Like most remarkable families, they are not famous. And they don’t look at each other and think, “gee, we are remarkable”. It goes without saying that they don’t have a reality TV show.
A man, a woman and their four daughters. Not the Brady Bunch. Not hair of gold (like Carol Brady) and their skin was so white that a flash light could give them a sunburn.
I met them at Camp Wingate for Girls. Not all at once. First the eldest and then the third child. A year later, the youngest. A year or so later, the second child.
1971. The eldest was someone whom people respected and she was engaged to a counselor at the boy’s camp. I looked up to her and knew her every move, because she had an air about her. I don’t think we ever spoke. The third sister was an oldest camper and the oldest campers were too cool for words. And I remember that her freckles increased with every beach day. The weird things you remember 40-odd years later.
Our parents were connected through my aunt and uncle. The men had survived the war that America won — good triumphed over evil. Their father lost his leg and my uncle lost some of his soul. But they soldiered on and their wives healed their wounds because they were our greatest generation and that what just what they did.
For the parents, camp visiting days meant seeing your kids during the day and gathering with the other adults for dinner to eat all of the seafood (tower of treyf) that could fill a stomach. Being in the hell of war, and healing those wounds at home, entitled these couples to a few non-kosher meals. At least that.
The youngest came to camp in 1973(?). She wore tragic danskin top-and-short sets and really pointy keds. Mom sent me with pointy keds as a second pair of sneakers and I hid them under my bed. So, I felt for her. Her legs had mosquito bites all over them.
And then there was the second born. The photography counselor. As crazy as this is, she seemed not of this world, and yet the world was too much with her. I remember that she spoke softly and people listened. I admired her ability to command that type of attention.
After ten summers at Camp Wingate, the friends you made were for a lifetime, no matter the decades in between communication. And, even more, these four girls and their parents were family, indirectly, through my aunt and uncle. But the fourth child — the one with mosquito bites and tragic danskin outfits — she was my friend.
When the second child died, I knew that bubble of Camp Wingate had burst in some way. I wrote a letter to the camp director that — however irrational it was — I believed that a cloak of immortality protected us and that belief was shattered. I mourned the loss of a life and the loss of our collective Linus blanket. The camp director never wrote back. What would she say?
The eldest married. The second was gone. The third went her way. And the fourth, dyed part of her hair purple and was a roadie for a rock band.
More time passed. We aged. Our parents aged. Some of our parents died. Some of life’s waves buoyed us, while others beached us with a mouth full of sand. Life’s trajectory was no straight line for any of us.
And, yes, I have to thank Facebook for reconnecting with the youngest. Although I saw her mom at family gatherings, I didn’t have a way of connecting in a way that wasn’t so stilted until Facebook came along.
POB and I decided to have a wedding even before Marriage Equality passed in New York State. I had mellowed in my rather doctrinaire ways that it had to be legal or I wasn’t doing it. I thought about the people whom I would want at that ceremony and so many had died already. Did it really matter more that the Bible Belt accepted it or that Dad and Aunt Betty and Uncle Larry and Aunt Roz were there to celebrate? And if Aunt Betty, then her best friend of 65 years, Phyllis, must come. And, if Phyllis, then my friend of 41 years, Janet2 must come. Because they are part of us. Even the daughters I am just getting to know and the daughter whose pain will forever be unknowable.
At the wedding, I couldn’t stop hugging Janet2. I needed to make up for the decades lost. I still may have to visit her just to hug the stuffing out of her, such as is left after her latest health craze (P.S.: Kale is really hard to digest.)
Generations of family who are friends. A remarkably resilient family and resilient lifelong friendships that don’t need to be watered or fed on a daily basis. Because love runs deep in the earth that sustains us.
(P.S.: To the eldest: If your kids need anything in the City (or just need a home-cooked meal), they should just come to our doorstep. We are family.)