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Breaking Free

For some reason, the coronavirus pandemic and how it affects us has been stirring up some old memories of my mom’s experiences during her life time. I wish she were still here to guide me through, but even recalling her stories gives me strength.

As I sit here during this trying time, isolated and alone, I go through various phases of inspiration and despair – and everything in between. This morning, I thought about it in terms of what solitary confinement might feel like, although admittedly my little 560 square foot apartment is hardly a jail cell.

This is the story I recall hearing my mom, Marge, tell us:

When she was 11, in the 1930s, she was sent from home in New York to a girls summer camp in Maine. Her brother Bob, several years older, headed to a boys camp just down the road from her. Presumably, they were happy and excited to go.

Her brother Bob (my Uncle Bob) was happy enough at his camp, but for my mother, camp was a disaster. She hated it. It was not a warm and fuzzy place, she was homesick, and she desperately wanted to leave during those first couple of weeks, which soon and unfortunately coincided with a measles outbreak there. (She was not infected.) Everyone was quarantined, and her camp experience was already lousy, quarantine or not. She wanted to leave, but that was out of the question, not permitted, no matter how unhappy she was.

Somehow, her brother heard about this and went, at a distance, to check on her. The camp directors allowed her to see him to talk, at a substantial distance. But for my mom, the sight of her beloved big brother was too much for her. In an 11-year-old “outta my way” moment, she ran. Past the boundary, she ran. And right into his comforting arms.

The camp directors’ response?

“Well, now you’ve done it. You might as well go!”

Nice, huh? They did nothing to get her back. I don’t think they even called her folks.

Mom’s brother Bob took her with him, and it was arranged for her to go to the summer house of her parents’ family friend, a woman whose name I don’t recall. Bob stayed at his camp, and the family friend called their parents to update them. The family friend asked her parents if young Marge could stay with them for a few days. She had an idea brewing.

So, Mom spent a few lovely days with this family. She swam, laughed, was taken care of, and on the day she was supposed to head back to New York, the family friend asked little Marge to come sit with her a moment.

“Would you like to go for a little drive with me?” she asked.

They drove to Camp Waziyatah in Waterford, Maine, which was a girls camp at the time. (Never mind the scandal decades later.) The family friend chatted with her friend, who was part of the camp management, while my mom went off to meet a group of girls. By the end of the day, my mother was having so much fun that she could barely stand to leave. The girls were putting on a play that evening, and Mom was involved with it and having a wonderful time.

“Can I stay? Please?” she asked.

And that began five of the most meaningful and happiest summers of her life which, is why our family started coming to Maine years later to visit – and later, to move up (for some of us – the smart ones).

This morning, I pictured that scene of my mom fleeing into her brother’s arms. That desperation to leave seclusion and isolation. The freedom to run, to hug, to hold and be held. Now, there is a part of me that wishes I had the impulsivity of an 11-year-old, that I could allow myself to throw caution to the virus-filled wind, to wrap my arms around someone – anyone – just for a minute. But my 60+ year-old brain and moral compass, at least in this case, won’t allow that.

When this is over, my own brother is going to have to peel me off of him, along with pretty much every friend and family member in my path.

Get ready.

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