Summer. We are almost at the halfway point here. Hard to believe. What have I done with my summer? Not much this year. I am still reeling from the move and having one kid graduate and another get her drivers permit. What will I do with the rest of my summer? When you don’t know where else to go, stay put and reflect a bit.
Some summers have been spent studying for my degrees. Some at the public pool. Some at the beach. One summer I read well over 20 books while the kids played in the backyard. We gardened a few summers and enjoyed the veggies of our labor. We have had too much sun. We have had too much rain. The kids are usually bored and bothersome. Except during their week of summer camp.
I remember summer camp. I loved it! We camped as a family when I was very young. Later, I was privileged to get to accompany my grandparents when they went camping. And starting in about 5th grade, I was able to go to church camp for a week every summer. When my children had the opportunity, I saw to it that they each had that experience. It only took one visit for all three to become excited every summer for their own week of independence and adventure.
Two years ago, it was hard when my oldest son was not as interested in summer camp as working to earn money for a car. I worry, as every parent does, that he will look beyond the material things and hold a part of the spirituality that summer camps of yesteryear have taught him. I hope that he makes time in his life for the outdoors and time away from technology. Time to heal and be quiet and listen to himself.
This was my youngest son’s first time at camp. I was worried and nervous. It was a three-day camp for first timers, instead of a full week. Every year, on the ride home from dropping off one of his siblings, I had to endure the endless onslaught of questioning. “When can I go to camp? “When will sissy be home? How old do I have to be to go?…” Had my other two children not been veterans to that camp, I don’t know if I could have left him! In the end, it was my daughter who hugged him over and over again, and cried as we pulled away.
Today is sissy’s turn, again. We tried counting on the way out. We think she has been coming to this camp for 8 years.
Over and over again, I have made the 50+ mile drive to camp. On the way, we stop for a “last supper” and I make sure they have enough to eat. We gather around a table and talk for a while before getting back on the road. A celebration of sorts and a promise that we are here for each other – or at least in my mind that is what the tradition holds. I’m sure the kids just see a rare meal out from their cheap old mom. I know that the week will be full of friends and laughter, reflection and opportunity to do things we may not get to do as a family. The ride to camp is always filled with laugher and discussion and anticipation.
One year, my two oldest attended camp the same week! That was very convenient for me! Another year, we mistakenly scheduled back-to-back weeks of camp. Good idea, except drop-off is Sunday, and pick-up is Saturday. I was not making the drive back and forth two days in a row, so we found a hotel and stayed the night in the town next to camp.
Occasionally, but rarely, do I have a passenger with me on my way home. Or, at least one that was over the age of 5 and not asleep 10 minutes into the ride. Once I run through a list of my worries and possible necessities that I prayed my little camper hasn’t forgotten, it has become my annual time for reflection.
The kids attend a camp that practically borders the Flight 93 Memorial. (I attended summer camps in my childhood just a few hills away in Jennerstown, PA.) It is a solemn place, yet one that is peaceful for my soul. I remember in the year after the tragedy, visiting the site while there was nothing but a few benches and a chain-link fence filled with mementos and prayers. In front of the benches were wooden angels, each bearing the names of the souls on board. On a windy day, we sat staring at a cross-shaped hole in the ground in silence with visitors from all over the country. It was humbling. It would forever hold a place in my heart. (My kids did not attend camp there for a couple more years. Once I realized how close it was, I had made it a point to stop each year the first few times, but found it extremely emotional and eventually, I chose not to stop. I have not been there since the new memorial was erected.)
The roads which lead to and from camp are desolate and surrounded by the forest that rests atop the Allegheny Mountains. The views are breath-taking and there are very few stores or gas stations. Just green trees and the windmills and the occasional “fresh honey” or “fresh maple syrup” sign. Where I am sure that in previous years the great attraction for this small village would be the great “car graveyard” of the local wreckers. Shining cars sit in rows upon rows extending for acres, it is actually quite impressive. My mind wanders to the events of September 11, 2001, and the cross-shaped hole. I say a prayer.
I think about the ride to camp, just an hour or two old, and how it was marked this year by the fact that my daughter was permitted to drive the second half of the journey. Please time, be gentle on my soul.
Words cannot describe the meditative qualities this drive holds for me. I take in the view and my mind wanders. Each year I think about the path my life has taken since the last summer. I have reflected and grieved. Each drop-off leaves a void in me. The wound of their absence seeps quietly from my eyes. I remember releasing the pain of my failed marriage on a lonely ride home several years ago. The fear and uncertainty and the gratefulness for this time away for the kids. I pray for my loved ones. I wish for the future. It is something about this place This is the place I long to be. Sitting on a porch, drinking coffee and looking out over these hills. Solitude. This is the place I would like to live out my days.
In a short while, I find myself back in Johnstown, and my focus returns to the bumpy, curvy roads and light traffic that has appeared. In a few short miles, I will be home. In a few short weeks, summer will be over. In a few short years, I will not need to drive to this place.
I drown out the sound of my own thoughts with the radio and watch the road ahead of me, and look forward to the end of the week when I get to return to summer camp.