I still remember vividly the first time we sent our older daughter off to summer camp. I was pretty much clueless about the whole thing.
Every summer, a major exodus occurs in our towns as many of our children fan out to canoe in the mountains, sail along the coast or hike the trails of the Piedmont. I remember as well in-town camps: baseball, riding, arts and crafts, tennis. The library had its summer reading program, a virtual camp all its own.
When our daughter decided she wanted to go away to camp, I read every camp brochure, skimmed through dozens of magazine articles and talked incessantly with my next-door neighbor, an old-hand at this since her daughter had already been to away camp. Little secrets, though, got me in the end.
No one warned my husband or me, for example, how a flood of memories would wash over us as we shopped for a footlocker and other items required by the camp.
Suddenly, I recalled the smell of the dank insides of the green, Army-issued trunk my father used as he went off to camp for two weeks every summer as part of his National Guard duty. That trunk was the one I carted off to Girl Scout camp. Meanwhile, my husband was reminded of getting ready for summer camp in Vermont where he spoke only French. His family was an academic one unlike mine.
Never did I figure out a way to iron a name tag on a pair of 9-year-old girl’s underwear or her pairs of socks. Some things are meant to remain a mystery, I guess.
When I was packing up my daughter’s trunk, I dutifully followed the camp’s required list, but for the life of me still can’t understand why at the last moment I included a handkerchief. What child uses a handkerchief? My neighbor advised me to pack each day’s clothes in a separate plastic bag, a grand idea I felt, but my daughter balked. I don’t know why. She gave me no reason.
By the time we left our house and had gone no more than five miles, our daughter demanded, “Are you sure we have enough gas?” Repeatedly, she checked her new watch as we headed for the North Carolina mountains. A long trip, I thought, but even longer I knew would be the two weeks ahead while she was away.
That summer, I learned you write your first postcard to your child the night before you leave home and then as soon as you leave your child behind at camp, mailing it at the local post office. I learned to pack loads of stationery. Otherwise, every letter from camp will remind you how your child is borrowing paper and she doesn’t know if she can send you any more letters.
We changed that summer and so did she, but some things never change. On our return to camp, we spied nearly a dozen footlockers lined up carefully outside our daughter’s cabin. One trunk had its top smashed in. Surveying the footlockers, my husband pointed to the broken one, laughing, “Which little girl’s trunk do you think that one is?”
I couldn’t believe he didn’t already know.
“Your daughter’s, of course.”
Our daughter – a member of one of the swim teams here in our town and an aspiring cheerleader back then – had chosen a top bunk for sleeping, placed her footlocker on the cabin’s floor and used the trunk every morning as a springboard.
Some things I was clueless about, but I knew my daughter.
Linda Haac lives in Carrboro. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org