Back when I attended my Jewish sleep-away camp, the summer ended with a big dance. It was on the last weekend of August, right before we all went back to our predictable middle-class lives in Queens, Brooklyn, Westchester, New Jersey, and Long Island, where we would focus on our schoolwork and prepare ourselves for a scholarship to a fancy college. Fall, Winter, and Spring were times of seriousness. It was only during the summer that we allowed ourselves to paddle a canoe or initiate”panty raids” on the girls’ bunks.
Having a dance as a camp season finale made no sense to a ten year old boy who had no interest in dancing, or the opposite sex. The girls danced by themselves while the boys got sugar drunk on Dixie cups of purple punch.
One year, on my seventh year as a camper, I asked Tammy to the dance, but just my luck — she ended up in the infirmity with the flu, so I spent most of the evening standing outside her window chatting with her about science fiction movies, until one of the nurses shooed me away. I took off to the social hall, relieved to not have missed the final dance. After so many years at this camp, the “last song” of the summer had grown in meaning to me. It was always the same — “See You in September,” originally sung by the Tempos in 1959, but this was the latter version, covered by The Happenings in 1966. The sappy song must have been a tradition for an earlier generation, because all of the counselors and older staff members would grab a partner and do a “slow dance.”
It never occurred to me as a camper that this “last dance” was not for the campers at all, but for the staff — many who were returning back to school or work, and had experienced summer love for the first time.
Summer love creates all sorts of complications. Some counselors already had boyfriends and girlfriends back at home. Some of the staff members were international visitors from faraway places like Ireland. And not even Jewish.
So how did these summer romances turn out? Most of them fizzled out. Some tried to reproduce the lake-side romance in the Catskills back in Brooklyn, but it didn’t have the same vibe on Ocean Parkway. The city can be romantic and mysterious, but it has a different soundtrack, more funky than mellow.
Tammy, the girl who was supposed to be my date for the final dance, ended up dating one of the counselors — a college boy — much to the dismay of her parents. They are a summer romance success story, married for decades with children who now go to sleep-away camp.
Over the last month, while most of you have been freezing during the winter months, I have been on Summer Vacation in New Zealand. It is Summer here. The kids are off from school. The beaches are full. Everyone is eating ice cream.
But Fall is close. Today there was a “back to school” commercial on the “telly.” School clothes at 40% at The Warehouse, New Zealand’s equivalent of Target.
With summer ending, there is a call to seriousness. It’s time for me to return to the States. The vacation is over. I’ve found a summer love here in New Zealand. I’ve had a life-changing experience.
Where does it go from here? I don’t know. It is hard to carry a summer love into the Fall, especially when you live on different continents. For now, I have a plane to catch tomorrow, and I want my last dance with Juli.