As the only child of an older mother, I knew that my dream of having siblings was unrealistic. The next best thing was sleep-away camp, where living in a bunk of a dozen girls would simulate having sisters. So at age seven, I announced that I was ready to leave home for the summer, and my parents, while dubious, found what seemed like a good choice in the Pocono Mountains, a few hours away from our suburban Philadelphia home.
The problem, as I soon discovered, was a camp rule that everyone had to taste at least a spoonful of everything that was served in the dining hall. And the rice that was served seemed inedible to me—gummy and gluey, the exact consistency of the white library paste used for arts and crafts projects. I couldn’t eat it. I’d sit at the table, defiant and glum, any time it was served, which was often. I’d try to spit the forced mouthful surreptitiously into a napkin. I’d try to wash away the taste with the daily sweet beverage that was called (for some reason that I don’t know and don’t want to examine too closely) “bug juice.” I wrote letters home, beseeching my parents to intervene on my behalf. I earned the enmity of the counselors who were required to sit with me, insuring my compliance. I just couldn’t eat the damn rice.
When my parents drove up to camp for Visiting Day, I begged them to take me home. My dad would have readily acquiesced to my wishes, but my mom was more of a hardliner when it came to expectations about my behavior, and she knew that I was inclined to drama (my affectionate nickname was Sarah Heartburn). But to her everlasting credit, she recognized that I was miserable and agreed to spring me. As Mom was packing up my trunk of belongings, she fretted that I was spoiled, that I was fussy, that I was too thin.
The following year, I announced that I wanted to go to camp again. My mother's response was, “Whaaaat?” My parents were not wealthy, and they had wasted a lot of money on the previous year’s camp cost, which was non-refundable. But I was quite clear: I wanted to go to camp—just not THAT camp.
Again, to their everlasting credit, they found another camp, where I happily spent every summer through my teens, returning with the same group of girls, who did become sisters, with almost equal measures of love and grousing, commitment and competition. (Many of them were from Long Island, New York, and I sometimes came home having picked up their distinct accent in the weeks we spent together.) During our last summer, we earned our camp tuition as waitresses at the mess hall, which sounds horrible but was actually great fun, including unlimited access to the pantry and extended hours for visiting the boys’ camp across the lake. (We were utterly hormonal. The poetic start of our favorite camp song went: "On June 27th, we came up by car. We thought we'd find boys, and we looked near and far.") My mom mailed weekly care packages of her excellent oatmeal cookies to fill what was called the candy trunk kept in every bunk. (Chocolate addict that I am, I loved the addition of chips.)
And she never, ever attempted to serve me rice.
Aimee Lee Ball is a journalist who has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, GQ, O the Oprah Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and many other publications. She can be found at www.AimeeLeeBall.com and on Facebook.
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 c. sifted flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
1 c. butter, at room temperature
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. rolled oats
6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. chopped dates
3/4 c. chopped pecans or walnuts
Mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
Beat butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until creamy.
Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Stir in flour mixture, combining well.
Stir in oats.
Stir in chips, dates, and nuts.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto greased cookie sheets, 3 inches apart. (They will spread.)
Bake 9 – 12 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool on wire racks.