For those of you expecting my riff on Brian Adams or maybe something perverted (you know….69), sorry to disappoint. The recent passing of Neil Armstrong gave me one of those “where were you when” moments, and it got me thinking to the summer of 1969, hence the title. Come to think of it, I could have also written this under the title of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
1969 was my first year at sleep-away. I went to Camp Lenox in the Berkshires, a place of endless wonder to me even to this day. Many years later, my daughter Allie and my son Zach would follow in my footsteps, and make their own magic on that Berkshire Mountain high.
The owner of Camp Lenox was Monty “Coach” Moss, who still helps run the camp alongside his son Rich (a.k.a. Shiek, Rico, R. Moss, Pete, Oxygen Man) who was my counselor for 2 years and is a life long friend. To this day, if you ask Coach what was the worst summer of his career in the camping industry, he will tell you it was 1969, which I will get to in a moment.
But let’s start with the good. My first year at camp was a wonderful experience. I made friends, some of whom I’m still friends with some 40+ years later, I had great fun, and my summer was topped off when I was elected Color War Captain for my group. I can still walk into the Camp Lenox Dining Hall and see my name on the Color War plaque.
As for the “where you were when” moment, I remember watching the Apollo 11 mission on a small, fuzzy, black and white TV in the counselors lounge. The TV signal probably was coming from an Albany TV station and reception in those days was pretty bad but we sat and watched as history was made. I think of that moment every time I walk past the counselor’s lounge, which I did as recently as 4 weeks ago when Linda and I were up at camp to watch the opening day of Color War, so we could catch Zach in action as the General of The Orange Wild.
Now for the bad. Unfortunately, I also learned about death that summer. 2 counselors at camp, including my group leader, were killed in a single engine plane crash. Coach had to call all the parents to let them know and than inform the campers. The morning after the crash was damp and dreary (more on this later). I can still see Coach walking on the camp road towards our group line-up outside bunks 31 and 32 (32 being my bunk). I was only 9 at the time, and death was a new concept to me, but I knew that a life that had so touched mine in such a short period of time was gone. It’s a feeling I remember still.
As for the ugly, it rained, than it rained again, and than it rained some more. Of the 56 days of camp, it rained on 28 of them. Visiting day was spent playing games in the counselor’s lounge and in the lodge because it rained.
When all was said and done, despite the rain and the sadness, I returned to Camp Lenox for a total of 7 years and I still rue the day that my parents would not let me return for my last year as a camper, not to mention that I never returned as a counselor, a mistake neither of my children repeated.m
At my wedding, the best man was Eric, my life long friend, who I met at Lenox, when I was 10 years old. Eric, who is 6’4″ or so, wore boys size 20, 5 Year Lenox jacket. My sisters can be heard on the wedding video, singing the camp fight song in the background. 20 years later at Zach’s bar mitzvah, Rich, Eric and a few other Lenox alums were there to celebrate with us.
When I first returned to Lenox as an active alum and parent, the hairs on the back of my neck would stand-up. That sensation has worn off but not the wonder, the feeling that I can recapture a part of my youth walking the camp grounds.
So Mr. Armstrong, I’d like to thank you. In life and in your passing, you are an inspiration. You’ve brought back wonderful memories of that day in the counselors’ lounge and of the magical summer of 1969.