We returned this afternoon from a week of family camp. The camp we chose was Camp Tuolumne, sponsored by the city of Berkeley, nestled in the Sierras near Yosemite.
For those new to the idea of family camp, it's a fairly brilliant concept. You send the kids to camp but then you go, too. We stayed in a very rustic tent cabin, ate en masse in the dining hall, made friendship bracelets, tie-dyed whatever was handy, swam in the river, sat by the campfire, and, most importantly, sang. Some perennial Tuolomne Camp favorites, sang daily, sometimes hourly, include "Please Check the Seat-Chart Before You Come Inside", "Tuolomne Ranger", "Farewell, Jolly Campers", and, for almost any reason (a birthday, a child earning Tuolomne Ranger status) "Round the Hall You Must Go" in which the celebrated camper marches around the dining hall as all the other campers stand on their benches and clap in unison. It sounds, well, campy, but once in the spirit of it, and lead by a young and simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and quite-sincere, certainly boisterous staff, it was awfully fun.
Camp Tuolumne celebrates its eightieth year this summer. Since the beginning of the Great Depression (as opposed to our current Pretty Good Depression), generations of long-haired, erudite, sock-and-sandal-wearing Berkeleyites have been singing those same songs, eating at those same tables, lounging in those same battered green Adirondack chairs.
We're not from Berkeley, of course, but we might as well be. Marin is the more attractive, less militant sister to Berkeley. The prettier, younger, less interesting one. While our camp-mates were a little hairier, a little less fashionable, a little better-read, perhaps, we're all part of the same family.
We went to camp with our friends, the aforementioned Ben and Elizabeth, and their two boys, Axel, who is three and well on his way towards becoming Mihiretu's first real American friend, someone he plays with instead of just beside and of course, Hugo, who is married to Lana. This, if you remember, was to be their honeymoon.
The camp was divided into three generational strata. The children, of course, then the college-age staff members and finally, us, the parents, the (relative) old folk. The interplay within these groups and then between them was fascinating. The elders were watching each other, privately comparing parenting styles, maybe, just possibly, making a judgement or two. The kids were also eyeing each other, wondering if that girl over there could maybe be my friend? I hear she's six, too. And then the youth. I could have spent all day watching the quiet flirtations (they were employees, after all, they couldn't be enjoying themselves too obviously), the rough, loud friendships developing between the boys, the whispering alliances between the girls.
I spent the first day or two catching myself humming "Mrs. Robinson". I think the fact of my recent fortieth birthday finally hit home as I watched these young men, these boys, who I swear were my peers just a minute ago. I'd find myself thinking, oh, he's cute, I wonder what his major is? And then think, oh my god, he was born in 1990. 1990, of course, being the very same year I seemed to think I was in, at least momentarily. I wasn't looking for action, don't get me wrong, but observing people and observing my own reactions to them is probably my favorite sport. Thank god I never became the famous movie star I thought I wanted to be. I would have never have been able to watch as I do.
In our last twenty-four hours, an epidemic swept camp. A virus. A shitty, pukey virus. People were upchucking everywhere. On the Adirondacks, on Beaverhead Rock in the center of the swimming hole, in tents, out of tents. I woke in the middle of the night to an aria of retching. Ben had left a few days earlier to return to work so I lay wide-eyed on my cot, terrified that we'd be swamped with body fluids before I could get the kids down the mountain and home. Mostly I feared getting the thing myself, not because I'm afraid of barfing but because if I'm down for the count, who's watching the kids? Mae's extremely competent but I pretty sure she couldn't drive us home.
We Caprons emerged from our tent this morning still comparatively well. Lana complained of a stomach ache, Mihiretu was a hysterical mess and Mae confessed to diarrhea but all in all, no fireworks to speak of. I got a report from Elizabeth that Ben (hers, not mine) and Hugo had been part of the vomit chorus the night before. She looked pale herself. We scooted ourselves, our ailing families and our piles of stuff out of camp as fast as possible. The dining-hall staff insisted on singing us "Farewell, Jolly Campers" at breakfast, which we endured. But as the song was still fading from the rafters, we requested barf-bags for the road.
Mae did throw up on the ride home but Mae is a thrower-upper and prone to carsickness so it wasn't surprising. Since it was an isolated incident, I dismissed it. I picked up groceries before we got home. I unpacked the car and then as many bags as I could as the day wore on, convinced that the plague would hit at any moment. It was the equivalent of battening down the hatches before a storm.
The kids are asleep. Mae went to bed with a bowl. She said she felt nauseous. She rarely cries wolf on that one. It might be a long night. But, for now, we're home, we're clean of the dust of camp and, all in all, we had a good time. Happy campers.