Camp is just unchangeable enough that I have, on several occasions, woken up in the morning and had to think hard before remembering how old I am. The four-inch high inscription “SARAH VAN BOVEN 1987 SILVER BIRCHES!” on the rafter directly above my head doesn’t help one bit. Inking “SVB Summer of Regression ‘99” could be useful for space-time orientation, but I plumb forgot to bring thick, green Sharpie markers to camp this year.
For the most part, this constancy is lovely. Yesterday, for example, a Scotch Pine camper named Spring sat next to me in the white van while I drove a team of archers to a tournament at a boys’ camp down by Lake Winnepesauke. One of the few girls old enough to remember me from the early ‘90s, she was eager to prove it. Spring told the entire van a long story about the night I orchestrated a prank for despondent Juniors to play on the lucky Seniors who had gone off to a dance: dozens of pounds of confetti secreted in their belongings–shoes, trunks, riding helmets, soap dishes, you name it. (The Seniors were coming across stray bits of confetti for years quite literally. It was well worth the reprimand I received from the camp’s director.) I decided to risk publicly reminding a 15-year-old just how sweet she was when she was an Elf and pointed out that I still remember what she said while helping me sweep out the Arts and Crafts room just before the Seniors arrived back in camp: “Sarah, this was the best night of my life!” Unaware that I was steeling myself for eye-rolling and the one phrase all counselors hate most (“Whatever …”), Spring just swiveled in the captain’s chair of the GMC and thought for a few moments. “Well,” she said,” It was really fun.”
If there is anything better than knowing you were never forgotten, I’m having a hard time thinking of what it might be just now. Campers have shyly informed me that back when they were little they thought I was very strict, but still “nice,” because I would play long, sweaty games of Kick the Can with the Juniors every night after dinner. A young counselor named Stephanie told me she read her girls S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders this summer because I read it to her many years ago. She is one of several Pixies from my cabin in 1993 who have apparently subscribed to Newsweek ever since; their tales of running up and down the halls of school or home waving one of my articles yelling, “Sarah wrote this! I know the lady who wrote this!” astound me. They remembered me after I was gone.
I can say with confidence that the Manhattan neighbors I never met haven’t noticed I left. My cat has bonded nicely with her new guardian; she stopped mewing plaintively weeks ago, probably a few weeks earlier than I would have liked. And my office surely has a new occupant by now, someone who never spills coffee on the computer keyboard and knows me only as a scratched name plate. Camp remembers. Camp remembers the summer I almost shot a local dirt-biker when he came roaring over the hill behind the riflery range and the ill-fated Dining Room Rules chart I made in 1991, even if my name isn’t attached to either incident. I remember stories about silly, brave campers long since lost to the world of school and work and traffic and husbands, and I tell them to girls who know them only as names written on cabin walls. I hope that I taught a few campers a few things this summer, that my jokes were funny and that my games of Kick the Can helped a few lonely Gnomes forget to be homesick for an hour or two. Because I feel awfully lucky to be known by a whole new generation of witty, noisy little girls–girls who know so much more than I did at their age, when I was sleeping on the same bunks they are sleeping on now. Songs and socials and Color Wars may be silly, but collective memory is precious.