16 May 2017

Leisure

The Grand Union Flag of America (1775)
As I mentioned before, Red Raider was a day camp. That meant that counsellors were free to do their own thing every evening and at weekends too. There were many visits to Skip and Ray's bar where Skip affectionately  labelled me "that limey bastard". We also went to Chuck and Janine's bar by the road to Burton.

I went to see the Cleveland Indians play a couple of times. In case you didn't know they are one of America's top professional baseball teams. I also went to see big concerts including Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt and (please don't laugh) Barry Manilow.

Chris invited me back to his family home near Youngstown. Behind the house there was a kidney-shaped swimming pool complete with a diving board. I have an image in mind of his lovely mother Flo just floating round that pool on her back propelled by the current of the filtration system but the first weekend I went there Chris's sisters were sunbathing by that pool in their bikinis.

We got talking. They had never seen an ocean and they had never met an Englishman before. Becky said, "Say The Beadles Neil! Say Elton Jahn!" and both she and Mary-Beth laughed with delight to hear my cute English pronunciation. They were lovely optimistic girls, filled with mischief. They asked me if I could sing and brought out a guitar.

Then they phoned their friends and half an hour later in one of the most bizarre moments of my life, I found myself sitting on the diving board with a guitar, strumming along to "All I Have To Do Is Dream" by The Everly Brothers as twenty gorgeous American teenage girls in bikinis looked up at me with dreamy eyes:-
I can make you mine, 
Taste your lips of wine
Anytime, night or day
Only trouble is, gee whiz
I'm dreamin' my life away

I visited Poland, Ohio several times. One night Becky challenged me to a dancing competition in their den with its shagpile carpet. We had all consumed several cans of American beer and our spirits were high. Every time she sank down on the sofa I would laughingly declare that England had won and she'd get back up. Then when I flopped down she'd yell the opposite. We danced and danced till we could dance no more and both of us ended up collapsing on the carpet at 4am. It was a draw!

Perhaps I could have fallen in love with several young American women in the summer of 1976 but I was drawn to Donna Smith who was a pretty twenty one year old camp counsellor from Indianapolis. Though I had had girlfriends before, this was very different. We were walking on air. Suddenly life was coloured in. I met her parents in a country club and we visited her sisters. When camp finished that summer I went to stay with her in Bloomington where she was a physiotherapy student at Indiana University. It was a terrible wrench to leave her at the end of August but I had to get back to my own university studies  in Scotland. We both wept like babies at the Greyhound bus station.

She was the main reason I returned to Red Raider Camp in the summer of 1977. This time I was the lead counsellor for the Arapahos and having pined for Donna for nine months I expected that we would pick up where we had left off but something was amiss. In the intervening months she had found a new beau in Bloomington but had neglected to tell me. I was heartbroken and angry. At first I didn't know what to think.

I went for an audition in a bar in Chagrin Falls. They needed a singer every Thursday night. The bar owner liked me and I got the job. My pay was twenty bucks a night and as much beer as I could drink though drinking a bellyful of beer isn't really advisable when you are playing guitar and performing.

Business became busy in the bar on Thursday nights. Locals were curious to listen to the crazy English guy singing "All Along the Watchtower", "As I Went Out One Morning", "The Wild Rover", "Barbara Allen", "Summertime Blues" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" etcetera. One night Donna came along with some other female counsellors and her heart went out to me again like an electric current. She tried to get back with me and I wanted that too but it was difficult. We tried but just couldn't work it out.  The summer of 1977 was tinged with pain. Hell - that was forty years ago. I have no idea what happened to her.

Chris also returned to Red Raider in the summer of '77 and we shared the same red cabin together. He was and he is a great guy with a big heart. Very kindly, he frequently lent me his Ford Mustang - for example just to get to the bar in Chagrin Falls on Thursday nights. Looking back through this blog, I noticed that last year I told the tale of one particular Sunday morning when I was travelling eastwards in Chris's car but for your entertainment and interest I repeat it here:-

"It was when I was a camp counsellor in Ohio. My friend Chris who was the art counsellor had kindly lent me his Ford Mustang. It was a Sunday morning and I was heading east on Highway 87 though I can't remember where I was going. Anyway, just outside Russell I saw a young man at the side of the road. He was hitch-hiking so I pulled over to give him a lift.. He was obviously a biker with a worn black leather jacket, grimy jeans and lank hair. In fact he was on his way to a moto-cross meet the other side of the oddly named township of Mesopotamia.

There was little traffic around and as we followed the road through Burton we chatted away about this and that. A couple of miles before I was to drop him off, he said:-
"Hey man, you've got a funny accent."
"Yeah, that's because I'm from England," I said, smiling across at him.
He paused and thought for a minute.
"England? Ain't that somewhere over near Maine?"

Well, you could have hit me with a wet haddock. He was confusing England with New England! And before I dropped him off I had the humbling experience of explaining to him that there is a country called England on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I said, "You know. The place where The Beatles come from".

But as he closed the passenger door and thanked me for the lift, the expression on his face proved that he was none the wiser. In fact, he probably thought he had just had a ride with a deranged lunatic."

After camp closed in mid-August 1977, I travelled to Minneapolis to meet up with my old and now sadly departed friend Richard. We drove up north to stay in his parents' cabin by a remote lake on the Canadian border. A few days later, on the way back, we took a special detour into  the iron town of Hibbing and with some difficulty managed to locate Bob Dylan's childhood home.

Soon after this, I took a Greyhound bus to Chicago then a flight to New York City in good time for my journey home. And as I looked out of the porthole by my window seat observing Atlantic waves far below, I thought of my two wonderful Red Raider summers and all that had happened. I had really lived them and I had really been alive, soaking it all up, happy to wake up each morning and just get going. I had become an unashamed Americophile but because of what happened with Donna, it took me a long time to get back there.

31 comments:

  1. You are quite the artist, aren't you? with singing, guitar, poetry, painting and photography!

    I'm enjoying your series on summer and will look forward to more installments

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    1. I don't think there will be any more instalments Kylie. I think this particular story has reached its natural ending.

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  2. You had some biggies with your american experience... a love affair that was hot, good times, trips, experience with kids!

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    1. Yup! Ideal for a 22/23 year old Yorkshire nut who was scheduled to become a high school teacher.

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  3. Firstly, I didn't know until this post that you sang, Yorkie.

    I never cease to be amazed just how ignorant (and I don't say this rudely...I hope my meaning isn't misinterpreted. My intention is not rudeness in anyway...just amazement) many Americans are re geography/other countries etc. Through the years, I've come across many instances similar to the one you describe here with the hitch-hiker.

    Love...it can break our heart and it can fill our heart....knowing when to stay...when to walk away...

    I'm enjoying your reminiscing, Yorkie. :)

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    1. "knowing when to stay...when to walk away"... I like that - like a line from a love song.

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  4. Wow, you were once in love with an American girl. What a great story! I'm glad the breakup with her didn't turn you against the USA for good. It sounds like you had a couple of amazing summers here. :)

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    1. It was like being in a movie but I knew the script by heart. I was glad to get back in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2014. A bit like coming home.

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  5. This was a great morning coffee read, thank you! I am just starting to catch up with blogs after a bit more than a week away, and your blog was a great place to begin.

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    1. I trust you had a lovely time by your Italian lake. Thanks for dropping by once more Meike and taking the trouble to read this.

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  6. What a wonderful read, though I am sorry for your heartbreak, and yes, it is ignorant of Americans not to understand more of the world's geography.

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    1. May I ask you a couple of questions to test your own geographical knowledge "e"?
      1) What shape is Planet Earth?
      2) One third of The Earth is land but what fills the other two thirds?
      3) Is Canada north or south of the USA?
      4) What is the capital of the USA?
      5) What is an atlas?

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    2. Oh, you are too funny...as a former interning teacher who was forced to teach geography, I can personally attest to bad textbooks and overarching ignorance on the part of kids, teachers and parents, among others...Having grown up and lived outside the US for the first twenty years of life, I had the opportunity to travel, and I think that helped my understanding of cultures, geopolitics and location immensely. In my years as a librarian, there are many atlases, most of which are rarely used to explain geography, locality, and note ways of getting to or between various places or points of interest. The earth, once assumed flat, is anything but, and mostly covered by our most precious resource--water. This is apt because our nation's capitol is known as a swamp, and besides water, it is known for DC or Decrepit Capitalists, those merry henchmen snatching money from the middle and lower classes and giving it to the rich. Mexico is our southern neighbor, a place I lived in for a short while in my youth. To our north lies the big and beautiful country of Canada, a place alas I've yet to see...Wishing you a happy evening!

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    3. A very clever, wordy response "e" but I notice it was probably a distraction - avoiding clear answers to the five questions but I accept that incidentally you got Q3 and Q4 right! Well done young lady - that means that you are in the top percentile of Americans based on geographical understanding.

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  7. This reads like a good book - travel, adventure, and heartbreak. But then it is said we all have a book inside us.

    Are you SURE Skip was being affectionate when he called you names? :) Just kidding, YP.

    Thanks for taking us along on your trip down memory lane.

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    1. Skip and I had a funny but combative relationship. Thanks for reading these posts Jenny. I have missed out many other moments that could have extended the story by a few pages.

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  8. The farmer and I have visited America many times - and Canada too (we absolutely loved Canada) - folk are lovely and welcoming. Young love is always tinged with sadness isn't it?

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    1. What was your favourite North American place Mrs Weaver? Was it Patsville, Nevada or perhaps Thistlethwaite Falls in Indiana?

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  9. Love this'series' YP. It is a book waiting to be read (by me), where I relish the next page. You are a skilled storyteller indeed. (My life adventures are much more mundane...)
    Anna :o]

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    1. When it is told well mundanity can be the best and most interesting subject of all. Real life isn't all high drama Anna though I suspect that you have had your moments!

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  10. You have just got to write a book, my friend. It is so wonderful that you remember the places and the feelings you had for people and the nature and circumstances around you. It would be a lovely book of remembrance, don't you think?

    Now, here is the kicker, my brother. Guess what my name was before my nuptuals in 1969? Donna Smith!! I kid you not! And, I worked as a camp counselor on Lake George in New York state during the summers of 1967 and 1968. And, as you know, played my trusty Gibson sang my heart out in coffee houses and hippy bars all over that part of NY.

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    1. I knew your first name was Donna Mama Bear but I had no idea that your maiden name was Smith! That is very, very spooky. You and I - we are connected in several surprising ways.

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  11. What wonderful experiences YP. I wonder if today's young Brits will have the same opportunities you had, given how everything seems to have changed recently?

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    1. When she was nineteen I encouraged by daughter to work on a US summer camp during her university vacation but she didn't make it. However, she later spent a wonderful year at Birmingham Southern College in Alabama. But I know what you are saying CG - times have changed.

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  12. I've just finished reading the Camp Counselor trilogy. Great mini memoir. A wonderful opportunity for a young person to experience life in another country and (shame on me) I laughed at the biker hitch-hiker story. Two reasons: how could anyone not know where England is and a wake up call about thinking who we are and where we come from is of any importance to other people.
    I've not only screwed up the grammar in that last sentence but I've also managed to write complete nonsense...

    Take it or leave it!

    Alphie

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    1. I am glad you enjoyed this little trilogy Alphie. You haven't written complete nonsense... I understood the point you were making.

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  13. Great stories! Sadly, an American being clueless about the rest of the world doesn't surprise me at all.

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    1. Being a land of immigrants (apologies to my Native American readers!) one would have thought that all Americans would be pretty knowledgeable about the world beyond The States. But clearly this isn't so.

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  14. When I was this age my head was full of marriage and settling down. It was a time when young people of my age were just beginning to think of travel rather than home making but not me. I guess that's why travel is so important to me now.

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    1. Back then very few of my peers had travelled. In that respect I was a bit of freak. You have certainly discovered the travel bug in your maturity Helen and I like the way you travel - independently, researching, building a kind of story that unfolds as you go along.

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  15. You can now add me to the list of readers of your adventures. There is so much more in many people's backgrounds than most others would ever realise. I certainly admire your wide and varied talents. On the subject of geographical knowledge I recall mentioning many years ago (but when I was living on Lewis) that I was going to Stirling. The person to whom I was talking thought Stirling was a place in England.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.