Homesickness, like stolen candy, was something I knew I shouldn't have. But it weighed me down the first time Mom and Dad packed me up for summer camp. I was only 10, and as they loaded my trunk with crisp white sheets and folded T-shirts, my heart grew heavier, too.
I hid these feelings during the three-hour drive into Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. As we climbed the final hills to camp, Mom admired the fern-carpeted forest and Dad sniffed the pine-scented air while I sat silent, dreading what lay ahead: We'd cruise through the camp gate, park, and a dozen laughing kids would help unload the car. I'd get a handshake from Dad, a tight hug from Mom, and then they'd drive away, leaving me behind.
Homesickness is not about where you are. It's about where you aren't. At camp I learned to play tennis, swim, and square dance. I hiked wooded trails and sat Indian-style around roaring council fires, but I never stopped counting the days.
After my second summer had been just as lonely, Mom and Dad begged me to go back one more year. "Three strikes and you're out," Dad promised, but to my surprise I didn't strike out. My homesickness vanished that third summer. That was the summer of Diane.
Diane was not expected, and nobody at camp knew how to deal with her. Soon after she arrived, cesspools overflowed and the sailboat capsized. We hid in our cabins and tents all day playing cards. Diane was not an ordinary girl. She was a hurricane.
"In the past 24 hours, hurricane Diane has dumped nearly eight inches of rain on the area," said a radio announcer, "making her the worst storm in a generation. At least one bridge has been washed away, and railroad tracks are twisted like spaghetti."
MEANWHILE, back at camp, my pals and I occupied a large Army-surplus tent on a raised wooden platform. We lashed the flaps tightly shut and never touched the inside of the canvas lest we trigger a slow leak. Outside was gray, windy, and wet. Inside, we stayed warm and dry, talking for hours, never once bored.
We had to wrap ourselves in ponchos and dash to "Olde Brown John," the camp's only remaining outhouse. We'd walked past it often, but never had opened the door. It was dark, cobwebbed, and creaky inside.
Diane knocked down power lines, and without electricity our nights were blacker than black. To remind us that we were not alone, camp directors rescued three old oil lamps and left them burning in a window of the Main House each evening. More than once I peeked from our tent to see those lights glowing through the drippy darkness.
Several days into the storm, while Diane was at her wildest, a truck from the nearby general store splashed down our driveway and we heard a bugler blowing "assembly." Slogging to the dining room, we found big dishes of soft ice cream on each table.
"My freezers are off," the store owner confessed, "so you might as well eat all this before it melts." It was the best ice cream we'd ever tasted.
When Diane moved on, she left a different world behind. The lake was five feet higher. Many big trees lay flat in the forest, but none of our tents had leaked. A helicopter landed on the baseball field to evacuate any injured, but there weren't any.
Did Diane ruin our summer? She surely wreaked havoc on the Eastern seaboard, but at camp she watered flowers of affection that gradually grew into lifetime friendships. Diane taught us what teamwork and togetherness meant, and in the end she washed away my homesickness.
When Mom and Dad finally arrived to take me home, they were apologetic and promised never to send me to camp again.
"Oh no," I fairly shouted. "I've got to come back next summer. There might be another hurricane!"