Suburban New Jersey, Summertime, 1970’s
Summers at the local swim club were as inevitable as school starting back up in the fall. For the kids, it meant day camp. Oh, how I hated day camp. It began each day at 1:00 with a little ceremony known as “line up.” While we all lined up around the basketball courts with our respective groups, camp director Al would give the days announcements and then send us off to our activities with a scratchy old recording of a jaunty song in some other language (Italian?) playing over the loudspeakers. To this day, I cannot rid my mind of that song.
Camp activities included endless games of jump rope, Steal the Bacon and Duck Duck Goose. There were special activities like Music, where we sat on the hot blacktop singing the official camp song while the music guy sweated profusely and played the piano. Naturally, there was Arts and Crafts, located in the crafts shack (that’s what they called it and that’s what it was) and I seem to recall a great deal of macrame, but then again, it was the 70’s.
The highlights of the day were free swim and ice cream break. Free swim was 20 frenzied minutes of relief from the blazing sun with dozens of other campers. The only downside was that girls were required to contain their hair in bathing caps. These were not the sleek bathing caps that competitive swimmers wear today, these were helmet shaped abominations with rubber flowers attached to them and chin straps that were always too tight. If you had long hair, getting it all into the bathing cap was quite a challenge.
The joy of ice cream break needs no explanation, though you had to eat fast because your orange popsicle, fudgsicle or ice cream sandwich would already be half melted when you got it.
While the kids were in camp, the moms hung out in clusters around the various rows of cabanas. For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept of a cabana, they were pretty much like dimly lit horse stalls, with a concrete floor, a single overhead light bulb, and a wooden stall door. Each section of cabanas had its own name and became its own swim club neighborhood, and each family had its own cabana for changing clothes and storing stuff.
For years, our cabana was Tarleton #12 and all the Tarleton moms hung out together, playing mah jong and drinking iced coffee. The mom dress code was a girdle-like one piece bathing suit with stiff pointy bra cups, accessorized with oversized sunglasses. On extraordinarily hot days, a stray mom or two would venture into the pool for a quick dip, however, moms were never observed actually swimming. They got wet only up to mid-chest, perhaps to avoid crushing their teased Aqua-Netted hair in the obligatory bathing cap or perhaps because the pointy bathing suit bra cups acted as powerful buoys, preventing the moms from completely submerging under the water.
Finally, 5:00 would come and camp would be over for the day. We’d trudge across the hot parking lot toward the car and if you forgot to lay a towel across the scalding vinyl seat, you’d end up with scorch marks on the back of your thighs, a nice complement to the heat rash I used to get under my arms. Not pretty.
Is it any wonder I always looked forward to the start of the new school year?