Learning about the “F” word from another camper was empowering, even if I didn’t believe what it meant. Now I was armed with a really bad word that I could, if I chose, toss around in front of the other eight-year-olds, or shock my older sister, who, I told my cabinmates, could be such a bitch.
She qualified as an Older Camper and lived in a more desirable cabin, in the sunbelt of the camp away from the freezing lakeshore. I was permitted to visit her occasionally. I liked to watch the Older Girls reading on their beds, writing letters, or playing simple games like Chutes and Ladders or poker at $1 a chip. They read sophisticated periodicals like Photoplay, a movie magazine that featured stud-muffins like Rock Hudson and Charles Laughton.
Although my reading level was more Little Lulu, I liked to borrow copies of Older Girls’ popular comic books like “Archie,” “Jughead,” “Betty and Veronica,” “Archie, Betty and Jughead,” “Betty, Veronica, Archie and Reggie,” “Mrs. Grundy, Archie, Veronica, Reggie and Betty,” and “Jughead, Mrs. Grundy, Reggie, Archie, Betty and Mr. Weatherbee.”
Confession magazines abounded including “My True Story,” “True Confessions” and “Modern Romance.” For the young teenage girls in a single-sex camp, the confession magazines were hot property, delivering suggestive stories in a tense, breathless narrative. Typical stories concerned such shockers as an unwed but pregnant teenager’s liaison with a married man, a cheating husband’s tryst with a pregnant teenager, or a woman’s torrid affair with a parakeet.
Other than two college age kitchen helpers, the only males I saw at camp were the Camp Director and, if a nurse wasn’t in residence, the Camp Physician. The beloved Camp Director believed firmly in fresh air, exercise, outdoor sports and a good cigarette. He always wore a white t-shirt and white pants. When he walked outside on a chilly moonless night, encased in cigarette smoke, he resembled a ghost. This worked well with the youngest campers, already stuffed deep in their sleeping bags, listening nightly for sounds of thrashing water from the Devil’s Lake Sea-Creature.
Meanwhile, I scrupulously avoided the other adult male, the Camp Physician who inhabited the infirmary. I feared that he, like my pediatrician, would glance at me, then immediately rifle through a drawer and miraculously produce a prepared hypodermic needle, personalized for me, to meet his daily quota of shots, given for any conceivable malady including dandruff, malaria and black plague.
. Initially all campers were required to drop off all their medications at the infirmary. In an act of bravery, defiance, and avoidance, I hung onto my allergy pills and buried them in my suitcase. I worried what would happen if I got caught.
We’re sorry, m’am, we had to expel your daughter because we found a bottle of Chlortrimeton allergy pills in her suitcase. Who knows what would have happened if another camper had taken one of her allergy pills. What if they had an allergic reaction?
If a kid was really ill, she was— (said in a hushed voice)— “in the infirmary,” the camp black hole where they disappeared for the rest of the session. A few remained, never claimed by their parents.
Despite the medicinal smells, the camp infirmary was, to insiders, the best place, the warmest place to sleep at camp. My unheated, windowless wooden cabin built in the 1920s, with wooden shutters lowered at night to allow the internal temperature to raise one degree, guaranteed I always had a cold. Ironically, when the Asian Flu (aka Asian Flu) pandemic hit camp two years later, I was one of two campers not to get it. I was pressed into service delivering trays of food to all the other bed-ridden campers. The National Health Institute has been looking for me for years to determine why I did not get that flu, and to see if I could be pressed into service delivering trays to victims of swine flu (aka H1N1-WD40).
Years later, when I served as Camp Program Director, I finally had the clout to sleep in the infirmary. That year my original assigned room lacked heat (surprise!) and was traditionally used as the Counselors’ Smoking Lounge. The U.S. Surgeon General hadn’t yet declared that smoking caused ringworm and worse, so nobody was too worried. I never smoked, but when, living in an ever-present blue-gray haze, I began to sound like Harvey Fierstein, I knew it was time to change lodgings.
With the young resident doctor’s permission, I moved into the delightfully toasty and surprisingly empty infirmary. After my first week’s residence in the infirmary, the young doctor offered to give me a cervical (as in neck) massage while I was stretched out in my sleeping bag, When the altruistically motivated doctor, who was engaged to be married in a month, began to include an unscheduled physical exam of me, I bolted upright and glared at him.
“Doctor,” I snapped, “You have your wires crossed!”
“Well,” he said smoothly, before gliding out of the room, “you have your legs crossed!”
Ultimately I was relieved to find out he became a psychiatrist in Oregon, so he could mess with peoples’ heads rather than their torsos.
[To be continued…..]