When I was younger I spent most of my summer at a place we called ‘the Camp’, a bare bones — no frills house set on a hill deep in the woods of Boylston, Mass.
From the front porch you could see the ripples of the pond below sparkling in the summer sun; it was a pond we swam in, boated in and fished in (all we ever caught were kivers, pickerels and hornpout, hate them, they always swallowed the hooks).
I remember so many damn things about the place.
There was the musty funk that greeted you on that first visit after the eternal New England winter and there was the exposed wooden beams where my mother would hang wicker baskets and ‘past their prime’ life preservers that had changed from a vibrant orange to a washed out Abercrombie & Fitch melon color.
The old upright piano with real ivory keys and the authentic outhouse with a crescent moon cut lovingly into the door added to the ancient décor of the place. (and we used it)
On the screened-in front porch my twin sister and I slept on military style cots covered with the softest and warmest blankets known to man.
At night, the hundreds of bullfrogs on the pond would serenade us to sleep, their throaty calls drifting up the hill on the invisible fingers of the warm, summer wind.
My sister and I would talk of our secret dreams and hopes, the adolescent ramblings of curious children.
Some nights we even had the same dreams. Maybe that’s how it is with twins.
Most weekends were filled with a gathering of family and friends for an all day cook-out followed by a bonfire in the backyard, my personal signal to take out my guitar and sing a few songs.
I remember learning “Little Green Apples”, by Roger Miller to appease the crowd.
It was such a care free and wonderful time in my life that all but disappeared when the place got sold due to extenuating circumstances beyond my control.
Before it was put on the market I happened to be picking apples with the Pamela and the girls at an orchard that was a stone’s throw away from the place.
We left the orchard and took the turn towards the Camp.
They all knew where I was going.
And I just had to see it one last time.
Walking up the hill I caught a glimpse of the long dormant camp on the hill and my heart did a quick stutter-step and it surprised me.
There were so many sentimental moments locked deep inside this innocuous structure that it frightened me, the sacred ghosts of the past welcoming me back in a way I hadn’t expected.
The mind is a funny thing because the only thing I could think at the time was that my mother and father were so happy and healthy here – this was hallowed ground as far as I was concerned for a multitude of reasons.
I got out of the car and took it all in, every fiber of my being moving back in time towards the warm summers of my yesterdays.
It’s all still here, I thought, swallowing hard.
I was silent as I walked around the perimeter of the Camp soaking in all the weeping details; the chipping paint and overgrown weeds intensifying the loneliness and heartbreak of a place I could no longer call my own.
A part of me wanted to somehow embrace the little boy still inside me but I realized I’d grown far too old and jaded in my ways for that simple courtesy.
I asked Pamela to walk down the hill with the girls.
I couldn’t do this with my girls watching.
I stood on the porch where I’d spent so many star-filled nights dreaming about my up and coming wonderful life and I wept; I wept for a life that had turned out quite differently than I’d expected.
I’d lost so very much but then I thought about how much I actually gained.
What surprised me was that there were possibly more happy tears than sad ones.
The Camp was unexpectedly giving me back a precious gift.
I know that now.
I walked down the hill to the car and gave one more glance up the hill where I saw my mother flitting about watering her flowers in the sun and my father turning burgers on the decaying charcoal grill that he always talked about replacing.
He was drinking a can of Bud and laughing it up with old friends, just like old times.
And they were good.
As the billows of smoke from the grill moved past the front of the Camp, I could almost see the silhouette of a little boy on the porch waving goodbye.
In my heart, the Camp will always be there for me.
I only need to close my eyes and remember.