By John Toth The Bulletin
When I spent my summers working in a live-away camp in New Hampshire, I had a lot of time on my hands after my work was done.
One night, my friends and I sat around a campfire on the beach of Lake Ossipee, looking decades into the future and guessing where we’d be, what we’d be doing.
“I may be retired in 50 years,” I carried on the conversation. “I’ll be 67.” That seemed so far away at the time. My whole life was still ahead of me. I had yet to graduate high school and then college.
“What do you think you’ll be doing,” asked Ben, who was a dining room waiter. I was the head waiter, which meant that I got paid a little more than him, but I also was responsible for the entire dining room. Ben just had to take out the food and bring back the dirty dishes to the kitchen.
I replied that I’ll probably be writing - something. I didn’t know exactly what or where. Our future is largely determined by opportunities. I hadn’t embarked on that part of my life yet. Ben didn’t know what he’d be doing, but he knew that he was not going to be a doctor. His dad was one, and Ben rarely saw him. That may explain his daring attitude. He led the way most of the time, sometimes to trouble. But we handled it. Ben handled it better.
We often caught a ride to the Pizza Barn, where on busy nights we got away with ordering a pitcher of beer without showing any ID. That was, until one night, Andy, our friend who was a year younger, ordered a pitcher of Michelob and mispronounced the beer brand so badly that the rest of us burst out laughing.
We got carded that night, and all of us wound up drinking Coke. It took a while for Andy to live that one down. I think the Pizza Barn burned down the next year.
I have not kept up with any of my friends from back then. It was harder to do that without all the apps and gadgets we have now. I don’t know what happened to them, but I’m guessing that Ben did not become a doctor, and Andy did not pursue being a linguist.
I did become a writer.
I sometimes think back to those days and realize how good we had it. We received housing and meals for two or three months and earned a paycheck while escaping the real world. On many mornings, I had no idea what day it was and didn’t really care.
It was a perfect way to get away from everything, except for the job I had to do each day, which was not really hard. We also were part of a ready-made social environment that didn’t leave us a lot of time to be bored.
There was always something going on, something to do. Sometimes, we showed up early in the dining room just to get away from it all for a brief period, before the kids and counselors started piling in. It was our shelter from the storm in a way, when we needed or wanted it.
These were not perfect summers, but they were pretty close. And, the passing decades have made the memories even sweeter. We had it all during those summers, and all we had to do was make sure that the food got out on time and that everybody was satisfied - except when Karl, the head chef, burned the soup.
Today, I escape the real world by spending time at the hideaway, where this column was written, or cruising. It’s not a total escape, but enough to recharge the batteries and start the old engine again, fresh and relaxed.
Cruising is probably a more total escape because it resembles camp life. I don’t care what day it is, only about what we’ll do next, where we eat, and what shows we’ll watch in the ship’s theater. In camp, we had trip days each Tuesday. On the cruise, we call those excursions. To me, the cruise is the main event. The excursions are just extra.
Escaping for a while on a cruise or the hideaway takes me back at times to those carefree summer days when our biggest worry was how to get a ride to our destination and back to camp.
We hitchhiked with no worries. Once we were picked up by a family with two kids and crowded into their station wagon. Nice family - we got dropped off right in front of the camp, just in time for the dinner shift. That was a close call.
Another time, we got a ride from two college girls in a VW bus. The engine made such noise that we never got a chance to talk to them. Then a guy picked us up who wanted to show us what a good driver he was. I was holding on to dear life the whole time.
Ben and Andy, I hope you guys have had a good post-camp life and are enjoying your retirements, if you are, in fact, retired.
I have no intentions of retiring. See, I predicted it right 50 years ago. What I do is write - for my own paper. I’m about to complete 29 years of publishing. It’s not a job. It’s my life.
(Do you have a similar experience about your summer or other events growing up? Send them email@example.com, and let me share it with our readers.)