30th July, 1987. To me, at summer camp.

In 1987, when I was 13, my parents remortgaged the house to afford to send me away to Camp Judaea for 4 weeks. At the time, I could barely stand a one-night sleepover with friends and they thought it would be good for me, to learn to be away from home. They also knew something I was to discover – that it would be a seminal experience in my young life.  Dad somehow thought I would miss home for more than the first few nights.

Dad's letter 30-07-87
July 30, 1987 from dad to me at Camp Judaea

“July 30 (Thursday).  Dear Mindy, Today marks one week  that you have been at camp and I think it’s probably safe to write a letter to you now. I really appreciate all of the cards and letters you  have written. Are you alive, how is your counselor, are you rooming with anyone you know. Are the kids nice.??????

Trouble just sent you a fart long distance. She also peed on your pillow since we gave her your bed. She asked that we take down Sandberg’s picture. It made her puke. Me and Marc have been eating out every night because your  motha is a motha out of town. It has been hot as hell here all week. The Braves have lost most of their games. And Murphy walked out in disgust. He is now playing in Mongolia for the Red Bandits.

You must be seriously injured and unconscious because we have not  gotten any letters from you. Are they treating you well in  the hospital? We need to know how your luggage is going to get home? Find out and write to us, that is unless you like walking around naked. Alexis likes your bike and she even lets Whitney ride it sometimes. We knew you wouldn’t mind us giving it away, since you don’t write. Get my message? Write. Do you like lake swimming? Have the horses dropped a load on you? Have you stepped in any skunk shit?

That’s it for now.

Love, Guess Who.”

I remember being painfully homesick for the first few nights. It was my first time away but most of the other girls had been to camp before. Only one girl, Stephanie, was in worse shape than I.  By the end of the week, however, after a lot of sympathy and distraction provided by my bunkmates, I was over it.  I did appreciate all the letters, however.

It was nice to know that my dad missed me as much, if not more, than I missed him. In truth, the only reason he got any letters that summer was that we were forced to write at least once a week.

He knew exactly what I needed to hear as well – news about Trouble, our crotchety beagle; news about the Braves, my favourite baseball team; mention of Ryne Sandberg, the Chicago Cubs 2nd baseman I idolised; and his usual potty mouth humour, making fun of my mom and brother. He also knew that I dreaded the idea of lake swimming (I avoided it for most of the summer, I still do. Previous years at summer day camp made me loathe enforced swimming, although they made me extremely proficient at it).

This first letter from my dad set the tone for years of correspondence, mostly one-sided, that I continued to appreciate long after I left home properly.

Letters from my parents, letters to my teenage self.

My father passed away in 1998, shortly after I moved to Manchester to start my PhD in history. He had been suffering from bowel cancer for about 3 years at that point. I had only just started seeing Rick, who would later become my husband, and unfortunately the two never had a chance to meet, something Rick told me he really regretted, having heard so many utterly bonkers stories about my dad from me, my mom and my brother. My dad was a big man, in size and personality, with a filthy and rather bizarre sense of humour and a somewhat intractable personality – his siblings called him ‘The Bull’.

About a year ago I was in Atlanta finally going through the last of my possessions left in the US, owing to my mother selling her house, and I came across a stack of old letters of the snail mail variety, many from my father, but some from Mom and other friends and family. Reading some of Dad’s letters aloud to Rick had us both in stitches. “You should scan these and put them online,” he told me. He thought my mom, brother, cousins and aunts and uncles would enjoy reading them. I worry about the way he describes them all – some of it is far from flattering – but agree they will see his humour running through them. He sought mainly to make me laugh, through hyperbole and toilet humour mainly, usually at the expense of everyone around us.

These letters, for I’ve scanned all of the letters, not just the ones from my father, paint a picture of my first steps away from home. From summer camp to university, they provide a nice biography of my teenage years as well as my relationship with my parents. I hope readers will find it as amusing as Rick and I do.