Reading the title of this blog will no doubt take each of you to different places in your mind, conjuring up different images of where I may be leading you. And perhaps where I am taking you is not even to an image or experience that we share. I hope, though, that its implicit meaning will still resonate with you.
What’s in a name has a very special meaning for me these days. You see, I recently sewed name labels onto my grandson’s camp clothing and, in so doing, I not only became nostalgic but came to the rude awakening that a third generation of campers, and mothers of campers was perpetuating itself. Time was passing! Time is passing … and with it comes all the joys and fears and anticipation of what’s yet to come.
For now, though, I’m taken back to my family’s 4 rooms in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where my mother – when I was 12 and going to sleep-away camp for the first time – sat at our kitchen table, licking the tips of endless threads of white sewing cotton, placing each through what appeared to be a very tiny eye of a needle, but gracefully, gently and in what seemed as though she was doing so at the speed of lightening time, she sewed on one label and then another until all my clothes and other belongings had my name sewn on, identifying each as belonging to me and me alone.
I did the same for each of my daughters when they left for summer camps, but as I’m doing so now, it’s different. It’s a marking of time! This time it’s a grandson who’s about to experience the wonders and excitement of being away from home for the first time – hopefully without too many fears experienced by him or by his parents – as he’s with campers and counselors and no parents to console or cajole him.
On the one hand, a part of me can’t believe he’s old enough to be going away from home, if only for a month. It seems but a moment ago that we rushed to the hospital the day he was born and experienced the inexplicable joy that grandparents around the world experience. The joy of wonder and excitement and, yes, almost disbelief because it reminds us that yet another generation is here and we are, indeed, becoming the elders.
And, so, as the ritual of sewing on labels continues, I’m now helping to do so on my daughter’s kitchen table. With each pair of socks, swim suits, polos, shorts, sweat shirts, bed linens, and towels … an ancient memory, a moment in time surfaces: I’m tucking in the corners of the sheets of my bunk bed, row boating on the camp’s lake, swimming when the heat of the day became oppressive, getting my hands delightfully covered in clay or paint doing arts and crafts, playing volley ball, talking with a counselor about a girl who had hurt the feelings of one of my friends … so many memories floating to the surface through the eye of my needle … memories of being in a paradise of sorts. An entirely new world without parents telling me what to eat and what not to eat, and having the freedom to write home whenever I felt in the mood to do so … as well as looking forward to receiving letters from family and friends.
One or another of us campers became homesick at times, but, fortunately, it never lasted. We’d be interrupted with yet another activity and, in the end, it was – for me, at least – a fantasy time, a taste of a new reality in which my only job was to have fun.
So, during these days of sewing camp labels and seeing my grandson’s name in print hundreds of times … with each label, I offer another hug, a silent prayer and wish for him to have a wonderful experience in this new, next chapter of his life.
If my needle with its white thread could speak, it would be saying: HERE’S TO ERIC AND TO ALL FIRST-TIME CAMPERS IN THIS SUMMER OF 2010!
And to all children who are lucky enough to go to sleep-away camps – private ones as well as those sponsored by organizations and philanthropists for those whose families (such as mine was) who can’t afford to offer their children a camping experience – I extend heart-felt wishes for a wonderful summer. I hope it’s one free of the rigors of the classroom and chaos of the world around us; free from the competitiveness of fighting for a parent’s attention or wanting a play date with a friend who has already planned to have one with somebody else.
I hope the summer allows all children the pleasure of feeling independent, enjoying the warm and sometimes rainy days of July and August … and for those who go away to camp, I hope they return home with fond memories, funny stories and feeling eager to return again once school ends next year!
For adults who remember summers of camping, I wonder how many of us would wish to re-live them – well, at least, some of them – grateful to our parents for having the courage to let us go and to ourselves for being brave enough to want to go.
With warm summer regards to everyone – not least of whom to parents, grandparents, and, of course, to children every where.