As soon as I zipped up the dress I felt better. True, it was harder to fasten than it had been at my cousin Phyllis’ wedding just one month before, but I had been drowning my misery in snacks ever since camp started. The only good thing about the 12-year-old staff kids that I was in charge of in Camp Nalila that summer was the never ending supply of goodies which I was sharing with them after lights out.
Oh, how I hated everything about being in camp; the primitive bunks, the mindless activities, my annoying co-counselor. I missed my bed back home and I missed my friends, even though they had gotten me into this mess in the first place.
“I can’t believe you’ve never been to overnight camp, Esther. It’s the perfect place for you to get over your break-up with Larry,” my girlfriends had argued. “You’ll see, you’re gonna thank us for convincing you to take the job.” Yeah, right!!
At least tonight I was escaping. After a week of relentless rain and endless indoor activities, the camp directors had decided that the senior staff needed a break, a night off. Otherwise they might have a counselor mutiny on their hands. A bunch of us decided to go on an adventure.
“Let’s go sneak into the Pine Crest. Come on. We always do it at least once during the summer. No one will catch us. And wait ‘til you see….The guests all look like movie stars.”
The Pine Crest was a huge resort hotel just a few miles down the road. Of course, if we were to sneak in, that meant we had to dress up in order to blend in with the paying guests. It was a lucky thing that I had packed The Dress.
This special dress was bright red and black and made of a heavy cotton pique. The red bodice fit snugly (now a bit too snugly), from its boat neck to its dropped waist, from which a black skirt puffed out atop a burst of crinolines.
We had bought the dress in Somachs, a small dress shop on Clinton Street on the Lower East Side. The shop was just a few blocks away but worlds apart from the large bargain department stores where I usually shopped, How grown up I felt as I stepped out of the carpeted dressing room and stared at my reflection in shiny bank of mirrors. Was that glamorous girl really me? And when my mother carefully counted out $45 in worn bills for my new outfit I was awestruck. This was more than she had ever spent on me.
“You’re 17 years old now, mamaleh. Who knows? Maybe somebody special will see you at this wedding. Then, you will be like your cousin, a kallah meidel!
My mother would be shocked to see where her investment was on this particular night, I thought, as I climbed into the rumble seat of Mendel’s Taxicab on the way to the Pine Crest. As the cab hurtled dangerously over the dark country roads and the wind blew in gusts through open windows, I shielded my just teased hairdo with my hands.
Everyone else seemed carefree, laughing and talking as we slid back and forth on the plastic seats, but I was shy with these new people. I just stroked my dress, my good luck talisman, and tried to smooth its voluminous skirt. At least I looked good.
Abruptly, Mendel stepped on his brakes and the cab lurched to a stop a few yards from a huge fence near the back of the hotel. “Here you go kids. Last stop. Your own private entrance to Paradise. See ya back here at 12 or you’re gonna have to walk back to camp. Have a great night.”
We tumbled out and Mendel zoomed off into the night. It was pitch black out except for a smattering of stars sprinkled in the summer sky and a sliver of moon hiding behind a cloud. We walked slowly towards the fence, trying to navigate the rocky soil in our stiff dressy clothes. One by one we lined up at the narrow opening in the fence and waited our turn to squeeze through. I was next to last.
Finally, it was my turn. I stepped through the opening, heart pounding. Then I heard it. A loud, ripping sound. My dress…the dress with its many crinolines…the skirt had tangled on the chain link. I was stuck!
“Don’t panic,” a voice whispered. “I’ll untangle you. No big deal. There you go.
It’s only a little rip. No one will notice it.”
A cute, blond boy emerged into the moonlight. He seemed to recognize me. “I’m Len by the way. Estelle, right? I’ve noticed you around camp.”
He had noticed me? I had for sure noticed him, seen that he was really cute and always surrounded by a group of laughing friends. Now here he was, finally talking to me, and I was stuck on a fence like Winnie the Pooh! How mortifying.
The boy seemed oblivious to my discomfort. He just continued talking as we started to make our way towards the back entrance.
“You’re new here aren’t you”? he asked, as we stumbled over the rocks on the narrow path. “Be careful. Let me lead the way.” He called behind him, “So how’s camp treating you? I know you’ve got those 12 year olds. They can be tough.”
I followed his steps and started to relax for the first time in weeks. This guy was really sweet! “Camp”? I answered. “Actually, camp is getting much better. I smiled up at the handsome boy. “I think we’d better catch up with the others,” I continued. “They’ll think we got arrested.”
“No rush,” Len answered. This is much more fun than any show. My future husband then turned to me with a smile; “By the way,” he added “that’s a great dress.”
“Thanks,” I answered shyly. “I kinda love it too.” Suddenly I knew for sure. This was going to be the best summer ever.
By Estelle Glass