“That’s a definite no,” my father emphatically chastised me, stabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. “You’re sixteen years old . . . too young to be on your own all summer while Mom and I are away on our European cruise. Look, honey, we were talking to friends of ours who mentioned a great summer camp. And, by the way, this is not a negotiation. We’re sure you’ll have a wonderful time. And, who knows, maybe you’ll meet a prince charming and frolic around the castle grounds all summer.”
‘Right, I told myself. Prince Charming is busy grooming his white stead in anticipation of scooping me up in the saddle and galloping off into the sunset.’
Armed with unwelcome resignation, I stood on the dock watching my parents as they ascended the wooden ramp leading up to the U.S.S. Queen Mary. So, not an option, not a negotiation, I let my big brother, Stan, tug my arm, coaxing me away from the shadow of the enormous cruise ship and towards my dad’s Buick parked in the lot across the street. “Want to sit next to me or in the back?” My brother offered me an option, at last.
“I get car sick. You know that. I’ll get in the front, thank you.”
The single lane highway sloped upwards, twisting and turning. My ears popped and clogged as we ascended higher along the paths of the Catskill Mountains. After three hours, my brother’s patience wearing thin from my outcries of “Oh, there’s a cow”, Stan reached out across my lap to pop open the glove department. “Hey, sis. Want to grab that map so we can try to figure out where we turn next?” Unfolding the jig saw puzzle they called a map, I found the red-penciled line directing us to turn off at the next exit. A few more turns and we found ourselves bumping along a stony path, abruptly coming to an end by a metal chain attached between two huge oak trees. Flapping in the middle of the chain, a hand-written paper banner announced, ‘WELCOME TO CAMP LEXINGTON”. A very pretty twenty-something blond suddenly appeared from the woods behind the banner, hand out in greeting.
“Hi, I’m Cassie, your counselor. Glad to meet you,” she smiled up at my brother, her back towards me. “Will you be visiting your little sister on Visiting Day?”
“Nah,” my brother shrugged his shoulders. “Can’t make it.” Turning to me, Stan gave me an affectionate little shove, kissed me on the cheek and waved good-bye.
A steady stream of kids jumped out of cars, some crying and clinging desperately to their mommies, some running towards last year’s friends, jumping up and down with joy. After the chaos, brave and patient counselors organized their groups and walked their broods off and behind the chained barrier. Cassie led me and my three bunkmates in a straight line, the four of us obediently bounding after like chicks following the mother duck.
‘Oh, n-o-o! Is this where I’m supposed to spend the next two months of my life?’ I shuddered. My castle (as my father termed it), stood on mossy ground. A lopsided porch gained entry up two creaking steps to the door. No, no door . . . just an opened doorway covered with a mesh screen riddled with holes big enough to accommodate a wayward bird. Carefully avoiding the broken plank on the second step, I walked into my new abode. The smell of mildew, dirty socks, potato chips, clung to log walls like sticky glue. Yellow curlicues hung down from the rafters, serving as burial grounds for poor deceased flies, mosquitoes and little buggies I couldn’t identify or ever wanted to!
Lined up in front of each narrow cot, our combat green, army surplus trunks were ready for unpacking. Identifying the name tag dangling from the leather strap of the trunk, I dragged it along the splintery wooded floor towards my assigned cubbie. As I stuffed my undies, tee shirts and jeans into the impossibly narrow shelves, I jumped as a loud crackling b-e-e-p made me drop a pair of socks. A disencumbered voice loudly announced a mandatory meeting in the Rec Room would be taking place at exactly 2 o'clock. “Okay, girls, let’s get moving,” Cassie waved her arms signaling towards the doorway.
Standing at the front of the double, red barn door, a lanky boy pointed and directed campers to grab a chair from the stack leaning against the wall. I dragged my chair, faced the front and waited for the show to begin. It was a huge space, a converted barn, I realized. I could almost inhale the scents and remnants of hay stacks and manure. I wondered if this Rec Room still hosted a home for bats and big-eyed owls. I swatted at tiny gnats and flies buzzing around my head. ‘Can this get any worse? What next? A black widow spider dropping into my lap?’ I wiggled in my seat shaking off the chill of grossness.
“Welcome, campers,” a Brooklyn accented voice boomed from the stage in front. “I am Mel Moscowitz and I’m so happy to see all of your smiling faces.” Brimming over with excitement, Mel began espousing the virtues of the new waterfront, the expanded Arts and Crafts program and, best of all, the climax of summer . . . COLOR WAR!
Yawning, I glanced around the room trying to locate all the happy faces Mel was referring to. Yup, some looked happy, I suppose. Some looked befuddled, just as I felt. WHOA! My gaze stopped and transfixed as it fell in HIM. ‘Oh, my gosh, Paul Newman has no reason to be here, but maybe his son? He’s an Adonis. He’s a sex-mobile. He’s gorgeous!' My heart kept skipping.
Mel droned on. “So now, guys, let’s get acquainted. I’d like each of you to stand up, tell us your name and a little tidbit about yourself.”
I waited with bated breath until it was Adonis’ turn to stand up. “Hi. My name’s Barry Chase and I’m really happy to be back at Camp Lex. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you on the rifle range where I can teach you to shoot straight. See you all there.”
‘Oh my God! Barry. Is this fate or what? That’s the name of the boy my parents told me is their friends’ son. KISMET. There is no other explanation. This is just meant to be.’
I fidgeted in my chair waiting for the other introductions to wrap up. I was chomping at the bit (being in a barn, after all). I saw myself marching up to Barry, telling him about our ‘connection’. I could imagine his smile as his eyes lit up and he took my hand in his. We would chat. He would step a little closer. He would tell me he wanted to get to know me better as he led me out of the double red barn doors, announcing to the Lexington world that we were going to be a couple.
Barry had his back to me when I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, a bewildered expression on his handsome face. “Hi,” he said. “Do I know you from last summer?”
“No,” I shook my head as I tossed my hair sexily aside. “But we do have people in common,” I sputtered, despite my attempt at provocative. “Your mother and my mother are both friends of Marion and Ed Polan.”
“Well, that’s nice,” he answered. He didn’t smile . . . he looked bored, his body half way turned towards the barn doors. “See you on the rifle range,” his voice trailed off as he made his way towards the lanky boy standing at the doorway.
My hands fell down to my sides. I walked alone through the double red barn doors. ‘Just a little pebble in the road,’ I promised myself. Naive, fueled with youthful confidence, I chased Barry all summer until he finally caught me. Kismet, I suppose.
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