Special Summer

This is a story about how I spent my summers as a child. It is a far cry from they way I raised my son. For me, cultural and recreational planning for 
personal development and enrichment, not to mention happiness, means something to me, not only because of love, but  as a matter of good 
conscience.

It was the summer of 1952, and because of an odd set of circumstances, I have to be thankful to my foster father, Harry X for that unique special  
summer.  It seemed  that Harry learned that his niece, Cousin Myra, had contracted polio and that her doctor had recommended that she swim in 
salt water during the summer. Our foster parents decided to do a grand gesture and bring Myra, who was a few years older than my sister and I, to 
their vacation place, which was half of a  bungalow rented from a friend in rural (pre-expressway) Southampton, Long Island. And, since Myra 
needed company, my sister and I were to be brought along for her sake. I was twelve at the time.

What made this two-week vacation wonderful was the fact that it contrasted sharply with the myriad summers that I had already begun to dread 
since I was seven. From that age, I was sent away to summer camps run by settlement houses from the poorest neighborhoods of New York City, 
where I was the lone kid not living in a housing project.

In one camp, a mentally disturbed girl in our bunk sang loud all night long, night after night, Shortly after, I found that the  jewelry gifts I had 
carefully crafted for my foster mother, disappeared. There was a wall of silence about how this occurred that was never broken. In another camp, 
several Spanish girls welcomed me by stripping me of my clothes and heaving me bodily outside; then they  barricaded me from entering back into 
the bunk.

Still,  the worst part of the summers was what followed these camp “vacations”: I always found myself shuttled by social workers into homes of 
strangers who were paid by foster agencies to board children for two or three weeks. In one place, in upstate Kingston, when I was about  eight,  I 
was put in the home of a very busy Jewish couple on  a dairy farm.  

Arriving there, and confronting  their slovenly kitchen, I burst into tears. However, I quickly realized that my feelings did not count, that I had to 
stay; I learned to be docile. In that home, my company turned out to be a few unruly boys who tried to pressure me into letting them play “doctor” 
with me in the toilet. I had the aplomb to turn them down. Sadly, I
recalled that there was a total absence of activities to occupy us children, and we were required to stay indoors, probably to keep us under their 
control. I also recall being scolded harshly for turning on room lights on Sabbath before sundown.
These particular adults had very little interest in children, and I recall counting the days until I went to my regular “home.” My intuition about 
anticipated unhappiness there had been on target; clearly, screening of that site by the foster agencies had not be careful. The couple was 
subsidized for running the equivalent of a “cage’ for kids.

Another time, I was placed with a family who had a daughter my age who was resentful about having company,  and so  each night her father 
brought  her a gift to make her feel special.

Why the family did not care that this action might be hurtful to me was beyond my comprehension,-- but I found this practice so patently unfair that 
I complained. Unfortunately, my complaint did not earn me any respect.

What upset me most about such experiences is that they had a disorienting and frightening effect.  Since I was being warehoused so that my 
foster family could have an extended vacation, it probably would have helped if this had been gently explained.

The fact that such ongoing callousness was considered  “good enough,” convinced me that treating orphaned children in an inferior manner 
received general acceptance. I could not accept this; the pain I felt came from an intuitive sense,  as a child, that my feelings did matter, and that I 
should have somehow been treated better.

Fast forward.  During what I call “my special summer,” the summer trip of 1952, I sensed what it  meant to be treated like a real person. It was a 
summer  that contrasted dramatically to those prior boring and lonely times.  My sister and I were invited to be
part of our foster parents’ vacation at the beach  due to the needs of their niece,

Myra. But, to me,  it was a kind of Nirvana, for it was a place of freedom and joy. I picked blueberries in the woods,   went clamming, and wandered 
outdoors on short hikes. We girls shared jokes of typical young teens, and experienced normal life. In the evening  Myra, my sister, and I played 
word games we loved (Scrabble), picture games (Droodles), and cards.  I was grateful Cousin Myra (she was an only child) was  kind and inclusive 
and she enjoyed sharing jokes with us, without bias that I was the littlest of our trio. We all marveled how Myra swam fearlessly in the ocean.

Our foster mother led all our events:  she made fresh fruit  jam, taught us how to clam, and encouraged us to take walks.  It was entertainment 
without television, and we could play cards till late.  

Mostly, we did our chores cheerfully, and it was because during  those two singular weeks, we felt loved. My sister and I got along without friction, 
and I was physically healthy from the sun and salt water. And blissfully, our foster father was not around to spoil things, because he worked in 
NewYork City, and he came out only once or twice on the weekends.

And when Harry was there, he carefully
concealed the antagonist ways that characterized his ongoing treatment of my sister and I for the benefit of his reputation with his niece, Myra.

Adenda: Exactly seven years later, I encountered Myra while I was an office assistant in an  summer camp for affluent girls in Maine. It seems Myra 
had experienced a remission of her polio and had become a physical education teacher at a college in Maine. She seemed to be part of a group 
of gay women colleagues who worked the camp’s sports  programs. I introduced myself to her, and she recognized me with her wonderful, friendly 
smile.

That  summer in Southampton must have meant a lot to her; it meant a great deal to me.

Update: Myra  passed away at age 79 in 2013 after a long career teaching in several colleges and universities and writing about physical 
education practice, especially on behalf of the disabled.  I learned about her career from the internet.