Top Standing L-R Anthony DeFelice (Counselor), Scott Brown?, Chris Mejia London, ? ?, Rob Lane, a Russian Kid, Ron May. (Photo: personal files of Chistopher London.)
Anthony DeFelice, Rob Lane, Russian Kid, Chris Mejia-London, Charles, French Canadian Kid, Scott Brown? (Photo personal files of Christopher London.)
My summers with Scott Brown and Ron May
More Than A Feeling
I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away
So many people have come and gone
Their faces fade as the years go by
Yet I still recall as I wander on
As clear as the sun in the summer sky
By Christoher London, Esq.
The 1970’s on tranquil Cape Cod, the quaint Village of Forestdale in the Town of Sandwich, on the grounds of rustic Camp Good News (‘CGN’), seems now like a million years ago. Yet it is a place and time forever etched in my mind.
With growing anticipation I waited for the end of the school year, wondering whether my mom’s financial situation would allow her to send us to camp again. With systematic efficiency we gathered summer clothes, making sure to have extra underwear and socks, not forgetting to have a sweatshirt and a heavy sweater or two for chilly nights on the Cape and sewed labels with our names into the clothes for identification.
It is hard to have a precise memory for people, places and things that happened over thirty plus ago. And in truth I cannot recall if the individual in those photos with me is Scott Brown. But nevertheless I do recall that said individual, though possessing most of the physical attributes of the classic mesomorph male, had a quiet withdrawn disposition evidencing perhaps a discomfort with his surroundings.
Scott at 10 and 13 ? at Camp Good News above.
Scott as a model in the 1980s.
Before I knew it that day would come when the pilgrimage to CGN would begin. From Penn Stationin the heart of New York City we would board a train headed toProvidence, Rhode Island where we were greeted by more camp staff and taken by bus to the camp.
Excitement was tempered with a degree of anxiety about the coming summer. Assorted questions ran through my mind: Would I get along with my bunkmates? Would I be well liked and fit in? Would I distinguish my self in athletics on the Camp’s ‘A Field’?
It was not until we made that right turn off Route 130 and head down the road past the gate and the Camp Good News signthat it hit me that I would not be seeing my mom and dad for at least a few weeks. For a brief moment I wondered how they could send me away. Before I could get too sad about that there was a welcoming committee of smiling faces as the bus stopped and we were greeted by counselors and campers who had already arrived. The summer began.
And then, in the blink of an eye or so it seemed, we were heading back down that road in the reverse direction, waving goodbye, sometimes with tears in our eyes leaving behind folks who were like family for 8 weeks.
You swore you would never forget them, ever.
You swore you would never forget them, ever. That was when I began to realize I had the capacity to love and miss other people, people that were outside my own family, people from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and nationalities, people who were different in many ways than kids in my neighborhood.
It was also during this time away from the city, where my only close family member was my little brother Gregory who was at camp with me that I realized how much I really loved him. Whereas we lived in apartments in Queens and Brooklyn, some kids I met lived in the comfort of suburban affluence, had clothes with labels I had never seen before. Preppy is a word that now comes to mind, but I did not even know what that meant back then.
Oblivious to things that may have gone on there
Even though each summer seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, what fills the spaces of the time between are snapshots and snippets of life before innocence was lost. I was oblivious to things that may have gone on the Camp’s grounds and impacted selected individuals who are in the news these days; much in the same way that similar things have gone on in the shadows of society for so long while others remained oblivious.
To a kid from the boroughs of New York City, the quiet of the night, the darkness of the woods, sounds of only frogs and crickets were eerily haunting; even more haunting in many ways than the sounds of the Mean Streets of 1970’s New York City up through the Summer of Sam. I was far more used to loud and consistent rumble of urban life. Disturbances throughout the night, including the sound of police cars and sanitation trucks comforted me.
Singing Christian songs I had never heard of before, making up dirty and disrespectful lyrics in the company of my more devious and irreverent new friends to get a laugh are things I can recall.
The mere idea of having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night in the woods was terrifying. Ten year old machismo went out the window when you head out of your cabin with a flash light in the middle of the night to go pee pee. Maybe that is the reason why some of my cabin mates wet the bed.
Memories of morning chapel, singing Christian songs I had never heard of before and then making up dirty and disrespectful lyrics in the company of my more devious and irreverent new friends to get a laugh are things I can recall. Chow time was like being in a lunch room at school, only slightly better, although we could serve ourselves extra portions. Kool Aid was called “bug juice”. That frankly creeped me out, especially on the days that the juice was red or green. I wondered whether there was actually a reason that bug was associated with juice.
The daily ritual of chapel followed by breakfast, mandatory athletic training, swimming lessons, lunch, rest period with a brief bible reading, followed by free sports and free swim and then dinner time are a fading memory. After dinner, sometimes we had snack bar night or would sing camp songs by a fire and roast marshmallows. The routine made the days and nights pass with a blur. But when in Rome do as the Romans do. The highlights were for me were excelling in swimming, softball and archery. In your adolescence and teens these are the kinds of things that open doors socially and make one popular with one’s peers. Whether it was my own egocentric view of the world at that age, I knew I stood out.
The faces change as the years go by. But I do recall vividly being taught how to play defense and field my position more aggressively by counselor Tom Donahue who treated me like a prodigy. He would hit hard grounders at me repeatedly until I developed a proficiency that made me feel like Cincinnati Red Shortstop, Dave Concepcion. It may sound insignificant but it made me feel like a stud fielder when I came back to play in the Forest Hills Little League in Queens. My shyness in talking to folks was overcome by a confidence that I excelled at a number of things and that there were others who were clearly less confident and secure than me.
Meeting and sharing a cabin with Ron May and Ernest “Ernie” Milnes
I never had any idea anything more was going on, despite the fact that campers had contentious relations with Ernie Milnes.
The name Ron May comes to mind. Ron was a young, studious, intellectual type with a proficiency in Chess, although he was somewhat unsettled, quirky and even combative at times. That is my recollection, 30 years or so later. Like me Ron was also from Queens, New York. In retrospect one can see that maybe perhaps he was dealing with issues, ones that fall outside the grasp or comprehension of an adolescent or teenager.
We shared in common that Ernest “Ernie” Milnes, was also my counselor. Ernie had also visited me in New York City at my parents apartment in Queens. I recall him having Thanksgiving dinner with us, perhaps on one of his visits to Ron May, but he never stayed over. I never had any idea anything more was going on, even despite the fact that it was also true like Ron said in his interview with the Boston Globe that campers had contentious relations with Ernie Milnes. I just assumed it was because he seemed to be a regimented and difficult sonofabitch.
I recall friendly banter and exchanges with now Dr. Steve Brooks, now the assistant President of Camp Good News. Brooks was an avid Philadelphia Phillies fan while I was more enamored with the Big Red Machine. We would argue about Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski and Steve Carlton vs. my idol Johnny Bench and his teammates Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez,Don Gullet and company. He would often share the sports section of his newspaper and review the standings and statistics with me.
The Six Inch Rule
In my teen years at the Camp the “six inch rule” was in effect. At the teen level there was more interaction between the boys and girls camp. The penalty for getting caught too close in proximity with a girl was, having to wear a life preserver to meals so that every one in the entire mess hall knew the two people who were caught violating said rule.
Her strawberry kiss was a drug. And I was hooked.
The rule got violated relatively infrequently as the counselors seemed pretty aware of who the violators or potential violators were. When I was 14 and the girl I had a crush on the entire prior summer decided she liked me, I was finally able to learn what making out with a girl was really all about.
How fantastic was the taste of her strawberry lip gloss, which she later sealed her letters with. Her kiss was a drug. And I was hooked. I knew that this was something I was going to have happen very often. With the acuity and precision of a highly skilled surgeon combined with New York City street smarts, I made sure it did and often avoided detection. I rarely wore a life preserver.
Odie Baloney Let’s Go! Time for Color War at Camp Good News
Color War was an event where the camp was divided in two teams to compete in sports, spirit, and sportsmanship tests over the course of several days, culminating in an awards ceremony. We never knew precisely what day it would begin. The exact date was kept a secret but we were advised that it would begin with a bell being rung followed by the nd before the crack of dawn. We stumbled out of our bunks, cabins emptied and ran to the rallying cry ”Odie Baloney let’s go” on a loudspeaker by our Head Counselor who was known as “Oakie” for obvious reasons. Let’s just say he was not a New Yorker. I can still remember went that bell first went off. It was approximately 4:30 a.m. areporting line in PJ’s, shorts and t’s, sweats. When everyone finally made it to the line, the team that got its whole team together first was awarded the first points and got to give their rallying cry. One year when my little brother was on the winning team, theirs went a little like this. ”Give me an L, give me a yell, give me a good successful yelland when we yell we yell like a bell and this is what the heck we yell aleman aleman alemande agle sandy eagle….baby in a high chair, who put him up there… ma…pa sis boom ba. Iguana’s, Iguana’s rah rah rah. ”
How The Other Half Lives at nearvy Camp Bournedale
A trip to Camp Bournedale and another luxury camp for an inter camp softball game, opened my eyes to how the other half lived. In a scene reminiscent to The Bad News Bears, we arrived in our rag tag outfits, jeans and CGN t-shirts at a camp with facilities, including a softball field that resembled Fenway Park, minus the Green Monster. The A Field at Good News was nice, but we did not have professionally drawn chalk lines, overhead lights and grass manicured to resemble that of a Major League Baseball Team. Everything from their gear and swagger reeked of professionals, at least from the perspective of a 12 year old.
As one of the team’s stud performers, it would be humiliating to be run off the field without much of a fight. In my first at bat, I recall refilng a line drive over second base and jogging to first base only to realize that the short center fielder was trying to throw me out at first. I barely beat the throw or at least the umpire said I did. We eventually lost and most of us could not wait to get back on the bus, all maybe except John Freeman, who attended Fordham Prep in the Bronx and though small in stature he was big in heart and he would walk with his chest out and a stern look on his face promising to exact revenge. As I had not a chest to speak of and pretty skinny arms, that seemed pointless.
Humble or rustic Camp Good News
My confidence was hardly undermined. If anything I was just curious about these different worlds, different people and opportunities. I liked everything about New England, from the people to the clam chowder. I realized how humble or rustic were CGN’s facilities and yet I was more than fine with that because I sensed that I was part of something special. Even though much of the Christian under current did not always entirely resonate with me, being there made me more confident about my place in the universe. I was developing more than athletic skills while recognizing the importance of community values, developing a sense of humility and learning that there were in fact greater pursuits in life than my own ego and self indulgence. On work days when we engaged in charitable works or painted a church, I complained but had a feeling that maybe someday I would look back on this differently. Or maybe that was what my counselors told me.
Bournedale made me realize now that my parents did not send me to a luxury camp and that Willard-Brooks clan were not in this business for the dough. Although $800-1,000 for the summer seemed like a lot a million dollars to me back then. I was always grateful my parents and then after divorce, my mother came up with the funds.
Camp Good News later served as a caricature of my naivete. To even mention the name Camp Good News, referencing the Good News of the Bible, would always extract a chuckle the few times I mentioned attending such a place among my more secular friends. And that was back in the 1980’s when I was in college at Boston University and subsequently in law school at the University of Pennsylvania. Maybe even as a city boy, I was more naïve, for if the current headlines are correct in their suggestion that there was a dark undercurrent that I was completely and totally unaware of. While I am no Senator’s son, maybe that nevertheless makes me the fortunate one. My youthful innocence was not lost on the Cape but it is becoming increasingly clear that for others it certainly was. To the contrary, my respect for community, our maker and a love for humanity in all its forms was only beginning to develop. Camp Good News was for me thus, more than a feeling.
Chris London, Esg. is a New York City based lawyer, activist, writer and founder of ManhattanSociety.com, a 501 (c) (3) conduit; a free press vehicle for essential New York Charity and Culture. Sheepshead Bay High School 1980. Boston University, B.A., Economics with High Honors, 1984. University of Pennsylvania Law School, J.D., 1987.
NOTE: This blog was published initially on the Cape Cod Today news site, resulting in a follow up interview with FOX News in Boston. See: “Former Camper May Have Pictures of Scott Brown at Camp Good News”