Memoirs of an Ex-Camper
When I was nine years old, I went to a sleep away camp for the first time. It was part of a program called the Fresh Air Fund; a lot of my mother’s friends had sent their kids to the camp so, of course, my mother decided to do it too. I remember being nervous and excited waiting with the other kids at the George Washington Bridge bus terminal. I had made friends before I even boarded the bus. I went to the Fresh Air Fund for a total of three times, the first time going to Hidden Valley, the second time in Friendly Town, and the last in Camp ABC (I had always thought the “ABC” part was meant to be educational for us, but I recently found out that it stands for Anita Bliss Coler). Each time I learned a lot of things and gained some great experiences.
I loved the first time I went. There were two pools: one was only open to the kids who knew how to swim; the other was a smaller pool for non-swimmers. Not knowing how to swim, I was always stuck in the smaller pool, and if I went to that same camp today I would most likely be forced to stay in the small pool again.
I remember the nature walks we had, and how we went to a small cabin-like building. There was a bunch of dead insects stored in some wooden boxes with glass windows. I was so excited to see a deer on one of our nature walks. It was so majestic the way it stood there staring at us, and then slowly walking away.
I remember signing up for the games activity, assuming it would include board games and things like that. I was annoyed when we ended up at a big grass field and we had to play sports. At first I hated the fact that I had to run and catch and be in the hot sun, but after a while I forgot all that and enjoyed myself. It was during one of the baseball breaks that I learned how to braid dandelions together from one of the counselors. I also learned from the same counselor that the dents in the backs of my shoulders were dimples. I was shocked at this new discovery of myself, let alone the discovery of the fact that you could have dimples in other places other than your cheeks.
Now that I look back, I remember my counselors with a fondness. There were three of them supervising the six of us in the cabin, and they were always so nice. They were like big sisters to us. I remember when one of them had put a French braid in my hair. It seems silly, but at nine years old, having a French braid in my hair made me feel pretty.
I also remember arts and crafts, and creative writing. In one of the activities in creative writing, we took our favorite things (animals, colors, places and more), and wrote a story that involved all of them. The activity was different and at that time and age, who would’ve thought that writing could’ve been so much fun? I really liked the arts and crafts activity we did. I have always loved art in one way or another, and it wasn’t that much different when I was nine. I had never worked with wax and we used blocks of wax to carve in our favorite pictures and words. The one I made had a heart carved with the word I at the top and mom at the bottom: “I heart Mom”. I remember when boarding the coach bus to go back to New City, and later home, I was upset that I lost my wax carving.
When I think of the Fresh Air Fund I just think it was one of the greatest parts of my childhood and a great part of my growing up. I have a lot of great memories of those days. I still have the black and white photo I took of a dandelion surrounded by geese that were at least one-third my size (this was while I was in Camp ABC). Every time I take a trip out of the city by car, smelling the trees and the fresh air brings back memories of the wonderful times I had.#
Justine Rivera is a student at the American Sign Language School in NYC and an intern at Education Update.