Camp, Under Construction. That's Dads Corvair on the left, Uncle Fred's Rambler Wagon that I took my driver's test on, Aunt Dorts Plymouth, and Aunt Pegs Rambler on the far right. You can see the lake in the background.
If I were writing a book, I’d do this differently. I’d probably just start at the beginning and end at the end.
The problem with that is that I can know the beginning, but no man knows the end. So I’ve chosen to go at this sideways so to speak.
I have something that sparks a memory, and suddenly, the next thing I know, I’m knee deep in words.
I suppose it’s better than being knee deep in something else, but that’s probably confusing to the reader.
For that, I apologize. Maybe someday, when I draw to a close, there will be enough time to organize them in order, and then it will make more sense.
The crazy part of this adventure is that each memory is so strong, that at that particular moment, you feel like it’s the single most important thing ever. Also, you can’t possibly type fast enough to get it all on paper so that you can sit back, and enjoy it until the next brainstorm hits.
There are, however, recurring themes that run through the stories, collectively, that become a common thread, and lead you, if you pull on it long enough, to yet another story.
This is about camp.
My Mothers family lived about 1 mile, in most directions, of where I grew up.
My Father’s family, now grown and moved onto their own lives, mostly lived in the Albany area.
Here’s the reality of that in the 1950’s.
Albany might just have well been on Mars.
It would require some type of specially equipped machine to get that far.
First off, the most pressing problem would have been to have a car with a big enough engine to get up Tongue Mountain.
The second feat of daring would have been praying that your brakes were good enough to come DOWN Tongue Mountain, or that you could keep the three speed on the column in low long enough to skitter down safely.
Beyond that, there were 100 miles of road ahead, and you had to be RICH to be able to afford a 200-mile trip.
It would require one or two stops to eat homemade sandwiches by the roadside, three stops to tinkle or at least run behind a tree, a stop or two to stretch your legs, and at least four swats with your fathers arm, in desperate answer to the unending question from the backseat, “Are we there yet?”
In other words, Albany wasn’t happening.
However, you could walk a mile or two.
That meant you could get to your cousin’s house by foot or by bike if you were lucky enough to have one, or they could come to yours.
I don’t know the exact year, but I’m betting Sonny knows, so when he reads this, maybe he can call and tell us, but the “Ps” decided to spend summers ON THE LAKE.
Well, if that wasn’t the best news since sliced bread.
Really? Summers on the WATER?
At First, the pilgrimage was to a rented little cabin just south of Baldwin Dock on Hearts Bay.
Baldwin Dock was where the steamboats landed.
I remember my Aunt Dort and my Mother hauling big bags of groceries out there with me tagging along begging for something to eat or something to drink or SOMETHING. ANYTHING!
The place was ok, but we were still too little to go swimming off Baldwin Dock.
The bigger kids went, but we weren’t allowed to go.
One of the neighbors across the street had their house built right on the water, and they even had a small beach.
We were allowed to go swimming there, but only with adult supervision.
Now when you’re just a little guy, this is just like saying yes you can have the toy, but you have to wait until Christmas. Look, anything at all that isn’t “right now” is just TOO far away.
Wait till Christmas. What are THEY thinking for crying out loud?
So we waited out on the porch, and about every 30 seconds, one of us would holler in, “Is it time yet?”
Those of you with children will understand the frustration of being pushed to the limits of your patience.
Just for the record, as a child, we are way more frustrated than all of that.
In fact, our level of frustration rises approximately equal to the number of seconds it’s been since the last time we asked. It is not a pretty thing.
So finally, we would get to the water and I’d just plow right in.
The girls, well they’d stand on the end and stick their toes in, and then declare, “It’s too cold.”
Have you ever been to a bullfight?
Well, they have this red flag, and they wave it at the bull, which tells the bull that the guy waving it is ready for the bull to trot over too and kick him where it hurts.
Girls say it’s too cold to swim. To boys already in the water, swimming, splashing and dragging the girls into the said cold water.
This is a universal signal that all small boys know. We are not taught from birth or anything, it’s just instinctive. I know you’ve done it, so don’t try to tell me you haven’t.
You’re a boy, you’ve done it.
In any event, there came a point, at which, Uncle Fred decided that he was going to buy some land on the lake, build a house, and have his own beach.
We boys thought this was a fine idea, let us know when the beach is available, we’ll just swim here until it is.
Winter came and went, and it was only good fortune that kept us busy ice skating, and in general, getting into one sort of trouble or another.
Had that not been the case, we probably would have just stayed home asking when the new beach was going to be ready to swim in.
I’m not sure if we got the connection between summer and swimming at that point, there was just swimming and not swimming.
By summer, land had been purchased, and construction was taking place.
Now I KNOW this had to be somewhere around about 1963 but I’m not exactly sure.
Sonny is the family historian, I just report on young boys and their toys.
The beach was there, and we were allowed to swim.
There wasn’t a dock or anything yet, but we ran out into the weeds and what we have always called muck.
Once we realized that it wasn’t quicksand, the fact that when you stood up, you sank into this much about 6 inches didn’t matter.
Sure you had to wash your feet when you came out of the water, but to a young fella, muck was a good thing.
In fact, when used correctly, muck could be a young boy’s friend.
Keep in mind, we were about 10 or so.
Girls were objects of our desire, we just had different desires.
Running up behind one with a handful of muck, and putting it on their heads, well, you usually have to go to the circus to have THAT kind of fun.
Everybody pitched in to help build camp. At first, it was just a small house on concrete stilts.
We didn’t care if it was on stilts, as long as there was food in there and kool-aid.
If you have food and kool-aid, you’re good to go.
Eventually, sand was brought in for the beach, and you could walk out 15 or 20 feet before you got to the muck. If you were careful, you could walk out to the edge of the sand, dive headfirst, and avoid the muck altogether.
After a while, getting muck between your toes wasn’t nearly as much fun as putting it on your sister’s head…
I remember the first time Cousin John said, “Let’s swim across the lake and back.”
I sat down on the beach because something of this magnitude required some thought, and anytime I have to make a serious decision, I sit down.
Standing up I can make decisions, but I’m more apt just to follow the group, so sitting down just seemed like the thing to do.
“I think we should ask my Mom,” I said.
“What for?” John asked.
Well, umm, umm, umm. I was trying to come up with an answer to that question when John said, “I’m going and dove into the water.”
Now here’s the deal.
If you leave me alone to think about this, I’m not going because, well, because I KNOW that we are going to get into SOME trouble. Trouble could be anything from getting grounded and not swimming for a week, too, umm, say drowning and never being able to swim again.
But if you’re just going to jump right in and challenge me, that right there is an entirely different set of issues.
Who cares if we drown, let’s do this thing.
So into the water, I went.
It sounds like a much bigger thing than it really is.
I say that now because I’ve done it 3000 times, but for a ten-year-old boy, swimming across the lake and back sure sounded like trying to swim to China, even though I had no idea where China was, if there was water there, or how I would swim to it.
In for a penny, in for a pound, and I matched John stroke for stroke as we made our way over to the Black Point side of the lake.
We got there, and I remember sitting on this rock, both of us, and he looked at me, and I looked at him. I said, “Let’s call Mom and have her come and get us.”
He thought that sounded like a good idea until both of us realized that we hadn’t told EITHER of our parents about this.
Frankly, we had a problem on our hands.
Risk certain death as tired as we both felt, or call for help and pay the price.
As we sat there thinking this thing through, we both arrived at the same decision at the same time.
We were going to die eventually, what’s the big deal?
If we call we KNOW we’ve got major problems, if we swim and we die????? No problems.
In the water, we went.
Breaststroke, backstroke, float, oh ya, we tried it all. And then, we saw it, and better yet, it saw us.
Some guy in a boat was just leaving the fuel dock at the marina, and he was headed right for us.
You need help there fellas?
John said “No.” I, however, was a thinking man.
Yes, can you drop us off over on Diane’s Rock?
Sure, get onboard.
For those of you who don’t know, there is a rock at the northern end of Lake George.
This is the “traditional” place where swimmers, who intend to swim the entire length of Lake George, all 32 miles of her, begin their swim.
It’s called Diane’s Rock after Diane Struble who was the first to accomplish the feat in 1958.
Now the REASON I wanted to go there was because if we got THERE, we could cross the shallows onto land, and walk the 500 yards comfortably or so to camp UNNOTICED.
That meant we could arrive back, hopefully not missed, and best of all, not be in trouble.
SOMEBODY should have realized right then that I was both a thinker AND a stinker.
I have bad news to report, however.
When we arrived at camp, we met up with our sisters, and our mothers, some of whom were about to lose their minds over not being able to find us, and the others were busy calculating how long it would take before they could move into our rooms if we were dead.
Now, I don’t know about John’s Mom, but my mother said those words that I hated to hear.
You know the words because you’ve heard them yourself unless you grew up in a convent. “Wait till your Father gets home young man!”
To the Bat Poles Robin, I think the commissioner is calling, and we are needed in Gotham.
In other words, let’s run away from home and become hoboes. It won’t be so bad, they have trains and everything!
I almost missed an entire summer of swimming over that, and I told John that I was right and he was wrong, and that we SHOULD have told our Mothers.
Fat lot of good that was doing us, as the girls swam and we sat there, trying to pay close attention, so we didn’t wind up with muck on our heads.
As I recall, the girls had a great time.
John and I…different story.
And that’s when we learned that you just should NOT try to climb a pricker tree.
What is a pricker anyway?
What kind of fruit is that?
Can you eat it?
Where does it go because I never actually SEE a pricker growing that I could pick and eat?
I think it’s just a ruse to get you to buy the trees.
But you should never attempt to CLIMB a pricker tree.
These trees have sharp things growing all over the place, and if you get stabbed by one, it hurts.
And when you get stabbed by one in the head, and it breaks off, you have to go to the doctor.
I think you should only have to go to the doctor on school days, and while school is in session.
That way you don’t miss any cool play time and who cares if you miss arithmetic…that stuff is so overrated anyway.
Anybody can add 2+2 and get four. Who are they trying to fool?
Well I had to go, and it was a summer day, and my head hurt because we tried to climb a picker tree.
John didn’t get a pricker in his head, so he got to stay at camp.
I thought, if I had to go, he should have to go.
He was there, and if he hadn’t suggested we climb that dumb ‘ol pricker tree, I could at least watch the girls swim.
The girls wanted to put some muck on my head to make it stop hurting, but wisely, my mother saw the error of their ways and stopped them.
Had the situation been reversed, I’m pretty sure John and I would’ve simply HAD to know if muck worked for such a thing, and we’d of done it anyway.
Girls. Go figure.
I have more stuff to tell you about camp.
The reason why I have so many stories about it is that from the time it was built to the time I graduated High School, I spent as much time as humanly possible there.
That’s because camp was fun central in so many ways.
I’ll be back!