The green world awaited me, along with a bunch of pots and pans

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

Each year around this time as a teenager I was getting ready to make the transition from big stinkin’ city to the green world.

There were still finals to study for and term papers to finish, but I was getting the summer camp jitters. It was a way of escaping from the real world for a couple of months, not really caring about what day it was while enjoying a ready-made social setting.

I was hired as a kitchen worker at age 15. My only responsibility for the next two months was to make sure that the camp chef’s pots and pans were clean and shiny.

Instead of waking up to street traffic and sirens, I woke up to Reveille playing on the loudspeaker and walked out into the green world inhaling the wonderful smell of pine trees as I made my way to the camp kitchen for another round of pots and pans.

A set of twins worked the industrial dishwasher behind me. Waiters hurried in and out as chef Carl and his assistant dished out the main course and whatever else was on the menu. We were all about the same age and had the same mission – getting away for the summer without paying for it.

We could have looked for summer jobs close to home, but that would have required staying in the stinkin’ city. Some of us were poor, like me, and some were from families that were pretty well off. In camp, though, background and money meant nothing, especially in the 1970s.

Plus, we got paid a measly amount of money at the end of the camp session. Many of us spent more than that during our eight or so weeks of employment, but we were also getting room and board in a place that most of us couldn’t afford.

Ben Liemer, one of the waiters, could have afforded it. His father was a rich doctor in the suburbs. I was from a broken home, raised by a single mom. We became good friends over the course of the summer and hung out together during our days off.

“Why didn’t you stay in the suburbs and get a job there?” I asked him one time. He went into a drawn-out explanation that boiled down basically to one reason – he and his dad didn’t get along.

Ben knew all the tricks of teenagehood and how to push the envelope right to the edge, but staying out of trouble. It was the early 1970s. Things were a little different back then. And, we were on our own to do as we pleased, with certain boundaries and responsibilities.

It was an adventure. The work was nothing. I could do it with my eyes closed, and sometimes I did. Carl got his clean pots and pans. That’s all he cared about.

The kitchen staff was assigned to bunks where the kids stayed. The counselors and kids were from all across the country and overseas. We blended together in one big melting pot, rich and poor, workers and campers.

Most of the kids stayed for the whole summer. A lot of them were literally dumped off as the parents enjoyed vacations in Europe. Many were from broken families.Some were little whiners at the beginning of the season, but broke out of their shells as their confidence grew. The poor little rich kids, first time away from home, came to the right place.

We were one big family, a community where kitchen workers were on the same level as rich campers.
“Why don’t you take the train into the city,” I told Ben one day near the end of the season when we were hanging out by the lake after work. “We can catch some concerts.”

“It’ll give me a chance to get away from my dad,” he said.

“I’ll show you around the city,” I said.

“Sure, where do you live?” he asked.

“In the projects,” I said.

“I have never seen one of those except on the TV news,” he replied.

“You’ll see what it’s like on the other side of the tracks,” I said. “It’s not what you think.”

I had to kick myself in the rear to return to the real world at the end of the summer, but the adventure repeated itself for six more summers, through high school and college, each summer different from the last.

But that was the last time I washed pots and pans three times a day. Greater challenges awaited.

(I look forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.}