Just back in town from the annual family sojourn I take in the Adirondacks every August. You would think that after 45 years of staying in the same rustic cabin on the same cold blue lake with the same thirty families, there’d be nothing new to report. You’d be wrong.
1. Meals with boys are different. My clan now takes up two full round ten-person tables at meals in the big Mess Hall, and where and with whom you sit at those ten-tops is entirely up to chance. One day at lunch I noticed that despite the general din around us, my seat mates had been entirely silent for the whole meal. I looked around and realized I’d drawn a table full of all the young men in my family, my nephews, cousin’s kids, and other various male relatives aged 18-27.
“Why isn’t anyone talking?” I asked, genuinely mystified. The boys looked up, stunned. “We’re eating,” one of them said. “Why would you talk when there is food?” Then they all tucked back into their giant plates of grub.
I swiveled to see my daughters at the next table. One was telling my brother a story, so excited that she had risen up out of her seat to lean on her uncle’s shoulder for emphasis. The other was gesturing with both hands as she talked to my mom. No food on either of their plates looked disturbed.
So meals are for eating, not for nonstop talking. Duly noted.
2. It’s OK to be a follower sometimes. On Monday morning my brother, our friend Greg, and I set out for a two hour bushwhack hike around the lake. Both my brother and Greg are well over six feet tall, and sturdy as they come. By feigning an utter inability to find the bright pink plastic trail markers that ostensibly marked our path, I was relegated to the caboose of our hiking train. (It wasn’t entirely feigned. Here’s what a tree fungus did over the past twelve months to one of the markers – formed around it and began digesting it.)
This meant that wherever I walked, it was freshly trampled by two big guys who also cleared my way of spider webs. When I did take the lead, I managed to clear out the spider webs only to chest height for my companions, leaving the face wrapping webs perfectly intact for them to find.
3. There’s No R Rated Movie As Inappropriate as the One To Which You Take Other People’s Children. Family Camp’s nonstop activity schedule is facilitated by volunteers from among the campers, so everyone signs up to lead something. I drew Teen Night, during which four adults and I took the twenty-two kids aged 13-19 into town to see a movie, ride the Go-Karts, and get an ice cream. The theater was showing three movies: The Conjuring (too scary,) Planes (too baby,) and We’re the Millers (too inappropriate.) But at least I knew the Millers was funny, having seen it with my mom a week earlier. I wrote “R RATED” in big letters on the signup sheet, figuring that parents could make their own decisions about sending their 13 year old kids along.
Every one of them came with us. The three 13 year old boys who sat open mouthed in the front row during the Jennifer Aniston strip scene, the 13-year-plus-one-day old girl who got to see three flashes of full frontal male nudity, the twenty-two of them who got to hear words that would get them kicked out of camp if they ran around spouting them. Super.
On the other hand, all the parents of teens in camp got four hours off. No wonder they thanked me the next day.
4. I Still Got It, Even If “It” Looks Creakier Each Year. By now there are certain things I do at Family Camp just to prove I still can. Scale the rock climbing wall. Swim across the lake and back (sadly, New York state regulations now forbid it, so I just do a million laps in the designated swim area.) Get up on two waterskiis and circle the end of the lake twice. I managed them all this year, again, but the recovery takes longer and longer. Apologies to everyone at the base of the rock climbing wall who had to witness me hurling my carcass across the top, that’s not a sight you’ll recover from anytime soon.
5. Never group-text people who are in their twenties. Every year we get t-shirt made for the kids, for a big family picture. This year we decided to do a Wordle, and I texted all my nieces and nephews at once with a plea: send me five words you think of, when you think of Family Camp. I imagined getting back words like “family,” “campfire,” “loons,” “lake.”
But because they could all see each other’s responses, it quickly became a game of My Vocabulary Is Bigger Than My Cousin’s. So I instead got words like “mystifying,” “stupendous,” and “medicinal,” not to mention “soy milk,” “gas,” and “expensive.”
The shirt turned out fine, though. I’m not an editor for nothing.
I don’t want to scare you, but this Klezmer song, “Solomon Levi,” is my favorite dance tune at Family Camp. My family and I make it rain on the square dance floor when this comes on.