Sunday, March 5, 2017

Camp Love

My wonderful friend Tina just wrote a book.  And I am super excited (and a little humbled) to tell you that the dedication in the book was written to me.  Little old me.  I've been dying to share this news, because....well geez, how often does someone dedicate their blood sweat and tears in your honor? One reviewer described the book as a "Love letter to all things camp."  Since Tina and I met at camp, and she dedicated the book to me, I like to think it is also a love letter to me.  (-; I doubt I'll ever be able to return the favor of dedicating a novel to Tina, so here is the second best thing.  It's my love letter to All Things Tina.

I met Tina in the summer of 1995.  I had just graduated from San Francisco State University and took a job as the Summer Program Director at Mt. Cross, a Lutheran camp in the Santa Cruz mountains.  Tina, one year younger than me, was working at Mt. Cross as the Support Staff Director.  My job entailed keeping the college-aged counselors in line and making sure the program was running safely and efficiently  Tina's job entailed supervising the high school-aged dishwashers and lifeguards and mediating the related drama that popped up throughout the summer.

My first impression of Tina was how different we were.  I went to school in one of the most trendy metro areas on the west coast.  Tina was attending college somewhere in the middle of a Nebraska corn field.  I was single, newly graduated, and determined to conquer the world as an independent Woman of the Nineties (WOTN as we came to call it). Tina was in a tired relationship with some guy back home who did not (in my expert opinion) suit her, and she seemed more concerned about what kind of husband she would land than what kind of career she would pursue.  (Helloooo, Woman of the Fifties) I slept in as late as possible every morning while Tina would get up early to go on a run. I came to work at Mt. Cross because I loved camp.  She came to work at Mt. Cross because she loved Jesus.  Maybe a little too much, I remember thinking at the time.  To be clear, I loved Jesus too....just wasn't my driving force at the time.

As different as we appeared on paper, something clicked between Tina and I while we shared a grungy dorm room that summer. Something significant.  I don't think either of us would make it as a stand-up comedian, but we could make each other laugh with even the most minimal effort.  Somewhere between the daily campfires,  early morning staff meetings, late night card games, the many camp songs, ridiculous skits, and weekends lounging at the beach, we became fast friends. 

There's something about friendships that are born at camp.  When you spend 24 hours a day working side by side with people, you get to see them at their very best and their very worst.  You see them dressed in goofy costumes for theme dinners, and you see their ridiculous bed head when they roll into the dining hall for breakfast and didn't have time to shower.  The inside jokes become plentiful, and practical jokes eventually follow.  You share quiet moments and raw prayers around the sacred ground of a campfire, and you stay up until ungodly hours of the morning laughing, talking, cooking, creating, crying, or playing spades. 

Sometimes you wonder to yourself if you would be friends with these people outside of camp.  Many times the obvious answer is "No."  In the real world we pick our companions carefully.  We tend to gravitate toward people who are just like us, don't ruffle our feathers, and share the same temperament. But at camp, our choices are limited.  We are stuck in the woods with a colorful cast of characters from different walks of life, highly overworked, grossly underpaid and surrounded by homesick little kids and hormonal pre-teens.  It's really a recipe for disaster, but somehow camp serves as an incubator for some of the deepest and most long-lived friendships of your life.

Waiting for my flight back to California, 1997.
Remember when you could wait at the gate with your friends?! Sigh. 
After Tina and I said goodbye to each other at the end of that summer, we continued to keep in touch.  Back in those days, it was mostly through snail mail letters and expensive long distance phone calls.  She and her college roommate came out to visit the next spring and we took an epic road trip down the coast of California on scenic Highway 1, fueled by chocolate, Doritos, and the soundtrack for Reality Bites. After Tina graduated and took her first teaching job in Houston, I flew out to experience my first dose of Texas. When Tina got married, I was a bridesmaid.  When I got married she was a bridesmaid.  And years later I came to Houston again to be Tina's home helper and personal chef while she was pregnant with twins and sentenced to bed rest. Every visit included planning for our next chance to get together.

During this visit to Houston while Tina was (hugely) pregnant with twins, our friendship hit a fork in the road.  After 12 years of holding together this friendship over thousands of miles, and Tina on the cusp of being a mother of three children under the age of three, the future of our friendship seemed in jeopardy.  I realized, with a substantial amount of dread, that being a mother of multiples would make Tina's life about 1,000 times more complicated.  I saw the writing on the wall that her priorities would shift.  Phone calls would not get returned, emails would be brief and sporadic, finances would be too tight to fund occasional trips to California, and we would slowly drift toward the kind of friends that kept in touch once a year with an annual Christmas card.

I remember sitting with Tina and her husband Mike on the eve of my departure, at a quaint restaurant somewhere in downtown Houston, and quietly saying, "This is going to be the first time I'll say goodbye to you without knowing when I'll see you again."

Taking a deep breath, and I think with some dust in her eye, Tina replied, "Yes.  I know.  That's why we want you and Nick to be God Parents for our twins."

And there it was...the door to the next phase of our friendship, and the glue that would hold us together.  Because for both of us, God Parent was an important title.  And a relationship we couldn't walk away from.

Tina and I at Bridal Veil Falls, 2015
A few years later, when we asked Mike and Tina to be God Parents for our son, they didn't just say "Yes" and send a card for his Baptism.  They bought plane tickets for themselves AND their four children (one still an infant) and brought the family to California in the middle of snow storm to be present for his Baptism.

I flew east to help celebrate Tina's 40th birthday.  They flew west to join us for family vacations at Disneyland and Yosemite.

And so it went.  And so it will go.

Now days, when we visit with each other and reach the inevitable day of goodbyes, I still don't know when we'll meet again.  But I have faith that it will happen.  We've stuck together from college age through middle age.  I don't see any reason to stop now.  Because we are Forever Friends.

This is most certainly true. 

Footnote: Tina is an author focused on spreading the love of God through her writing. Her most recent book, Last Summer at Eden, is a young adult novel that one reviewer so aptly described as, "A love letter to all things camp."  While I read it, I found myself aching for the beauty, simplicity and intimacy you can only experience spending a summer working at camp. If you have a young person (or a camp person) in your life, I suggest you buy them this book.  My favorite part is the dedication page.  But the rest is pretty good too.