HELLO MUDDA, HELLO FADDA!
My brother and sister used to go to camp when they were young. My grandfather had a niece who was a nun, Sister Lucille, who was in charge of Camp Saint John in Peapack-Gladstone New Jersey. My brother and sister were away at camp every summer and as my sister got older she even became a counselor at Camp Saint John. I was too young to go to camp so I missed out. But that didn’t last long.
My parents saw how much fun my sister and brother would have at summer camp so when I was old enough they made plans to ship me off to camp. I’m not sure why I didn’t go to Camp Saint John, maybe by the time I was old enough the camp didn’t exist any longer. I went to a camp called Dominican Camp in Sag Harbor Long Island.
It sounded like a good idea. At 8 or 9 years old the thought of swimming, playing and country fun seemed larger than life. What did I know. My parents said I would have a great time. My brother and sister always had. But I wasn’t my brother or sister.
The reality of being left in a strange place with strange people didn’t start to sink in until my parents started saying their goodbyes. It took over me like a dark blanket. They were going to leave! Without me! I had never been away from my parents before, ever. Even when I was sick in the hospital, my mother found a way to bribe the nurses to have her spend the night there with me. I think she cooked them meals or offered to clean bed pans or something. Back then no one was allowed to stay overnight in the hospitals. But my mother managed it.
A pit in my stomach started forming and as I saw my parents pull away in their car… I thought I was going to die. This is not having a good time! Swimming, baseball, arts and crafts, archery…they never crossed my mind. I wanted to go home.
An 8 year old has a different sense of realty than an adult. In my mind I could only think that if anything happened to my parents while I was at camp I would be stuck here forever. I believed that. This was a catholic camp and every morning we went to church. And the thing I prayed for the most was that nothing would happened to my parents so they can come back and get me the heck out of here.
When I wasn’t worrying about my parents meeting the grim reaper I managed to have some fun, swimming, playing baseball and making box stitch bracelets with plastic string.
Camp was my first introduction to “bug juice”. Bug juice was what we called the red “kool aid” they would serve us at meal time. When the counselors opened the Canteen it was a treat. With the little money our parents left us we were able to buy soda, and candy, Finally some familiar food! But we were only allowed to pick one thing.
The meals were terrible. We would go up by tables and get our food on trays as the attendants slopped whatever it was they were serving for the day. Every meal looked the same. Some unrecognizable meat covered in some brown sauce. And boiled vegetables. It was so bad that most of us used to take slices of white bread they had on all the tables and sprinkle salt on them and eat it for a meal. A few made ketchup sandwiches. When were my parents coming back??
By the second or third day many of the boys started dropping like flys from vomiting and diarrhea. Something was going around the camp and it was only a matter of time until it hit me. And then I thought, “this could be my ticket out of here”!!! I waited to get sick, eating everything on my plate, hoping whatever it was had to come from the food. But I was fine. I couldn’t even spend the day at the infirmary. Maybe if I faked it they would call my parents to come up and get me out of here. Nothing worked. I continued to make box stitch key chains out of plastic string.
The boys in my cabin were all fine. We didn’t have any wise guys or bullies. And the counselors from what I remember were also a good group. It took me a few days, but I realized that I was up here for the duration and I might as well just have a good time. I always loved the water, so swimming was the highlight of the day, except for the hundreds of horse shoe crabs that were littering the sandy beach. I never saw one before and it was always the subject of freaking someone out yelling “horse shoe crab!!!”, while in the water.
The cook outs were a fun time and we weren’t being fed the slop from the kitchen. The counselors would BBQ hot dogs and we would have a great time sitting around the camp fire eating hot dogs and drinking “bug juice”. We listened to stories about unwary teenagers parked in cars being attacked by escaped lunatics. A nice thing to hear just before bed time. I was going to be up here for two weeks???? What were my parents thinking???
By Friday I was really looking forward to parents weekend. That is when all the parents came up for the day. As I waited on the steps of my cabin I looked for any movement that came from the long road that led to the camp. “Please let nothing happen to them, please let nothing happen to them”, I prayed as I sat there waiting. And then I recognized my father’s 54 Mercury pulling into the parking lot. I thought this day would never come.
My mother pulled out bags and trays of food she prepared and we set them up on the near by picnic tables. Finally, mom’s cooking! Fried chicken, baked ziti, eggplant Parmigiana. Oh it was good to taste her cooking again!When my mother asked me if I was having a good time I didn’t know where to begin. I only knew she wasn’t going home without me. I was not going to spend a second week here.
I told her that everyone was getting sick and the food was terrible. Kids were throwing up all over the place and we were eating sliced white bread for lunch and dinner. That is all she had to hear. As I sat enjoying my mother’s fried chicken with my father, my mother took a walk to the administrative office. All my father was worried about was loosing a weeks fee for leaving early. He began telling me stories about how bad army food was and I should just suck it up. I ignored him, I knew my mother was in charge at this point. My father went on to say what are all the other kids going to think that your leaving. What other kids? Are you kidding? I’ll never see these boys again. I didn’t care.
When my mother came back she asked me why I didn’t tell them sooner. She would have never let me stay up here under these conditions. “We’re taking him home”, my mother commanded. I never heard more sweet words in my life.
The following summer my parents sent me to Camp Saint Vincent, somewhere in Jersey. In their mind, Dominican Camp was just a bad choice. In my mind, I couldn’t believe they were doing this to me again. That was the last year I went to camp. The following summers I would spend with my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Sal at their summer house down the Jersey Shore. At least the food was better!
Gnocchi Di Patate
- 2 pounds baking potatoes
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 egg
Boil the potatoes in their skins until tender, about 30 minutes. Test with a fork if tender. Drain and allow to cool slightly, then peel them.
Put potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer . Place on a large board or other work surface.
Add the flour, gather the mixture into a mound and make a well in the center.
Break the egg into the well, add salt and knead until the mixture forms a smooth, firm dough. Add more flour if too sticky. Do not over knead.
Working on a floured surface, cut the dough into pieces and with the palm of your hand roll each piece into a long sausage shape about the thickness of your index finger. Cut these into 1 inch pieces.
Roll each of the gnocchi over the prongs of a fork, pressing down lightly with your thumb forming ridges on the outside and a small concave dent on the other. It might take a little practice but you will get the idea.
Drop them onto a floured board.
Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water, lifting them out as soon as they rise to the surface, about 2 minutes. Spoon your favorite sauce over them. Gnocchi goes well with everything from Sunday Gravy to a fresh marinara sauce. You can even have gnocchi with pesto. Depends on your mood.
Gnocchi taste great with a Gorgonzola sauce. Place 1 cup of heavy cream in a sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and add 1 pound of Gorgonzola cheese, and pepper. Whisk till smooth and the cheese is melted and pour over the cooked gnocchi. Garnish with extra black pepper.
I love gnocchi with a fresh sage and butter sauce. Melt a stick of butter in a frying pan until the foam subsides. Add about 3-4 tablespoons of your pasta water and whisk to emulsify the sauce. Add 8-9 fresh sage leaves to the melted butter and toss for a minute.. Add the gnocchi to the sauce and toss to cover and serve with plenty of grated parmigiano cheese.
Peter, I remember my years at Camp St. John’s with bittersweet memories. I also could not wait to see mom & dad on the weekends. I hated it so much when they would leave Sunday night. I even had cousin Phillip and Sister Lucille along with our sister Annette and cousin Lilli as camp counselors. However, I do have fond memories of the hikes, softball games and campouts, etc. These memories will last a lifetime. I wonder if Camp St. John’s is still around in Gladstone, New Jersey? I would like to take a trip there and reminisce.