During my last visit to camp this year, I was joined by a small group of my high school buddies and their wives. What a pleasure it was to spend evenings before the fire, lounging in pajamas and reminiscing about upstate Rochester in the 1950s. Missing from the group was our friend Jerry, a retired psychiatrist. Shortly following our return from camp, we had a zoom call to catch up with Jerry and, to add an interesting dimension to our conversation, to talk about his new book, Addressing Challenging Moments in Psychotherapy. I had obtained an early copy of it which, though written for supervisory doctors, is understandable by the layman. Jer read a chapter aloud to us, which was a case study of one of his therapy sessions, examining the interaction between doctor and patient. He explained the purpose of the study and we peppered him with questions, which he thoughtfully answered. Before long were each opening up about our personal histories and our catch-up call became an impromptu group therapy session. No wonder Jerry had such a successful practice—he was a great listener. Very healthy for a bunch of 80-year-olds to talk about our parents and their impact on our lives—it was cathartic. Even though we have known each other for 70 years, I learned new things about these old friends. Each of us offered our thoughts on who we were back in the day versus who we became, despite family background and the many hurdles, false starts and mistakes we made. Looking back to our youth, how did we miss some of the obvious signs about where our futures were headed? How many dead-end roads might well have been avoided had we simply opened our eyes? In hindsight, perhaps there was a missing subject in the Benjamin Franklin High School 1956 curriculum: “Therapy for Teenagers.” Yet here we all are living our lives in 2021 America and things turned out okay. We are mostly settled into lifestyles of our choosing and our mental health seems intact. Perhaps our parents and the teachers at Ben Franklin knew what they were doing. To my buddies, Harv, Bobbie, Arnie and Jer, let’s keep zooming and learning from each other.
The last week of camp this year reminds me a bit of returning from Camp Seneca as a teenager. The camp experience for me was not only an outdoor awakening but a coming of age. Amazing how youth blossoms in the right environment. This year’s camp closing was a bookend of sorts, some 65 years later. My high school friends, Arnie, Bob, and Harv all came up with their delightful wives for a few days of hiking, fishing and reminiscing. I had arrived the day earlier and used the opportunity to spend the day on Spednik Lake for my usual end-of-year bass outing with Andy. He cooked his grilled chicken over the fire and made the best lake coffee. I’ve tried time and again to make my own lake coffee but without success. The grounds never stay in the bottom of the pot. The lake water was a cool 65 degrees. We used poppers and a clouser to lure the fish. I nabbed a two-pound pickerel and a three-and-a-half-pound bass. Despite this, Andy was frustrated that the fish were not more plentiful. He had been so upbeat in the morning when I arrived at Wheatons Lodge. He predicted, with his usual, easy smile, that “today will be the best of the season.” Andy sulks when the fish are not cooperating. He takes it personally. Sitting in the stern of his grand canoe sorting through flies he imagines the fish taking based on the small fish finder he sets up. When there are no takings he hunkers down and spreads his assortment of flies about the floor of the canoe, choosing and rejecting, trying to find the one that will turn our luck around.
The weather was overcast and the few fish we caught in the morning were the extent of our success that day. After lunch, the highlight of the day, the clouds cleared with a southwest breeze. The reflection on the lake was like a mirror image of the shoreline. I could hardly tell where one ended and the other began. The air was autumnal. Trees showed hints of orange amid the green. The quiet was deafening. I could hear myself think. The wheels in my head turned, albeit slowly. Harv, Bob and Arnie had arrived while we were out on the water. They would be at camp already when I got back. I said goodbye to Andy and we hugged. Both our protruding stomachs prevented us from getting too close. He waved as he drove off to his camp to start the annual process of closing for the season. I pulled out of Wheatons for the quiet drive home along Forest City Road. No cell service… a gift.