The Camp Witch
Kids have so much to teach adults, she said. Yet she taught me folk songs, plant names, and profound humiliation.
Few kids get to go to camp with their parents. At a small but ambitious arts colony in Western Massachusetts, where I spent two summers with my mother, parents were promised daily child care for their young ones, as well as the space to explore their own creativity withdance, music, painting, writing. For eight hours a day the adults disappeared into their studios and left us in the dubious care of Shelly and Mark, two counselors in their early twenties, who may have been engaged or may have been brother and sister. A lot of my memories of summers at Cummington are fuzzy like that.
I asked my mother recently if she remembered anything from our years of shared camp experiences.
“I remember that after a few days, you city kids looked like you were in Lord of the Flies. You were covered in bug bites, scrapes, your shoes were gone. You went wild.”
Even when they were present, Shelley and Mark spent more time arguing with each other than leading the kids in constructive activities, though we did manage to put on a play based on German folklore. In it, I played a character who was constantly described by her village neighbors as “plain as an old boot,” which I liked because she was also considered the most fun person in her Bavarian town, unlike her hot twin siblings, played by two svelte, blond campers.
With distracted counselors and parents caught up in their own work, Cummington was a place of delirious, delicious neglect. One of our favorite group games was taunting a lone donkey who lived in a field, getting it to chase us, then running to climb over the fence before we were kicked to death, nary an adult in sight. Aside from that one dangerous game, our world was less Lord of the Flies and more Lord of the Rings, but before the movie trilogy came out and made adventures in the mist look like it was only a game for boys.