose was called Indian Head. The year was 1971 and it would cost 975 dollars to put me up and feed me for two months. At the time, this was an outrageous amount of money. This was the kind of cash my parents would have to do without other things to afford. But my begging was first class – and I got what I wanted. It was an experience that would last ten years and make me the person I am today.
After my parents handed over the fees we were sent a list of more things we needed to spend money on. The first thing we had to buy was a trunk and uniforms and name tags. Basically it looked like I was heading to a well organized neatly dressed death camp in the 1800s where everyone used steamer trunks. I had to get a canteen and certain types of shoes and I had to have white clothes for Friday night services. Uh oh that didn’t sound good. But I didn’t care. I was heading to Indian Head in Honesdale Pennsylvania. My friend Judy had been going to camp there and it sounded really great. We boarded our buses in Staten Island and off I sped to the greatest summer I was ever going to have. The first day I arrived – Judy told all the other girls I was an asshole and they all stopped talking to me immediately. I cant remember why she said this? Maybe we both chose the same boy to set our sights on that summer? All I know was, I was alone. I was alone in Pennsylvania. I was alone in a bunk in the woods with twelve other ten year old girls. I was doomed. I hated it. I wanted to go home. I wanted Judy to die. This was the worst mistake I ever made. At the end of the first week – I fell over a rock and broke my wrist. Now I had a cast. Now I WAS an asshole. A klutzy asshole. (Thats yiddish for clumsy) Now I couldn’t partake in any of the water activities – water skiing and sailing – which I loved the most. I hoped a bear would find me and eat me. I prayed a monsoon washed the camp away every night. I called my parents and begged them to let me come home. My mom basically told me to go fuck myself. They had just dropped all that money and there was no way I was coming home in a week. Then something magical happened – I entered a tether ball competition. (this is slamming a ball on a string around a pole and the first one who winds it all up on their side wins – don’t try to figure it out it’s retarded.) I hit that ball with my cast and slammed home a win like I had never seen. Instantly I was a hit. I was the badass with the cast. Judy could go fuck herself. Judy was the nerd. I was the winner! And from that day on Camp became the single greatest experience of my life.
I’ll never forget the cabins and the moldy cubbies where you would put your clothes that NEVER seemed to be dry. They were like little youth hostels in the woods. I’ll never forget getting called up to the flagpole in the morning when it was your birthday or you won a special competition. I’ll never forget the MD line that split boys camp and girls camp and standing on that line kissing your boyfriend goodnight – toes on each side – leaning in then breaking like you were never going to see each other again – but you would at 2am when you would sneak into each others cabins on what was called A RAID – and make out till the sun came up. My very first boyfriend was the camp owners son. Well fucking done Heidi. I’ll never forget going to the Canteen for dances and using coupon books to buy sugary treats. I’ll never forget the musicals I starred in or the overnight camping trips to the Third Hill where we would tell ghost stories. I’ll never forget the bonding time with girls who I still see on Facebook. I’ll never forget watching movies outside on blankets on a big lawn – still one of my favorite things to do. I don’t remember that many moments from my childhood but I remember every single solitary day from camp like it was yesterday. I still dream about it today. I went to camp from the ages of 10-20. I would spend every summer as a camp counselor today if it paid more than two hundred dollars.
I learned how to share, how to be independent, how to make things, how to produce things, how to choose friends, how to be a bully, how to eat terrible food, how to write letters, how to win, how to lose, how to camp out, how to kiss, how to do makeup, how to sing, how to dance, how to sail, ski, swim, play every sport there is, how to laugh, how to cry, how to be a human being. But most importantly – I learned that there are no limits to who you can be. We were shown a world of choices and we were being made into strong independent confident women. And those Friday night services were way less about religion and way more about congregating and bonding and taking a moment to be thankful for all that we had. Camp was everything. Indian Head – was everything. I only wish I still had one of my shirts with my name-tag in it. I would wear it proudly today.
If you have little kids – send them away for as long as you can afford. Send them to camp. They’ll be better people for it.