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  • After my father died, the Church took an interest in our welfare. Every other Monday night about 7 pm, two men in suits came to the house, passed Mama an envelope with $20 in it, looked us over, and went on their way. I was 7 when this started.

    They brought us work as well. A single man had no one to iron his clothes, so he dropped off his laundry and we pressed it. I got paid to do the handkerchieves. $.05 per. I also did the towels for the same big nickel. At any rate it was money I took to camp to spend in the canteen for candy and arts and crafts.

    Camp Cedar Crest in Green Harbor, Marshfield, was a Catholic camp. I went for a reduced rate, the money given us by those men in suits. It was a big deal for me. Freedom from my mother and the city and a chance to go to the ocean. I could comb my hair the way I wanted and there was white bread and butter on the table at every lunch and dinner. Unbelievable. We took turns clearing the table and depositing the plate scrapings in the slop bucket for the pigs. I nearly puked when it was my turn, but I did my job.

    Camp life was a relief from a lot of things, but a challenge in many others. it was dark in the woods at night and ghost stories didn't help to relieve my fears, and I had a boatload of them. I was a tomboy growing up and camp meant archery, volleyball, races, swimming (or for me splashing in the surf), and making things with my hands - leather wallet and belt.

    Summer memories include making lanyards from gimp, making God's eyes from yarn and sticks and learning to hit the bull's eye on the archery field. I made friends that I saw year after year during my time as a poor little Catholic kid getting charity from the men in suits and have fond memories of even the mosquito bites and the terrors of running through the woods back to our cabins from evening movies and events in the recreation hall.

    My kids never wanted to go to camp, which is okay. I'm glad they didn't want or need to escape home for those weeks I like I cherished. I learned a lot from my childhood summers, including paying attention to the kinds of things kids like during the summer and tried to achieve that balance between chores and free-time, reading and watching mindless TV, going to the movies and for ice cream, and sleeping in a giant pile of sleeping bags in the air conditioned living room when it got too hot in their bedrooms.

    My daughter seems to do the same with her boys. I don't know if that means the traditions are worth handing down, or if there is really not much more to raising kids in the summer but paying attention to the need for doing nothing and doing something fun and stimulating. I still haven't gotten that balance in my own life, but I keep trying. Right now I'm writing this, then watching Wimbledon, then going to see my grandsons for a rainy barbecue. A perfect summer day.
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