letter from camp

by bam

in our house, it is nearly extinct. the tradition, that is, of writing letters from camp.
we do seem to get the requisite one. the one that keeps campers from dinner if they don’t hand it over. the meal-ticket letter, basically. you walk in the dining hall, you cough it up–signed, sealed, stamped–or no grub for you, pal.
regardless of its position on the endangered species roster, the chap i live with, the one who rolls in the door most evenings, newspaper tucked under one arm, tie loosed at the neck, a veritable modern-day version of ward cleaver home from the office, asks every night: any word from the woods?
he is hopeful, the man who married me. so very hopeful.
well, what to our wondering stars did appear just a few days ago, not one but TWO (sit down, she used the capital letter key. quiver me timbers), t-w-o (in case you were so distracted by caps, you missed the point there), real-live, hand-scribbled (and i mean scribble; it took a committee of two to decipher a few of what must have been code words, written in deep-woods hieroglyphics meant only for campers) missives, complete, you can see for yourself up above, with delightful delicious illustration of the old family symbol for how much one is missing the other. (his outstretched-arm little stick fellow so finely fine-tuned for the occasion with the addition of backpack, quick-dry shorts and boots, each labeled and arrowed.)
the letters were rich: news of 12-mile hike in pouring rain, complete with hail. and aborted overnight sleep-out when counselor discovered campsite was closed.
the letters were heart-wrenching: the news, illustrated, that we were missed, more than ever before.
the letters were wise: the sentence about how it might be time to take a pause from observing the world and get to know himself, find the person he really is.
and the letters made me worry all night: the news that his feets and his boots were not getting along, not at all, and the mere removing of socks was, in his word, “excruciating.”
perhaps the news just above is the heart of the reason a mama whose son is at camp is better off believing that a day without mail is a day without worries. maybe it’s true, after all, that no news is good news. and a mama is not meant, by design or decree, to hear but a speck from her boy in the woods.
ah, but what would a mama be without worries? heck, she would be barely employable. she would defy job description. she’d be snoozin’, asleep on her shift, slumped in the corner. whole assembly lines rumbling by, parts missing, and she’d be utterly useless, lids down, zzzs roaring.
mais non. a mama with cubs is a mama awake and trembling with worries whenever she can. it makes her feel needed, it makes her feel useful.
so i do what i can to keep myself in the business.
i lay awake a good chunk of the night, picturing my boy with his feets red and throbbing. remember the ingrown toenail commercials of long, long ago? where that big fat red toe was pulsing and blinking? the little red zigzags, a halo of pain, streaking out from the toe? well, that was the scene that i saw in my head. only it wasn’t his toe, it was his feets, right and left.
i pictured the child, limping along, miles behind even the next slowest camper. but then i said to myself, self, cut this out. he is, as you fret, most likely ensconced deep in a golden-charred marshmallow. (i know his taste, know it precisely, know that he likes a bit of burnish up on the top, but the underbelly he likes looking like charcoal.)
so instead of sinking in worry, i reread the letters. i wiped away tears. i read them and held them as if they were him.
they were, really. that was the beautiful thing. the boy digested his soul, digested his wit, spit it out in sentences that sounded just how he sounds.
it was, as in all the best letters, as if i was holding a piece of his heart, right there in my hands.
a letter from someone you love, really love, is not only rarer than rare these emailing days, a letter from someone you love is a full-service smorgasbord. you are filled. you are sated. you get a taste of all of the food groups. you drink of his joy. you chew on his thoughts. you push back from the table, the letter, you think you want more. but then you sit for a moment, and you feel yourself full.
you walk, yes you do, back and forth to those letters. you read once again, you soak in the essence. the boy that you love has sent you a piece of his soul, of his story.
and you can’t wait for more. though you know it will not, more than likely, come in the mail.
you wait, yes you do, ’til the real thing himself comes out of the woods.
and then you will sit and you’ll listen, you will. you’ll get the whole deal. you’ll smell it. you’ll see it. you’ll hear of the ups and the downs, and the in-betweens, too, as you soak and you rub those poor aching feets.
and, better than best, you won’t have to slide it, not one little bit, back in the envelope.
the envelope, by the way, that’s worn out from all the pushing and shoving, the shoving of pages you’ve read and re-read, so many times you could tell them by heart.

anyone else getting fine morsels in the mail this summer? s’mores in the form of pages of print? do you read them and read them again? have you sat down to send any missives yourself? summer, it seems, is a fine time for brushing up on the fine art of letters. my hope, then, is that someone you love, really love, sends you a sheaf of all that is new, that is good, spelled out in words that stream on for pages and pages.
p.s. speaking of morsels, a few new ones on the ol’
lazy susan, the one spinning a little bit lazier now that it’s summer.