July 24, 2013
Camp St. Regis
The cynic in me was already budding in 1969 when I was 12 years old and read the brochure my aunt had brought to our house from her friend Don Kennedy’s camp in East Hampton. “Make this summer last the rest of your child’s life,” the Camp St. Regis flyer proclaimed. “Oh, sure,” I thought. “What a stupid line.” Still, I read on, noting with interest the pictures of kids swimming, sailing, water skiing, playing basketball, softball, shooting targets, and doing arts and crafts. Even I had to admit it did look fun. So when my parents offered to let me go to camp for a month, I was happy and even excited.
My older sister Kathy was a counselor there that year, so on Visiting Sunday in July we went to spend the day with her. We went to Mass in the chapel, and on the way out, I heard a girl’s voice saying, “So you’re Kathy’s sister Liz. I can’t wait until you get here.” I looked up, puzzled. “I’m Jennifer, and I am going to be your friend.” Jennifer and many of the other campers turned out to be from the foreign land of Brooklyn, a place I had only driven through five or six times on my way from Huntington to New Jersey to visit my aunt. Jennifer showed me around and introduced me to every person she knew – and she knew everybody. After that, I knew camp was going to be nothing but fun. I couldn’t wait.
In August, when I got to camp, Jennifer was true to her word. She became my fast friend and showed me anything I could need to know. My cabin held about twelve girls, six on one side, three counselors in the middle, and six campers on the other side. Our bunks were ticking mattresses on a wire-spring frame, and the screen-less windows were held open with two by fours. The walls were two by fours as well, brown and plain. One door opened into the counselors’ room and bathroom, and the other onto the beach, Northwest Harbor, and Shelter Island. I was in paradise.
Days were packed with trampolines, ball games, archery lessons, swimming lessons, lanyard stringing, tile ashtray assembling, trips to the ocean, and the free swim. We took showers after the free swim in a huge room with a concrete floor and curtains between shower spigots. The water was lukewarm at best, and the water pressure fluctuated with every toilet flush or faucet turn. Nights were filled with Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movies, sing-alongs, impromptu shows, trips to the roller rink, and campfires. We ate in the dining hall – things like hamburgers, sloppy joes, grilled cheese, tuna fish, hot dogs, jello, and bug juice – with real bugs.
There wasn’t much privacy, which would have bothered me at home, but not there. When I went to the canteen one evening after dinner and almost whispered my request for a can of Right Guard, my sister’s friend Maureen yelled out, “Oh, good, Robbins. It’s about time you got some deodorant!” Things were different at camp, so even though I was embarrassed, I knew she was only joking and took it in stride. One morning, I woke up scratching my behind, only to find a welt there the diameter of a lemon. When I told one of my counselors, she sent me to the nurse, who had me sit in a warm tub for a half hour each day for about four days. Word got around, and I was teased for the rest of the summer about my indelicate mosquito bite.
Our best outing was the overnight camping trip to Cedar Point. Our entire cabin full of girls and our counselors walked down the beach two or three miles to the lighthouse there, across the water from our cabin. We wore bathing suits under our clothes, so when we got hot along the way, we simply laid our shorts and shirts on the sand and took a swim. Then, we continued our hike around to the point. My sister Kathy sailed over to meet us, and she got there in time for more swimming, dinner, and finally, marshmallow toasting. We rolled out our sleeping bags and slept under the stars – twelve girls, our counselors, and my big sister. In the morning, we packed up and went back to camp. It was an innocent, joy-filled night that couldn’t happen today, but it did then, and it is one of my simplest and happiest memories.
The camp is gone and the brochure promoting it is long gone, too. The sometime-cynic who read it remains, but the slogan was for real. That was the only summer I ever went to Camp St. Regis or any camp for that matter. And truly, it has and will last for the rest of my life.