As a child, I never went to camp. I never stayed in a cabin with other young girls, roaming woods and singing songs by day, braiding hair and playing pranks by night. I never got to write home to my family and regale them with my adventures. This is what I imagined camp would be, and this I never had.
Then, at age 18, I finally got to go to a camp of sorts: college.
This whole “camp-thing” had seemed like a good idea; but then while packing for college, it seemed so scary. The drive from home to Bowdoin had once seemed so long; but then while driving there to start this adventure, it went by too quickly. And I had felt totally prepared to leave home; but then, while unpacking, everyone else seemed to be doing everything better than I.
It didn’t matter that I was warmly welcomed to “Camp Bo-Bo by the Sea” (which — no kidding — is how my first year RA [resident assistant] referred to Bowdoin). It didn’t matter that it was beautiful campus. It didn’t matter that my family lived not much more than an hour away. The idea of one week there, let alone four long years, had me immediately wanting to leave.
But I remained — somehow. And I enjoyed it — at first surprisingly, and then enthusiastically. And I had those quintessential “camp” experiences one might expect. I roamed the famous Bowdoin pines and sang my team’s not-so-famous rugby songs. I braided friends’ hair, and even streaked the quad one dark night. But I never wrote the letters home that I had planned to, never cracked the seal of that carefully stored roll of 45 cent stamps.
After the final ceremony — after I had hugged countless “friends for life,” shed my fair share of goodbye tears, and packed up the sheets, the pillows, the clothes — we drove back to Unity. Camp was over.
Now it is almost fall and many of my younger friends have returned to Camp Bo-Bo by the Sea. However, I sit on the porch of my family’s summer lake cottage (“camp” of another sort, at least in Maine lingo). Here, of all places, I’m driven by a touch of nostalgia to finish what I never even started. I’m finally writing home:
Dear Mama, Daddy, Johnny, Kuma Kitty and Comet Cat,
It’s me, writing from Lake Sunapee. In case you’ve forgotten, I’m the one with the green eyes who loves ice cream. I’m the one with the whimsical gaiety and happenstance grumpiness — the one you usually tolerate, but always love.
I like it here. The sky is cotton candy blue and the sun is bright, but the early fall air is like a shard of glass, cutting through the slanting rays, sending shivers through me. I reach for a wool blanket. I wish I could quell the constant urge to jump into the lake, to feel the familiar water, and stub toes on familiar rocks — because if I do jump in I’ll exit, dripping, freezing, and wishing I had enjoyed the water visually, from the dock, in a chair with a book.
The perpetual waves roll in (wush, wush) and the boats bounce at their moorings (slap, slap) or against docks (thud, thud). I look up at old glory, smacking (glack, glack) high and proud on its white pole. It’s time to sail.
Today there was a strong blowing wind and dark rolling breakers, topped with foaming white as exciting as fresh whipped cream. The sailboat was as eager as I was and she escaped the dock early, while I was still setting her sail. But out on the lake, we were a team. She lurched, I leaned. I turned, she twirled. She sliced, I stabilized. We sailed for hours, returning soaked and smiling. How I wish you could have joined me! (Though Kuma and Comet would not have liked it.)
I think of you often. In the early morning, when I would rather be sleeping, the red squirrels chatter and chirp, their Morse-code messages chiding me for missing the sunrise. And in the late evening, after we’ve ended dinner on the porch and are waiting for pie, when the bugs are hungry, the shadows restless, and the setting sun lounging alights the lake edge. Here is when we turn on lights and put screens in the windows. Here is when the card games begin, and laughter becomes contagious.
I am happy here. Days seem slower and simpler and saner. But I miss my more regular routine too. It will be time to return soon. And that’s a good thing.
All my love, Anna
Written on a pre-college notecard in post-college scribble, I’m sure I’ll beat the letter home. And it will be both soothing and a little sad to find it in the mailbox, to reread it and relive it.
Yet it is a complete memory, forever preserved on paper. I don’t have many of these from my time at Bowdoin.
Instead, I have an old shower caddy and two sets of twin X-Long sheets. I have a boatload of free T-shirts, pragmatically collected because laundry was $3.50 per load. I have concert fliers, theater tickets, and weekly newspapers. These live in a storage container, waiting for me to open the lid in search of a stapler and bathe in the nostalgic scent of ramen.
But outside of the countless tests and papers I have saved (but most likely never will look at again), and that Latin diploma now gathering dust on my bookshelf, I don’t have many written reminders of my time at Bowdoin. And none as descriptive and delightful as the one postmarked Lake Sunapee, NH.
I’ve learned my lesson. When I’m next away, I’ll write home.
Anna Piotti of Unity, a 2016 graduate of Bowdoin College, leaves for Austria in late September for a year-long fellowship. Anna is the daughter of regular columnist John Piotti.