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. Â Fall, Winter, and Spring were times of seriousness. Â 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. Â The girls danced by themselves while the boys got sugar drunk on Dixie cups of purple punch.
One year, Â 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. Â I took off to the social hall, relieved to not have missed the final dance. Â After so many years at this camp, the “last song” of the summer had grown in meaning to me. Â 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. Â 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. Â Some counselors already had boyfriends and girlfriends back at home. Â Some of the staff members were international visitors from faraway places like Ireland. Â And not even Jewish.
So how did these summer romances turn out? Â Most of them fizzled out. Â 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. Â 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. Â 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. Â It is Summer here. Â The kids are off from school. Â The beaches are full. Â Everyone is eating ice cream.
But Fall is close. Â Today there was a “back to school” commercial on the “telly.” Â School clothes at 40% at The Warehouse, New Zealand’s equivalent of Target.
With summer ending, there is a call to seriousness. Â It’s time for me to return to the States. Â The vacation is over. Â Â I’ve found a summer love here in New Zealand. Â I’ve had a life-changing experience.
Where does it go from here? I don’t know. Â It is hard to carry a summer love into the Fall, especially when you live on different continents. Â For now, I have a plane to catch tomorrow, and I want my last dance with Juli.