Today, I signed up SOB and me for a camp reunion in September, celebrating 55 years of Camp Wingate. SOB started in 1969. I, in 1971. And one summer in 1974, so did POB.
Camp Wingate. These two words that evoke sweet days of childhood and friends for a lifetime, and it is quite irrelevant whether or not we see each other for decades. Whether or not we were in the same bunk. Whether or not we even overlapped in years. As long as we know people in common, we share the extraordinary experience that is/was Camp Wingate.
I didn’t know it at the time. I thought our bedtime was horribly unfair, possibly in violation of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t get two toppings on our soft-serve at Dairy Queen (what is wrong with sprinkles on top of the cherry or chocolate dip?) Obviously, prison rations. Oh, and remember the year when there were too many counselors who offered navel-gazing as the evening activity, so that Pearl had to tell counselors to be at the volleyball court and the waterfront?
SOB and I have to stay at a hotel. Those bunks won’t do it for our decrepit bodies. I snore, so we will have to have different rooms at those scary drive-by motor lodges in West Yarmouth (SOB, are ya sure?). Worst comes to worst, we are sleeping on the floor of Pearl’s house, which we used to call the “Winter House” as distinct from where the family stayed during the summer months while camp was in session.
So, my best friend for those many years (other than POB who stayed for one year and captured my heart) may not come to the reunion. To entice her, I challenged her to a tennis match but using wood racquets. (Where does one find a Jack Kramer anymore?) Years ago, when our friendship was in trouble, we decided not to play the intra-camp tennis tournament. My best friend was sure to beat me soundly. The bunk was on my side but I didn’t want that type of division. The bunk was sensing my anger at feelings I couldn’t fathom and casting Pat in the role of the villain. And I knew that they were wrong to blame her. I had to deal with how my sense of friendship had morphed into romantic feelings and how afraid I was. I wasn’t kind to her during that summer, but I never wanted the bunk to pick sides. We opted never to play that final in the tournament and, in a testament to the principles of Wingate, Pearl told us she was proud of us because we put the embers of a friendship ahead of competition. For the record, I didn’t stand a chance against Pat. We all knew it. But I punished her in my own ways. Clearly she never deserved it. I have been a coward all these years because I have never said that I was sorry, that I didn’t understand it all until much later and that maybe she felt betrayed by me.
Will my friend do me the honor of playing a set of tennis and win, lose or draw? It is a little unfinished business. I do not care about the outcome. She will win (let’s be honest). But I want to face my friend and hug her tightly across the net at the end.
If not at Wingate, then at the court of her choosing. Or we can just meet, hug, cry and talk like I have needed to for over 30 years.