It was war time. The big one that we were told would end all future wars. It was the time of the Second World War. I must have been nine years of age. Summer had always been a wonderful time of the year for me. School even at this very young age was something that I felt much contempt for. During the school year I loathed getting up each morning knowing that for the many hours that would lay before me I would soon face being laughed at, and would feel foolish and inadequate. During the Summer which I had from a very early age spent at over night eight week camp, I was free to express my abilities that I was finding that I did have. It was OK that I didn’t read or spell that good, and that I spoke a little funny.
Mom had been sending her three boys to these over night camps it seemed to me all my short life. At last it was Summer! Summers were a wonderful time of the year! I remember the excitement in our house as the day to leave for camp came closer. The camps that we had been attending up to that time were run and owned by a childhood friend of Mom’s. We called this lady, Aunt Shirley. She and her husband, Uncle Lou owned or leased land for their camps in what I at this young age thought as far off and wonderful places. There were trees, lakes with all sorts of wonderful little animals roaming over them. You could go swimming in a lake twice a day, and there were fields plenty to play on. Most of all each morning I couldn’t wait for the rest of the day to happen. This was a far cry from waking up during school time hiding under my covers in the hopes that Mom or Mart had forgotten that I lived there.
We use to make Mom giggle and blush for years after teasing her that she had sent Ira to an overnight camp when he was an embryo. This was not far from the truth. The day to leave would at last get there. Mom had bought or taken out of winter storage the camp uniforms that we were to wear. She had spent many hours sewing into each piece of clothing our names on little scrips of cloth that our names were printed upon. When the day to leave did at last come about her three boys were taken to a bus where Aunt Shirley and Uncle Lou were waiting for us with many other children and older people there as well. The bus would start on its way as I looked back at Mom and Dad waving at us. I at that time did not realize it that Mom and Dad themselves were looking forward to eight weeks of freedom. After all, at that time they were in their early forties, and had much to do with their short time of freedom.
Now the War was upon us, and Aunt Shirley and Uncle Lou did not have a camp where we could be sent. Morty was each day fighting with the folks wanting to enlist in the armed forces. I would over hear Dad and Mom telling him that first he must finish high school, and at that time they would speak with him about it. The last years in Summer camps Morty had no longer been a camper. I believe he was a waiter or a counselor. He was only seventeen at this time. He did finish high school. At once to the despair of the folks he enlisted into the Marine Corps. Mom was very upset, yet she knew I’m sure that her son was doing what was the right thing to do at that time. Dad also upset I’m sure he was very proud of his son. Dad had been a Marine during WWI. Morty even ended out serving in the same unit that Dad had been in, which was the 2nd Marine Division.
My brother Frank and myself had to be found a place to keep us busy for the Summer. Frank is a bit over two years my senior. I’m not sure what he did during that Summer. The folks decided to enroll me into a Summer Day Camp. The name of the camp was Eaglets. I can recall clearly that I put up a battle over this decision. After all Day Camps were for sissies who were not worldly and brave enough to get from under their mothers protective wings for eight weeks. I lost this battle, yet did squabble with whoever it was each morning that pushed me out the door to get into that terrible maroon van that was waiting for me to take me to Eaglets. I didn’t even like the silly Eaglet outfit that I had to dress in each morning. Even at this early age I must have been a nonconformist.
Eaglets was vastly different from the Summer camps that before this time I had enjoyed. First of all, my brothers were not with me. There was nothing that I liked about this day camp. I thought that it was a step down for me. I felt that I could not express myself for those eight weeks like I had at an overnight camp. The Summer would be wasted leaving only the time that I must serve at school before me. At that time I was very shy, and because of the problems that I was having at school not sure of myself at all. At Eaglets I was the new kid in the group. As young as we were most of the children in my group had attended Eaglets for a year or two before this Summer. The group was rather large, and I did not particularly like the children within it. I thought that we were all treated like babies being told what to do and what not to do throughout the day. Everyone went along with it like a bunch of sheep. The freedom I felt at Aunt Shirley’s camps was not there as well.
Within my Eaglets group was a little guy. I know we were all little, yet to me he was smaller. As I think of this boy I see in my mind’s eye what I would believe Woody Allen must have looked like at that age. This little “Woody Allen” kid ran the group. If you wanted to be part of the group “Woody” would have to except you as such. Even at this very young age, there was a pecking order. It sort of reminds me of the story of “Lord of the Flies.” Of course at that time I didn’t know of “Lord of the Flies.” I had no desire to get along with this “Woody” kid, and stood on the outside of this group of young people. I did my time each day waiting for the van to take me home.
In our group was a “Fat Kid.” What I remember about him is that he was a bit older than the fat kid in the “Our Gang” movies, but reminded me of him. He seemed like a nice enough kid who “Woody” had great pleasure in torturing. The rest of the sheep in the group to please “Woody” their best to harass the “Fat Kid.” One day the “Fat Kid” had been provoked enough and stood up to “Woody.” They got into a shoving match, and on the ground they went with the rest of the group making a circle around them laughing and shouting. I stood as I always did on the edge of the group. The “Fat Kid” was bigger and stronger than “Woody” so with little difficulty he got on top of “Woody.” When this happened the group turned “Woody” to the top. As I watched this happen a number of times I didn’t like what I was watching. I decided to do something about it. I pushed my way to the center of the group, and the next time that the group turned “Woody” to the top I turned the “Fat Kid” back to the top of “Woody.” I should state here that at this time of my very young life I was not bigger than the rest of the boys in the group. As a matter of fact, I was a very skinny young child. I looked like the skinny picture on the back of many comic books that would say; ” Don’t let anyone kick sand in your face take the Charles Atlas muscle building program.”
When I did this the whole group turned on me. Being the scrappy kid I was at that time I had little trouble getting loose from one “Woody’s Sheep” after another. As I threw each of the group from me who do you think was the last one that I fought from under? Yes, it was the “Fat Kid.” The very person that I stood up and endangered myself for had turned on me when he saw his chance to belong. For the rest of this Summer I remained on the outside of the group. The “Fat Kid” became “Woody’s” sidekick. I had served my purpose for him. When I thought about this episode even as a young child I thought to myself that the “Fat Kid” was not really a bad kid just a weak one. As I grew older I realized that there would be many “Woody” type people that I would have to deal with as well as the sheep that would follow his lead. There would be also many people like the “Fat Kid” that were not really a bad person just a weak individual, and willing to do harm to you to get ahead.
A lesson was taught to me that day. It was that if I believed in fairness and what I saw to be right taking the part of those being treated poorly it did not always win me praise or position. I have tried to live by what I had learned about people and life that day that I stood up for the “Fat Kid.” I believe I am a much happier and satisfied individual for this belief. It has allowed me to take the lumps that came along with being me, and still decide to take the same sort of action the next time.
There will always be groups like those I was in at Eaglets as well as individuals like “Woody” and the “Fat Kid.” I will always have the freedom to make the choice as to who it is I desire to be. I also always knew what making such a choice might mean to me. In my 70’s I sub-taught in high schools in Indiana. I would use this story as a way to present a situation to my students. I would ask the class in a like situation what would they had done? I would then ask in that situation if you thought that perhaps the one that you came to the aid of was the one to turn on you then what would you have done? We had some very interesting and honest conversations in these classes. I believe that these young people left the classroom with something to think about, and a lesson of life may have been taught to a few.