Stripes

During the mid to late 1960’s I was lucky enough to go to sleep-away camp for eight weeks every year.  Those summers were the best of my life.

Camp Rhoda existed in a sleepy little town called West Copake, in New York state right next to the western border of Massachusetts.  The camp was owned and run by two couples:  “Aunt” Ruth and “Uncle” Gus, and “Uncle” Porky and “Aunt” Ella.  Gus was a New York lawyer, a strict disciplinarian, and ruled boy’s camp with an iron fist.  However, campers of both genders were terrified of him, which is exactly what he wanted.  Ruth was a highly educated woman, having a post-graduate degree in psychology or child development.  She was the egghead, but she ruled the roost at girl’s camp.  Porky was the genial, sweet Mr Nice Guy.  Ella’s domain was the office and anything financial.  Thus, we dubbed her “Sticky Fingers.”

Why were these summers so special, their experiences never dimming over the years, the friendships maintained over 40 years, and other friendships rediscovered after 40 years as if no time at all had passed?  A definitive answer still escapes me, but I do have a few clues.

Camp was a microcosm of life on the outside.  Each of us could get a fresh start, away from our home lives and school experiences.  Further, camp lasted only eight weeks, so we had to telescope our experiences to fit into those weeks.  As a result, our experiences were richer, more pronounced, so much more exaggerated than our ten months at home.  Friendships were made faster and had a definite depth to them.  After all, we had only eight weeks together.

At Rhoda, the girls had a merit system consisting of seven stripes given out each Friday night to reward certain “skills”: the brown stripe was for effort, the white for cleanliness and punctuality, the green for athletic improvement, the purple for posture, the red for manners, the gold for service and the blue, the coveted blue stripe which I probably never received, was for sportsmanship.  This stripe system was a very important factor in creating the microcosm of the world at large right there at Rhoda.  There were rules, that damn order of operations, that gave us the structure of our own community, our very own society.

And every summer, each returning camper could re-invent herself within that eight week social experiment.  I must tell you that it was admirable, it was the driving force at camp, to be “nice”.  Goodness ruled the day.  True goodness:  we wanted to be kind and generous to our friends.  Not only was being congenial the measuring stick of prestige at camp, but the desire to be nice made us aspire to be better people, as individuals and as a group.  The stripe system formalized this process.

Bernie Madoff, with his take no prisoners Ponzi scheme, is the polar opposite of what we tried to attain at camp.  In one of Woody Allen’s early movies,  there is a voice-over, spoken by Allen, that says, “I would never belong to a club that would accept me as a member.”  This sentiment shows the self-hatred of the speaker, and oftentimes, can be associated with being Jewish.  Madoff undoubtedly had quite a hatred of himself.  The difference between his masochism and Allen’s is simply that Madoff turned his hatred on the world at large.  His corrupt actions have devastated individuals, corporations, foundations and charity after charity.  Once a person applies his self-hatred to society, that person is then a sociopath, plain and simple.  I see no distinction between Madoff’s behavior and that of Adolf Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer.

We can talk about having a stripe system in place for our society.  It will not change things;  sociopaths completely ignore the rules.  The mechanics of the mortgage crisis, Madoff’s scheme and the downfall of Lehman Brothers were simple.  People incurred debt to finance other debt.  They used new debt to secure older, also-leveraged assets.  Additionally, there was not the proper oversight.  However, keep in mind that Madoff  VOLUNTARILY registered his fund with the SEC.  The SEC did have rules on the books, only they never enforced them.  Between the tenuous daisy chain of leverage upon leverage, greed upon corruption, the whole house of cards came tumbling down.  A stripe system would have no effect on these sociopaths.  Their self-hatred would continue to bubble over to suck  in innocent people, whose only fault (however “lethal” or “fatal” it may prove to be) was to want to be a member of an “exclusive” club.

Camp life enabled any self-hatred to dissipate at least for eight weeks.  The socially acceptable thing was to love yourself and thus, others.

However, it must be admitted that Camp Rhoda also instilled in its campers a large dose of competition.  The boy’s side, Camp Barrington, was well known for its competitive baseball program.  Camp Rhoda had no formalized sports program, but through our intra-  and inter-camp games of volleyball, softball and tennis, we fought hard and our goal was surely to win.

There were two main competitive events at camp.  The first was “Sing”.  Girl’s camp was divided into two groups.  Each group would select a theme and counselors would compose new lyrics to old musical scores, like Broadway tunes, for final presentation to boy’s camp on Sing Night.  There were weeks upon endless weeks of Sing meetings to learn all the songs.  Each side picked a theme.  For example, one theme was “Caroline Kennedy Comes To Camp.”  The last song of each side’s presentation was the song with real zing.  The final song to the Caroline Kennedy Sing was sung to the Yiddish tune, “Tzena, Tzena” and its irony in relation to current events is not lost:

CHORUS:
Rhoda, Rhoda (CLAP)
We will count the days until we’re back here
Raise your voices loud and clear for Rhoda, Rhoda (CLAP)
Every camper knows the fun and joy of being in Camp Rhoda.

Caroline is going home but she will not forget the fun she’s knooooooown all summer long.
Next little brother John will have a bunk in Barrington right heeeeeeeere where he belongs.

Summertime, a time of joyous living
Time of sharing and a time of giving
Happy thoughts of camp along the winter
Til we’re back again with you (2-3-4).

CHORUS AGAIN

Enough of that digression.  The second major event of the season was Color War, a hard-fought duel-to- the-end of athletic competition.  My twin sister and I were good athletes.  We were always placed on opposing teams and when we were chosen to be Color War captains during our senior year, of course we were not on the same team.  I might add that there were enough talented athletes in our group to offset the effect of my sister and me being put on the same team.  After various, and some vicious, athletic contests, my sister and I were frequently called up to the “head” house to listen to Aunt Ruth lecture us about good sportsmanship.  In all of her infinite Ph.D wisdom, did it ever occur to Ruth to place my sister and me on the SAME team?  No!  Wouldn’t that strategy have fostered the camaraderie, the sportsmanship, the unity she was trying to get us to encompass?

I use this example of competition to illustrate the insight and power of Barack Obama.  Obama has taken his biggest competitor, Hillary Clinton, and turned her into his most important ally by selecting her as his Secretary of State.  They are now on the same team fighting for the same ends.  Genius!  Who would have thought it?  Not Aunt Ruth.  I believe that this is precisely why Obama chose Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration: better to incorporate your competitors into your fold than to constantly fight against them.  The result might just possibly be progress, instead of a useless stalemate.

Camp life afforded us the atmosphere of cooperation, consideration and the formation of lasting friendships.  However, as if to make sure that we were not too far removed from the real world, a healthy dose of competition was thrown in.  Of course I acknowledge the reality that all of our basic needs, such as food and shelter (even though we had only cold running water in the bunks), were met.  Also, our paths were paid for so we did not have any financial worries.  Any remnant of reality and hardship in the real world was removed at Rhoda.  Summer camp was indeed a magical place because it was a safe and secure environment, perfect for the development and thriving of positive principles.  Once people’s basic needs are met,  the chances for true cooperation, consideration, and a lasting peace are greatly increased.

On this first day of Hanukkah, let me quote the prophet Zachariah on this holiday’s message (This was, of course, sent to me by my camp friend, Lilley): “Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit.”  Chapter 4:6

This is what Camp Rhoda did for me and this is, what I hope, Obama will do for all of us: to embrace goodness with healthy competition  so that progress can befall all of us.  The path to a good life begins within ourselves, follows the rules, and then fans out to benefit many others.  A stripe system can be of help only if the goodness is there initially.  Nothing can overcome sado-masochism once it is in place.  The idea is to provide a positive framework early on so that this destructive behavior has no place to incubate and flourish.

Hail to the Blue and the Gold Alma Mater.  Hail to Camp Rhoda.  Hail to thee!

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7 Responses to “Stripes”

  1. amy lilley Says:

    2-3-4…lol

  2. Natalie Rosen Says:

    That was an interesting post. It made me think of my own summer days at Camp (I kid you not) Middlesex, a 4H camp, in a very small and, at that time, a very Yankee town in northwestern Massachusetts. It was not a Jewish camp. My father chose it because it was cheap. I went there for an entire summer for three years and loved it. I did not mind at all that I was the only Jewish girl in the camp and that my friends were made up mostly of white Anglo Protestant girls. Nor did I mind that Sunday church was a requirement. I could possibly have had that waved but something in me knew I should not. It was rather like the town in which I grew up comprising initially only 10 Jewish families. Those days, for me, were, indeed, different days.

    We at camp, for the most part, got along and I, too, made some lasting friendships which, in fact, really did not last much beyond the end of high school. Still, each year, I could not wait to return. It was an all-girls camp. There were no boys except at times when the girls were not there. This was for me, quite all right. I will admit in those days to a variety of crushes but none which I ever on this mortal earth would, of course, have dared to admit. Some of us hugged and kissed but we all knew that it would end almost at the moment it began and would never be discussed for more than the instant it existed. It was all so innocent dontcha know. We never knew THEN that a culture would some day arm itself in legionnaire numbers to thwart such behavior lest the punishment of a god inflict his wrath upon us all. We never knew then, or some of us never knew, that suicide was an option of social rejection and that its servant self-loathing would assist. Things were so different then.

    The innocence of those days prevailed to my uncritical eye and I remember seeing a newspaper (one of the few) on August 5, 1962. I was almost 14 years old. I remember it so well not so much for the notoriety of the event of the day, the death of Marilyn Monroe, but for my own minimal caring about it almost as much as a summer breeze swept me but then passed. I did not realize, then, the profundity of her life or the lingering questions of her death. Who would care in that summer of 1962? It was so different then.

    We were divided somewhat similarly in groups — Head, Heart, Hand and Health all signifying something or other and at the end of the week a much coveted prize of “Camp Spirit” was awarded. Decades later when my partner and I visited that camp when no one was around, I saw those very “Camp Spirit” awards nailed in permanent Christian-like reflection to the wall. My name was not among them. Although I tried so hard to be awarded that much-desired prize I never was. That saddened me but it was not until years later when I reflected upon how a young handicapped girl who worked so hard to get that prize did not. What was the rationale for not getting it? What was the reason it was given to someone else? It was said to me that the one to whom it was given did not “appear to too obviously earn it.” Could that have been true I later reflected or did I think the rationale for the missed prize was a subliminal or not-so-subliminal Anti-Semitism? Surely, I did NOT think that then but I do now. There was clearly no other reason than the one they said and that was not a very good reason at all. It surely was a very different time. When I would not take the Episcopal Church sacrament, I remember clearly a disparaging remark from one counselor. There were other evidences of it as well and while I cannot prove the Camp Spirit award I thought I so rightfully earned, was not given to me because I was a Jew, I believe that fact now. Yes, it was a very different time.

    Things looked so innocent then. They did not look racist, they did not look homophobic and they did not look anti-Semitic to me. They do now because I know it was a very different time but it was not as innocent as I once thought it was then. We are surely in different times now.

  3. lou Says:

    Agree with most of what you write, but let’s give poor Aunt Ruth the benefit of the doubt with 40 years of distance. As I recall, we set the color war teams up mostly on athletic ability (at least on the boy’s side). My memory is that you and your sister were indeed very good athletes and your seperation was likely due to trying to maintain a balance of power. Or, perhaps Ruth recognized the leadership potential in both of you and thought it best to spread it around for the better good? Either way, I think Barrack Obama if the absolute right person to lead us out of the mess we have and his “team of rivals” is a briliant strategy.

  4. Natalie Rosen Says:

    After discussions with family members I realized my description of camp life was incomplete and, perhaps, even a bit too solemn. So let me describe this cheap camp to infuse my previous rant with humor. I offer this in stark juxtaposition to Yo Mamma’s camp and in great surprise to my own then good nature. I can assure you that no such good nature exists now and that I would “run” kicking and screaming if I ever had to suffer even one-half the slings and arrows of that outrageous fortune today.

    This camp had NO amenities. When I say NO amenities I mean it. It had multiple unheated cabins on a very steep hill. There was one big one at the very top called curiously enough Hilltop. On this side there were no bathrooms or hot running showers or really any showers at all. I had to use an OUTHOUSE near the hillside cabins and one of our chores was to put LIME down the hole at the end of the week. One can only imagine the odiferous quality. However, I did my weekly chores with, of course, some dismay but with no great opposition. One had to try not to look but trying not to look was like seeing a car wreck. One really didn’t WANT to look but you …well…I go no further on that one. If you wanted a flush toilet and COLD running water one had to walk all the way down the hill near the bottom where the very young girls bunked. The facilities MUST have ultimately been condemned and I can see now it was lucky we all didn’t come down with a case of cholera.

    Worse still we had to bathe in a filthy brook. I came home literally with green slime all over me. My HAIR was not to be believed. It looked at the end of summer like I had my put my finger in an electric socket. I remember one of my cousins came with my parents to pick me up after camp was over. She was horrified!! She barely recognized me. Adding to the fiasco my father fell over my trunk, sprained his ankle and his horse doctor relative gave him two slanted lifts to put in each shoe. He walked down Howard Street, the street to his small business, BOWLEGGED!!! Finally, after he was in mortal pain from the slanted lifts he took them out himself much to his relief.

    I have no doubt that the camp improved the quality of its milieu but tears of laughter stream down my face now as I think about these ancient events of days long gone by. What should I have expected for $10.95 a week if that.

  5. Color War « Yo Mama For Obama Says:

    […] https://yomamaforobama.wordpress.com/2008/12/22/stripes/ […]

  6. jackie robinson Says:

    I went to Barrington many years – but it was before you went.

    The camp stressed sports – yes, hardball.

    It was not intellectual. That may explain your error in joining the majority in electing a clearly unqualified, Obama.

    Curious if you now regret your vote.

    • yomamaforobama Says:

      I’m loving my vote for Obama even more, every day he is in office. W

      What mainly athletic endeavor, such as summer camp was back then, do you know to have an intellectual emphasis? Perhaps you were not a great athlete, but your intellectual expectations of summer camp activities were way off. Sorry they didn’t havt computer or SAT camp back then for you.

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