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Like A Thief In The Night

We wuz robbed.

They took our summer vacations away and I will never forgive or forget, you evil COVID 19.

Were this a normal summer, we would have taken two weeks vacation, probably renting a house in Cape May, where we’d take daily walks along the boardwalk to the arcade where my son wanted to play those insipid games and win those worthless insipid prizes, although to him they were like valuable treasures. We also liked walking to the lighthouse at Cape May Point and of course, just being at the beach, taking in the sun, getting burned and swimming in the rough surf, even though these days it seems Cape May has been taken over by Trump-screaming racists.

But the virus put the kaibosh on going away for vacation so we’ve stayed around home most of the time, which has had its good points as it’s been cheaper and it’s been nice to relax in a reclining chair in the backyard, reading the series of Narnia books on a broiling, brilliantly sunny, summer day and then drinking my IPAs at night.

Of course, my best summer vacations were the years before I was 11 and the family stayed at our bungalow in New Dorp Beach in Staten Island where we walked to the beach every morning, splayed out with friends on blankets and our transistor radios and came home at sunset, tired and hungry. We were very fortunate because my grandmother had given us the bungalow so we didn’t have to pay to stay there during the summer. Otherwise, it would have been summer day trips only because we couldn’t afford more. My father couldn’t even take a vacation as he commuted from the bungalow to work at a trucking firm in Jersey City until he died of a stroke in 1960.

I didn’t mind coming home that much because I appreciated the better flush toilet we had in Bergen County, rather than the pull kind at our bungalow and there were no spiders in the Bergen County shower. Although I can’t say that I looked forward to starting school again and watching my summer fade away into nothing but memories.

After we stopped going to Staten Island we didn’t do many family things in the summer, largely because of the prohibitive cost (to us) to rent a beach house in Long Beach Island, Seaside or other destinations down the shore, like many families, so that I didn’t see them for most of the summer. It was OK as there were other kids around, whose families were in the same financial straight as we were, so we rode our bikes and played a lot of baseball.

I went away on two sleep-away camps, one to Camp NoBeBosCo, the Boy Scout camp which and still is located in Hardwick Township in the Kittatinny Mountains. The website says the camp is “idyllic” but I didn’t see it that way, in fact, I didn’t make it through the two week adventure because I was so homesick that I called my mother to pick me up, which she did.

I just couldn’t get used to it, partly because it seemed all the other kids, except me, had all kinds of very cool Scouting gear, like large, two-layer foot lockers that they placed at the foot of their bunks while I brought my stuff in a suitcase, which seemed barely a notch above a brown paper bag. I just couldn’t see why I should stay with all these strange kids, learning things like how to tie a slip knot and how to make a campfire and how to recognize a poisonous snake when I could be home in my comfortable house and my comfortable bed and watching TV on Saturday mornings .

Now, the Ted Williams Baseball Camp at Loon Pond Lodge in Lakeville, Mass., was a totally different story. I have no idea how much the two-week camp cost but somehow my mother found the money. I don’t recall but I probably pestered her 24 hours a day, eight days a week for months before she withered and relented.

I actually met Ted Williams AKA the Splendid Splinter and won a small, plastic trophy for winning the batting title in my age group, which I think was when I was 13 years old. No homesickness during the two weeks of non-stop baseball, which included games and instruction in hitting, fielding and running every day and actually hitting from a pitching machine, which was heaven for us 13-year-old kids.

Williams came to the camp one day to speak with the campers. I have no idea what he talked about. He could have been lecturing us about how to catch marlins, as he loved deep sea fishing, but it didn’t matter because I was probably just totally mesmerized by being that close to a baseball legend and the last Major Leaguer to hit .400, in 1941, even though he could have sat out the last games of the season and not jeopardized reaching .400 but instead played and went six for eight in a double header against the Philadelphia Athletic, finishing with, a mind-boggling .40570, or, when rounded up, .406.

Thank you virus for this most unusual of summers and just wait till next year.

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer