“Life may not be the party we hoped for but while we are here we might as well dance.”
As I was growing up in the dry heat of West Texas I never went to summer camp; my parents couldn’t afford it. While I remained at home, swimming in an above ground plastic swimming pool and blasting neighbors with water balloons, I heard of other kids packing large trunks in preparation of spending the entire summer off on one big adventure after another: archery, canoeing, macramé. What an ideal way to get rid of your kids for a while! So when many Southern New Hampshire University MFA students said Star Island was like camp, I had an opportunity to discover what I had missed as a child.
People stand on the pier greeting the new arrivals with the chant, “Oceanic, Oceanic, rah, rah, rah. You will come back, you will come back.” A bit corny, right? But as I gazed on the wrinkled faces of the senior citizens I glimpsed a glow of time remembered. They were reliving their childhood and, for a moment, it made them happy. They were able to forget the morning face in the mirror awakening them with a start. On the island their achy joints and sadness of a lost era were put on the back shelf of their vast memory.
Clichés come to mind: “youth is wasted on the young” and “you never know what you got until it’s gone.” They’re clichés because they are so true. The Pelicans, the young hired help on the island, were a constant reminder of what was lost and could never be found again. They were the ghosts of Christmases past haunting the halls of the clapboard white buildings of the Oceanic Hotel. They were as threatening as the sea gulls protecting their nests. I began to comprehend why some of the elder islanders were so crotchety. They rode emotional foamy waves on the glittering Atlantic, knowing their surface beauty had set sail off the face of the earth. They felt cheated, robbed, and bitter. They deserved more respect, more reverence, or they were invisible, ignored, forgotten. They might as well be dead, merely echoing footsteps on the narrow wooden planked floors.
Sandwiched between these two generations, as I am with my parents and my children, I found myself scrutinizing my middle-aged body, forgetting its strength and the miracles it has performed by giving birth to two beautiful girls who are now beautiful, wise women. Gazing on the smooth sculpted skin of youngsters, I wished I had spent more time relishing my own sleek body while I still had it all. I felt sadly determined. Though I wasted my youth, I won’t waste the time I have left on this planet. I made plans to shed twenty pounds and considered plastic surgery.
Okay, I know it shouldn’t be all about physical attractiveness, but more intellectual growth and wisdom. I want to grow old gracefully, filled with love and compassion, not nagging and complaining about the rambunctious noise-makers all full of life. But I feel left behind after sixteen years of teaching kindergarteners and second graders, followed by ESL young adults. I gave up writing and read only children’s books. I raised a family during that time; that’s something to be proud of. I can’t help the hormones, or lack of, that twist my soul inside out. I miss those long-forgotten years and fear what’s ahead. What’s a girl supposed to do? Ride the waves of life and thank my lucky stars I’ve made it this far. I am blessed and need to remember that. So among the many lessons I learned at summer camp on Star Island is I can catch up by devoting the last half of my life to reading and writing. Forget about plastic surgery.