Friday, June 10, 2011

Sweet Wild Strawberries

It has been incredibly hot here in the south.  The weather feels more like the dog days of August.  I seem to be in a domestic mood.  The bounty of mangoes in season has resulted in freshly canned jars of heavenly salsa and divine chutney.  I suppose one would wonder how a girl from Brooklyn, with no 4-H training, knows how to can.  I taught myself many years ago.  I actually enjoy doing it.  I love looking at freshly preserved jars.  I will be doing a lot of that this year, we have a garden.

The heat reminds me of the summer of 1965.  I had graduated from dear Pershing JHS.  Accompanied by my mother and my beloved Tanta Bitta, I, dressed in a white pique A-line dress with lace sleeves and adorned with a red rose corsage, together we rode the city bus to Brooklyn College early Saturday morning.  My dad was in Norway for his last trip to his homeland.  I had a boyfriend named Ray.  I would go to his high school graduation before he went off to Bible School.  Like a scene out of Grease we celebrated at Astroland at Coney Island.  Still in my cranberry A-line dress made from the same pattern as my graduation dress, I was over dressed for a plunge into the waters of the Log Flume.  I was scared and he held me tight.  We broke up soon after that.  As I nursed my broken heart, the temperature climbed.  

The box fan in the window of our 2nd floor apartment accentuated the smell of melting asphalt. For relief we'd turn it to let the smell and suffocating air in the apartment out.  My mother and I stayed inside.  We played Scrabble, Life, and a variety of card games with a deck of Rook cards.  We didn’t get dressed for days.  We lounged clad in only our underwear and beads of sweat.  It was hot.  There was no camp.  There was no escape to the cool of the Catskills.  We were city dwellers.

I no longer had access to Camp Challenge.  We had left Salem for another church.  Once gone, people barely spoke to us.  I would not be welcome at camp.  As I pondered my now boyfriend-less existence, I thought of Charlie (not his real name).  Charlie, my first kiss, my first puppy love --- ours was a summer romance at Camp Challenge.  He was from Long Island but didn’t seem to be rich.  In my mind, only rich people lived on Long Island.  Anyone who could afford to leave Brooklyn was rich.  He wasn’t rich.  We were very different.  He was not Norwegian, and was the only son of a single mother.

He would be my first date for the camp banquet.  As I recall, I caught Charlie’s eye before he caught mine.  Holding hands we'd wander to the far corner of the camp grounds.  In a field far from the buildings of the camp was a wild strawberry patch.  Wild strawberry tasting gave way to the sweet taste of a first kiss.  After tearful goodbyes, we vowed to see each other again.  There would be “youth rallies” and letters.  Phone calling between Long Island and Brooklyn was expensive.  We made arrangements and met at the World’s Fair for a full day of imagining the "world tomorrow," food, fun and an occasional kiss.  Occasionally we’d run into his mother who never liked me and just scowled.  

Our last kiss was a snowy day in December.  The excitement of Christmas was in the air.  He had come with a present for me.  I quickly went to a store and bought a black turtleneck sweater for him.  I had not expected a visit or a gift.  It was over.  The drone of the box fan reminded me that it was over with Ray as well.  But, I was only 14.  In two years, I’d be walking down a church aisle in the heart of Missouri saying “I do.”  Like the box fan, love came and went too fast.  The first blush of love is never easy.  Like the wild strawberry, it's season is brief.

Ray went on to Bible School but never went into the ministry.  I located him a few years ago and exchanged a few emails.  Charlie married a childhood friend and worked for NYC Sanitation.  I saw him once during a visit with his mother-in-law.  I wondered if he was thinking about that strawberry field so many years before.  He was polite.  I was polite.  It was awkward.  He is retired and divorced.  At 14 you think your life is over when your heart is rejected.  Looking back, you realize it is a gift.  

Did camp bring you a summer love?  Did your first kiss come during the sweltering heat of the summer?  I wonder how many children will have their first painful but glorious first brush of love this summer.  Sometimes, you find more than Jesus at camp.

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