Friday, August 5, 2011

Calling all campers ...

So I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to have the inspiration to perhaps finally finish this damned novel I've been writing. It's got me thinking about camp.

I've only ever been to swim training camp. When I was little, I was terrified my parents would send me to the Young People's Day Camps that were advertised on TV. (Although I grew up in what is commonly referred to as the Southern Tier of NY- the yellow part on the map, we received two channels out of New York city, which exposed us country kids to all kinds of local ads really only meant for the five boroughs.)

Maybe my fear of "camps" had something to do with my early interest and terror of the Holocaust and the meaning that the word "camps" meant in that context.

I'm not sure where or how (or frankly, why) I learned about the Holocaust so early.  I have a suspicion I saw something on television and it required an explanation. I think it honestly was just too horrific a thing for a kid to be able to completely comprehend all at once, which was why I was so fascinated by it and always searching for more information about that horrible time in history. I remember reading the Diary of Anne Frank very early on, maybe when I was eight or nine years old. Something about that little girl who had to hide with her family from "the bad people" really struck me, in ways that proved none too healthy later on.

Years ago, I finally confessed to my mother that for a very long time, I thought the Jehovah's Witnesses were modern-day Nazis. (No offense meant to any Witness readers of this blog- we're an equal opportunity offender here at Hamchuckles.)  Let me explain.

My mom stayed home with us until I was about 15. Which meant when I wasn't in school, she was home with us, usually doing housework in between watching snippets of soap operas or Sesame Street. The phone would ring- my mother would answer it and I would hear a conversation similar to this:

Jehovahs? No shit!
MOM: Hi, Carol. How are you?  What? Here? They just left your house? Then there isn't much time! Thanks, gotta go!

My mother would hang up the phone, grab my baby sister and take my hand and drag us into the basement where we would crouch on the cellar steps. "But what about Kevin?" I would pipe up. My brother was upstairs, taking a nap.
"Shh! They'll hear you!"
And then, the knock at the door. I held my breath. Katie gurgled and start making her chirpy baby noises. My mother covered her mouth with her hand in an effort to silence her. The television was still on in the living room, but it was too late to go turn it off.

Another knock.

My heart beat so fast I could feel it in my ears. It was clear to me- we had to stay perfectly quiet or the "bad people" would come get us. After what seemed like hours, my mother would finally deem it safe for us to emerge from the cellar steps. She would follow protocol and get on the phone with the next neighbor to warn them of their arrival.

One time I was bold enough to run to the front door to try catch a glimpse of them. I saw no jackbooted, swastika-wearing, goosestepping storm troopers, only a handful of couples in ill-fitting suits and off-brand Laura Ashley dresses (with their hair inevitably french-braided) climbing into a slightly rusty windowless van.

While unknowingly scaring the crackers out of me, my mother's secretive technique had a hidden benefit of bolstering my little fantasy life and way of coping with historical facts that were just too horrible to reconcile with life as I knew it. Every time the "bad people" went away from our house empty-handed, it was a win for the "good people." I imagined myself there with Anne Frank, but in my version, the "bad people" gave up and went away forever, and the Franks, Van Daans and Mr. Dussel were able to come out of hiding and live normal, long lives. I've read that it's a common coping mechanism to want to rewrite history with a happy ending: Anne Frank escapes to America, the Titanic avoids the iceberg, no one goes to work at the Trade Center that day.

Of course, my mother had no idea I had been going through my own personal Nazi occupation until I told her many, many years later. She just shook her head and tried to figure out how she'd ended up with such a whacked-out kid.

Anyone going door-to-door still elicits my suspicion and a knot of fear in the pit of my stomach. Whether it's kids selling candy or evangelicals looking for a moment of my time for Christ, my first instinct is to gather up my loved ones and head for the staircase. I suppose it's good training for the Zombie Apocalypse.


  1. Oh my LORD. Hahaha... Poor little dude.

  2. I can remember my parents hiding in the basement and letting my first boyfriend answer the door. He was a hunter, and his response, hile holding onto his shotgun he kept in his car "I don't live here either." Don't remember them ever coming back to our house after that.