MY ACHING BACK - AND
it's because my own active Y days are so far behind me, and coed swimming
has made me slightly prudish, but the sight of the camp dock thronged with
undraped male specimens of all ages—and sizes—struck me as strangish, unaccustomed
as I am to Turkish baths.
Sherman and I were paddling our canoe from the nefher end of Quick Pond when
the white mass resolved itself into an assorted collection of
fleshpots—and, since this was annual reunion weekend, I do mean pots!
though, they weren't so bad, considering their ages. After all, these men
were athletes in their salad days, and most of them have managed to keep in
pretty fair shape. Nevertheless, there's a roundness and fullness about the
rarely exposed regions that strikes the uninitiated eye as passing strange.
you understand, that I had any qualms about joining the army en deshabile.
Modesty never has been one of my virtues. And as a matter of bare fact, the
all-or-nothing custom solved a problem for me.
was up at the Newark Y's Kamp Kiamesha high in the hills of Sussex county
for the weekend, all packed to go directly from there to the elegant
Traymore in Atlantic City for the druggists' convention. The difficulty
posed by wet swim trunks troubled me. The problem resolved itself. My fleshy
derriere took its place unclad among the others and trunks remained dry for
the sojourn to the shore.
lying in my canvas bunk, I was inspired by the recollection of that motley
array to write a paraphrase of Whittier's "Barefoot Boy." ".
. . Blessings on thee, little man . . . ." Remind me to recite it to
you one of these days.
was another throwback to my boyhood there in the tranquil northern Blue
Ridge Mountains, where the Appalachian Trail winds its aboriginal way—back
to an era when government was less solicitous about the fingers and eyes of
its subjects, and fireworks were not outlawed by stodgy statute. Some old
grad, who lives in a backward state that places firecrackers on a lethal
level somewhat below the deadly automobile, brought a goodly supply with
him—goodly and loudly. Did I ever really enjoy having a cannon-cracker
explode under my bunk just when I was dozing off? I wondered as I
scrambled about on the tent house floor on hands and knees looking for the
missing parts of my skull.
there was something nostalgic about those pyrotechnics, for all 'a that. I
floated in a pungent sea of remembrance as Independence Days I have known
drifted past. Like the time the string of torpedoes frightened Mr. Kelsey's
skittish mare, overturning the sulky and breaking his old mother's hip in
three places. Ah, memories!
I digress. I am dealing with a later day, and hips of a different gender, if
not much different in embonpoint. Middle-aged man and woman look nowhere so
much alike as from the rear, the view unencumbered by cover.
my friend Toni Kieb, mine host on this adventure. Now Toni was a terrific
athlete in his hey-hey day, a champion swimmer, aquatic and athletic
director of camps and Y gyms, a real man's man. But Toni in a bathing suit
could be my Aunt Matilda. From aft, that is. Many a man looks almost
reversible in trunks, his fore protuberance approximating in size and
shape, and even in location, the bulge behind. Could Frank Fifty screw his
head around you couldn't tell at a cursory glance— I almost said at first
blush — whether he was coming or going. But there on the dock at Kiamesha
I had no trouble at all.
I know you won't believe: I wouldn't myself if each thigh didn't sigh with
the aching memory; but I played not one game Saturday afternoon but two. And
I lugged my protesting carcass around to home plate half a dozen times,
snared everything that came reasonably
close to first base, including some pop flies within ambling distance.
needn't tell me I'm too old for that sort of thing; I know it very well. I
purposely avoid these trappings of youth as much as possible, because my
resistance is never lower than at a camp or playground, unless it is a
smorgasbord table. I am a sucker for a court, tennis or basketball. I love
nothing better than to drive my aging right toe (broken three times) into a
bloated pig bladder, or snatch it up and dash with verve and eclat through a
bewildered field of would-be tacklers. But somehow a hurricane always seems
to be blowing in my face when I punt. And how it is that Ross and his
six-year-old playmates always manage to trip me up when I'm carrying the
ball I can't for the life of me explain. That little Mary Jane is a deadly
it is at the sight of a baseball diamond that I really lose all reason,
throwing off the restraining hand of aged discretion, and prance into action
like an ancient, spavined fire horse that hears the gong and sniffs the
nostalgic acrid odor of smoke. I dearly love to take my cut at the ball, a
slashing, vigorous swing that some not-too-distant-day will dislocate my
sacroiliac. Disdaining caution and common sense, I run those bases like
crazy—anyway, like a crazy hippopotamus. Younger men watch me with
consternation and implore me to "take it easy" while they tag me
out. If I took it any easier I'd be running in reverse.
I played both ends of a double-header there at Kiamesha, with lads who for
the most part are camp counsellors, natural athletes, in training, some
still in school. Having survived that, did I rest on my laurels, quit
while I was ahead? No. When an old non-combatant forsakes the lethargic and
sedentary life, he goes all out until he drops from exhaustion or coronary
thrombosis. From a sluggish, almost stationary symbol of idleness, he
transforms himself into a veritable whirling dervish, arousing muscles and
organs from their long hibernation, to their bumpy amazement and, judging
from their counter-attacking reaction, their displeasure.
ball games? Merely a warmup for this young-in-heart.
I swam the eternal triangle, qualification for aquatic laurels, without
going over on my back to float my breath back more than twenty or thirty
paddled my borrowed canoe— one of those floating sardine cans of
lightweight metal, happily— from one end of Quick Pond to another (the
ends are not very far apart; it's a rather small lake).
volleyball court, though, was my undoing. It was there that I covered myself
with something less than glory- I, who had one of the most bruising overhead
clenched-fist serves in the salad-and-fish course of my youth; who could set
with feathery touch and net-grazing accuracy; who could spike with fearsome
was I to know they use higher nets and smaller courts these days? Every
year, new rules! Even the gremlins conspired against me. One alternately
hoisted up the net and moved in the backline when I served; another
stiffened my fingers when they should have been curved and supple and
pliable; another weighted my feet with anchors when I strove to spring into
the air to spike a smash down through the numbed hands of the opposing front
lines. Mean, nasty old gnomes.
that did it. I didn't mind spots before my eyes, but when the sweat pouring
down my face sprouted great red flames out of which emerged twenty horned
disciples of Satan beating upon my bald pate with iron mallets, I knew my
excursion into exercisia was over.
thought about it next day, trying to rest on the train to the Traymore. It
kept me busy putting my legs back on at each jar and jostle of the roadbed
from Newark to Atlantic City.
to my discomfort was delayed penance for my unusual and unseemly exposure. I
shouldn't have lolled in the sun so long, baring to Sol's fierce frown
certain tender parts that had no previous coating of tan. Public beaches in
this country draw two lines, below and above which, respectively, neither
Apollo's rays nor mankind's gaze may venture with propriety and the law's
immunity. True the area between those extremities is slight latitudinally,
(let us not discuss longitude,
diameter or, above all, circumference), but what is contained therein is
highly sensitive to such influences as fiery Phoebus exerts.
I took mental solace if not physical relief in the thought that every
steaming mile was taking me closer to my pharmaceutical friends who would
have balm and unguents for my salvation.
wasn't only a retreat from the conventional, that sunny June weekend— it
was a memorable, youth-reviving experience.
means "placid waters" in Indian dialect, and Quick Pond, named for
the famed trapper and Indian fighter, Tom Quick, sits serenely in the lap of
majestic mountains that encircle the lake like an emerald pendant around a
Y sends over a thousand youngsters up to this healthful haven for varying
periods during the summer season. It exemplifies the grand contributions
made by this organization to the well-being of the community. Boldly
displayed in the dining hall is the camp motto: "God First, Other
Fellow Second, I'm Third," a provocative lesson in sacrificing
spirit of unselfishness characterizes everything about Kiamesha: the loyalty
and enthusiasm of adult volunteers who work to improve it constantly; the
affection and respect that campers and camp leaders alike show the veteran
director, Moose Wands; the lessons of sportsmanship and honesty given
youngsters by example. It was a refreshing experience to play baseball and
volleyball with men who are so honorable they seem more intent on calling
fouls on themselves than in winning!
was a heartwarming spectacle, too, this get-together of men who had played
together years before. Reunion is really something to see— something
touching and fine—the feeling and warmth of these old friends greeting one
another, the respect and manly affection they hold for one another. Men like
Tubby Barr, Lancaster Y executive and Franklin & Marshall College
leader; like Jim Fithian, who wrote a dozen memorable musical productions
for the camp down through the years, and played the melodies while Al
Pearsall led a gripping group songfest. Toni Kieb, back from a transcontinental
speaking tour as president of the National Institute of Real Estate
Management, brought back greetings of old camp men he saw in Denver, Oakland
and other distant points. Truly it's a sight to warm a sentimental old
heart. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, aching bones notwithstanding.