(This is a cross-post on the blog for Longacre, a great summer program that I attended as a teenager. I’ll be blogging for them for the next few months, alternating with 2015 debut novelist Cordelia Jensen, another alum. I’m excited for a bona fide chance to revisit some good parts of my teen years, and to see what someone else says about the role of Longacre in her own life. Stay tuned!)
So I was thrilled when Director Matt asked me to blog for Longacre, because my summers there had an enormous effect on me, and I’m eager to explain how. I can sum it up in one word: doughnuts.
Yes, so doughnuts are a big go-to in my life. There are certain streets I can’t walk without instantly thinking, “Can I get a doughnut now?” But here, doughnuts are relevant.
Lots of things about me were the same from ages 11 through 18: a love of reading, writing, and theatre; high levels of goofiness; an allergic reaction to anything I perceived as fake. The attitude toward the doughnuts, however, evolved.
- Container of joy and fear.
Before I went to Longacre Farm, I went to a conventional camp. Sports, arts, and waterfront; Saturday night socials; Sunday breakfast in bed. We didn’t get served on trays, but we got to sleep in, and someone in the cabin would go up to the kitchen and get cereal, milk, and doughnuts for breakfast. (I hope you weren’t worried that I wouldn’t get to the doughnuts. I will always get to the doughnuts.)
In five summers at this camp, I never once went to pick up breakfast. I honestly don’t know how I managed this without a) anyone noticing or b) anyone slapping me. I was probably there for a total of twenty-eight Sundays, and for every single one of them, I slept in, played cards, and elbowed my way to a powdered doughnut without contributing a thing. Of course, I meant to volunteer for breakfast duty, one day. It was just—where did one go, really, to pick it up? No one had explained the location of the mysterious breakfast window. Would there be scary people I didn’t know there—maybe boys? (I liked boys, but our camp was gender-separated, and I didn’t want to run into them as I looked in the wrong place.) It was all just too scary. Better to let someone else get pushed into the job of breakfast retrieval.
- Why does summer camp ever end, really?
Fast-forward to Longacre Farm. On our first night, we counted off into different work crews. As with most work crews, the jobs rotated: Showers and Latrines; Kitchen; Barn Chores … I don’t remember the rest, but there was one every day, and they took up serious time—kitchen, in fact, was an all-day adventure starting when everyone else was asleep and ending when you staggered out for dinner. We’d had a chore-wheel at Camp Generic, but even sweeping the cabin didn’t compare to mashing 35 potatoes—by hand.
- I kind of hope they have upgraded to electric.
I don’t know why, but I didn’t mind these chores. I found it impossible to remove every hair from the countertops (I still do), but I realized early on that if we didn’t clean up after ourselves, nobody would, and if I did a lazy job, it would just annoy someone the next day. It was also fun to work with other people. I still remember a counselor singing back to Edie Brickell as he washed 80 plastic cups. (When she sang, “Don’t let me get too deep,” he would reply, “Don’t worry, baby, I won’t.”) At my high-pressure school, working hard had meant staying up late with grueling essays. I didn’t have that many chores at home (thanks, Mom and Dad), but the things I did felt like something I had to do, rather than something I got to provide. At Longacre, hard work meant sweat and ache, but pride, fun, and community, too.
- I bet you can guess how old I am within 5 years,
I know it’s a luxury to have positive experiences with physical work. For many people, that work is not an option, and it’s nothing close to fun. Nevertheless, it was my experience, and it formed an ethos in me that has had unexpected and lasting effects. My best friend and I met in 10th-grade math, but we didn’t really bond until we spent a Saturday making sandwiches at a soup kitchen. I have often gotten back-pats for lending a hand at work, and it’s because of that same Longacre realization: if I don’t do this, who will, and how badly would it stink for someone else to do it alone? And while I have the usual marital housework spats, part of the strength of my marriage comes from the mutual practice of my partner and I taking things off each others’ plates—and I don’t mean the last pierogi. I am no saint, believe me. I have often been accused of hoarding and then insufficiently washing dirty dishes. But I am better than I could have been.
All those summer-camp Sundays, playing spit and waiting for the breakfast delivery, I think I felt guilty, and afraid to be revealed as a shirker. Perhaps what really awaited me on the breakfast run was a pajama-walk over dewy grass and the pride of presenting my friends with their breakfast. I’ll never know what I missed on that front, but I’m glad I got the chance to make it up in the years to come.
Now … where’s the nearest doughnut?
Curious about Longacre, or maybe just want to see pictures of cute kids in grubby clothes? Head on over to Longacre.