It has been well over a year, one with illnesses and deaths in the family, new babies to be passed around like warm loaves of bread, and my oldest friends and I trudged through it all without clapping eyes on each other. We reached out by text, phone calls on occasion, and enjoyed one very clandestine lunch, socially distanced in a secret location, when one of us was home to bury her father.
We see her so rarely that we risked getting together to hear the choir of our voices, to laugh together, because surely her father loved a good laugh, and to almost touch in that awkward Covid way in which we mime hugs. This one small lunch standing in for all the mutual support we have missed, all the hugs and tears we might have shared, the irreverent comments and sarcasm that define us, a thing that appalled my mother when we were young.
But we are vaccinated now and Margaret decided we should go to camp. She will deny that she decided this, but it was her idea, and she made the phone calls to find out rates and availability, and the rest of us are slobs who sit around and talk big, while Margaret gets things going.
We didn’t go far, just to Breckinridge County, to Camp Loucon, the Methodist church camp of their youth. And when I say ‘their,’ I mean every one in the group but me, the outlying little Baptist. I grew up hearing about weekend retreats at Loucon, was envious and heartbroken to have missed the fun, wondered which ancestor, way back, chose one Protestant denomination over another. I pouted. We had a church camp, too, but it couldn’t compare, and it didn’t.
So, off we went for a couple of days to the woods with enough food for a week, to commune with nature and each other. We spent more time rearranging the food in the tiny kitchen than we did preparing or eating it. We need a little structure, or think we do, and I had volunteered to share with the group yogic breathing and deep relaxation techniques. Soon, we were flaked out in the corpse pose just before bedtime, a couple snoring away on their mats, and being of a certain age where sleep can be elusive, we decided it was a wonderful thing.
My pals are all kitted out with iWatches and Fitbits and they do love their steps. I clocked one discussion lasting over seven and half minutes as they compared the number of steps and flights of stairs they had scaled that day, and they may be talking about it still, I don’t know. I went to my room to read.
I was clear, then, the next day when they wanted to tackle a hike involving a big hill, I wanted no part of it. Instead, I took a quilt, a kite, and books to the large meadow, for a quiet afternoon. I can’t remember the last time I was on a quilt in the grass. Was I three? Four? Suddenly a rush of memory and I am in my grandmother’s backyard. The grass, looking so soft, but not, really, under the quilt with tufts poking through, the blades surprisingly sharp. The smell of earth, insects buzzing close to the ground, just at my ear, the wildness of that, the safety of my grandmother’s backdoor, just over there.
The afternoon was too still for the kite, so I read some and fell asleep, waking with a start when Nancy shuffled through the grass to stand over me. We wandered back to the cabin together, while the others caught up. Close by we met up with friends from home, volunteers from Settle Memorial Methodist, the church they all grew up in, who were getting the camp ready for summer. They, too, had come to this camp as kids.
Now retired, they spend time varnishing benches and repairing screens, whatever needs doing to keep the camp up and running. They wear old Loucon t-shirts to work in. It’s endearing. We chat, and they talk about how their dads worked at the camp, too, years ago, repairing roofs, hanging doors.
And I think about connection, how it doesn’t just happen. It takes work, commitment, a burnishing of what is important. The holding on and letting go, the small alterations that keep us afloat in a boat with worn and peeling paint, but sea worthy, even so.