I’d been home from the Links Convention for less than a week when Jessie (My Soul Friend) sent for me to come visit her in upstate New York. In the wee hours of the morning on that following Friday, I embarked on an eight hour Amtrak train ride from Cleveland to Skenecdady; I was on my way to Camp Dudley.
Camp Dudley is an all boys sleep-away camp that sits on Lake Champlain. I never went to sleep-away camp, but it was like the ones I’d always imagined. Being there reminded me of those early scenes in the movie “The Parent Trap.”
I’d first heard about Camp Dudley when Jessie was making her moving plans. Her boyfriend, Jason, who is gifted in outdoor leadership, had been hired by the camp to be director of their kayaking program. This meant the two of them would be spending their first few months in upstate New York living on camp grounds.
When this announcement was made in the presence of several women from the Princeton community, there was a lot of excitement:
“Camp Dudley is a great camp, my husband went there, and sons..”
“We go back and visit Camp Dudley every year. I love Camp Dudley!”
People really loved this camp. The camp seemed to be the location of many pivotal ‘coming of age’ experiences. There, powerful networks were birthed and a lifetime of loyalty to the camp was instilled.
And now, in my messy whirlwind of grief, I got to go and see what the hype was all about.
I was looking forward to the train ride. The ride was eight hours long and I was looking forward to sitting still. Jessie’d apologized to me about the long ride and suggested that I bring a laptop to watch movies. But I didn’t need a laptop. I just rode silently and looked out of the window.
There were two Amish teenage girls in the seat behind me. They were going ‘all the way’ to New York City. They went back and forth in conversation about the wonders of New York. They spoke with voices of hope for what ‘The City’ would have to offer them. One would say something that excited her about New York and the other would respond with: “oh my word!” And it was back and forth like that for the entire trip: “oh my word!” …. “Oh my word!” Their excitement tickled me, I just hoped the city would be kind to them.
I was happy to see my Soul Friend when I arrived in Skenecdady. We sat and had a quiet lunch before driving an hour and a half to the camp ground. Over fish and chips, I listened to her stories about her first few weeks in the north country and I assured her that it was ok to share her happiness with me.
“Friend I don’t want my happiness with Jason to make you feel badly, given everything that’s happened.”
That was thoughtful but I was mostly ok and still able to celebrate the happiness of my friends. There were only a few times when I’d become insanely jealous that their loved one was still alive; but that was an issue between me and God.
I was still mad at God.
When we’d reached our destination we were at a sweet wooden cabin on a hill in the woods. From the cabin there was a partial view of the misty and majestic lake. It was absolutely beautiful. Jessie and Jason’s small wooden cabin at Camp Dudley would be the next comfortable place where I would stay.
Jason (Masta Chef) made kabobs the first night that I was in town. Before dinner, the three of us sat on wooden chairs outside, amidst 100 foot tall trees, and we talked. I was moved by how comfortable Jason was with my sadness. Jessie had already been around it, but I worried that I would make Jason uncomfortable. He didn’t seem uncomfortable and that was nice. He made all sorts of special arrangements so that he could be available to hang out with us during the weekend. That meant a lot to me.
They kept apologizing to me because there was “nothing to do” but I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to be still and theirs was the perfect place for that. I laid on their couch mostly and thought about Kesner. He would have loved it there.
On Saturday morning Jessie and I went for pancakes in town and I lost it at the table. I was a wreck of tears, sobbing into my plate of pancakes. I don’t remember the trigger, but by this time I think I had started with the ‘what ifs’:
‘What if I had been there?’ … ‘I could have saved him…’. It was my fault.
I also remember feeling generally sorry for myself. For how pitiful I seemed, trying desperately to connect with Kesner’s spirit in nature. Was I going crazy??
I was so thankful to be a wreck with Jessie. Jessie is a hospital chaplain and she is in emotion-intense sittuations often. She had the right disposition, questions, and words. Her presence was a comfort and I was helped by her gifts.
That afternoon we bought marshmallow fluff and cream cheese and made a sinfully delightful dip for strawberries. With our strawberry dip and a glass of red wine, we watched romantic comedies in the cabin on her laptop. It was the perfect friendship afternoon.
And later Jessie and Jason took me to a small town in Vermont for a lovely dinner and walk around.
One of my favorite moments from the weekend was when a very ‘Campy’ counselor came to visit the cabin. I hadn’t known what ‘campy’ meant before I met him. This guy was so into camp. He was so dirty (muddy) and exciteable. He was probably in his mid thirties and he had gone to the camp as a child. You could tell he really loved working and being there, it was a way of life. As he shared camp stories I began to think about what a wonderful opportunity it is to go to a camp like Camp Dudley.
I began to think about Yanni. Yanni was Kesner’s eleven year old little brother in Trenton’s big brother/big sister program. I’d met Yanni a few weeks before Kesner died. We went to their annual picnic together. In the car I asked Yanni what his summer plans were and he told me his plans were “to do things with Mr. Kesner.” My heart was sad that he was planning his whole summer around one person. And it was even more sad now since that one person was dead.
I wondered how Yanni was processing Kesner’s death. He probably felt even more disenfranchised than me. And he was just a child. I’d asked the Kappas to promise me that they would include him in their youth program (Kappa Knights) when he got old enough, but what about now?
As I listened to the stories of Jessie and Jason’s campy visitor, I thought: ‘this would be a great opportunity for Yanni. I’ve got to figure out a way to get him to this camp!’
The rest of my time there was spent mulling over these thoughts. How would I get Yanni to Camp Dudley? Would they provide a scholarship? Or maybe the funds could be raised in the princeton community? And how would I convince his mother to send him away for four weeks? I would find a way. I would do this for Kesner. And I would make sure that I would come to visit during one of the weeks that Yanni was there. We could go on walks and talk about death and how we both missed Mr. Kesner. It was settled. I would work on this. It gave me something to look forward to; a project.
Before I left, Jessie gave me the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I’d been flipping through her copy of it over the weekend. I liked how she wrote. She was talking about serious things but in a way that was anecdotal and funny at times. She was telling her story but was unafraid to laugh at herself. What a gifted writer, I thought. I could tell I was going to enjoy the book.
On Sunday we had a lovely lunch on the water with Jason and then Jess and I stopped at Lake Placid for ice cream cones.
From there we drove back to Skenecdady and I embarked on my train ride home. It had been a pleasant trip. And now I had something to do; I would email the camp director right away! And I also had this book to read..
I got home to Cleveland at 3:00AM and nobody named Copeland was interested in picking me up at that hour. But LOVE never fails. Courtney met me at the station and dropped me off at home. LOVE had traveled with me to Dudley…
and now LOVE and I were home again in Cleveland.
© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2011