June 22, 1990 – Governor’s Honors Program, Valdosta, GA

In the summer after my junior year of high school (that’s year 11 for you Brits), I was selected to attend the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program (GHP) at Valdosta State College in Valdosta Georgia.  It is a 6-week long summer program for some of the top students in the state. We got to live in the dorms and hang out with students from across the state. Although it was technically an academic program, it rarely felt like school. As a social studies major, I was treated to activities like a Model Congress and a Model UN. As part of my Classics minor, I got a taster of Greek (something I never pursued afterwards).

My dad’s letters continued:

22nd June 1990

 

“June 22, 1990. Dear Mindy, Well, we finally got to enjoy a letter from you.When are you coming home?  Your batty mother and your delirious brother are driving me crazy. I told Marc to give the dogs a bath so he put them in the washing machine. I told him to dry them off and he put them i the dryer. It took Trouble a half hour to stop staggering around. I asked your mother to make a cake and some chocolate chip cookies with those great big white hunks of chocolate. She made them ok, but she cooked them so long you could use them for hockey pucks. Everything was inedible. Your grandparents gave Marc the car just like they said they would. The only trouble with it is that it has no engine and only three wheels. Marc also says it smells kind of funny. Have you noticed the sky lately? Has it gotten colder all of a sudden? Look out for things falling from the sky. When Spike got out of the dryer she went into your room, looked at me, looked at the bed, and puked all over your softball glove. There are ‘big pieces’ still in the fingers. Trouble dripped snot all over it. Well that’s all I can stand to tell you about for now. I don’t want to spoil your fun. By the way, NJCL called and said for you not to bother coming because they never got your registration and you smell kind of funny.

Love,

The Mad Snowflake”

 

So nothing ever really changes… Dad’s new game was to wind me up about the national Latin convention (National Junior Classical League, or NJCL) I was going to attend straight after GHP. I think he was feeling a bit of empty nest syndrome as it meant I would be away from  home for 7 full weeks during the summer vacation. I can imagine he found the idea that I might believe him rather amusing. He probably thought it would prompt a letter, or even a phone call.

He further stirred the pot by calling himself the Mad Snowflake.  The previous year, a friend and I had invented the “character” of the Mad Snowflake while decorating basketball team lockers as part of our cheerleader duties.  We would also tape a snowflake with a message to the door of our chemistry class for our teacher. It’s somewhat embarassing now to think about it (every girl in school had a bit of a crush on our chemistry teacher) – but I’ve found out recently that he actually kept some of them. So, embarassing or not, at least he appreciated the effort.

31st July 1987, another letter to me at Camp Judaea

My dad was always good about sending lots of letters when he knew I’d appreciate it. He kept a steady stream of one-way letter writing to me at summer camp that year. Most sounded a bit like this:

31st July 1987, to me at Camp Judaea

 

“Dear Mindy, Everything here is still the same as the last time I wrote to you. We notified our insurance company that you are going to submit a claim for a severe case of nonwriteitis. It seems that the post office is only on strike in Hendersonville, NC. and only the Mindy Silverboard mail is in dispute, they think that nonwriteitis is contagious. Well, I would suggest that you crank out the old pen and paper and send your brain into gear. Trouble brought some friends home to spend the night. Naturally they slept in your bed. Ryne came by for a visit but we told him to buzz off. Yonaton moved next door into the Downey’s old house. All the little Blackbarts smell like farts. Boy are they nasty. Marc is working hard at getting fired. All he knows how to do is bitch. His stupid friends are calling the house after 10:00 p.m. You know I love that. One more time and I go after them with the shotgun. Have you smelled the skunk yet?  What kind of swimming program do they have you in? Have you changed your linen yet. How about your underwear? I bet you could out stink the skunk. I told you you would miss me I am never wrong.

Feel homesick

Love,

Dad”

So, for context, Trouble was our beagle. She would have been a couple of years old at this point.  By the time I left for university we had acquired a second dog, Spike, and Trouble had got fat and crotchety. But at this point, in 1987, she was still puppy-like and I used to love to wrestle with her on the living room floor. I’m fairly certain I would have missed that dog as much as I did the rest of my family.

As for Yonaton, he was a friend from primary school. His father, Mr. Bleichbard, was my seventh grade Hebrew teacher.  My father was convinced I’d had a crush on Yonaton (or maybe that he was my secret boyfriend) because he was a boy and he was my friend.  By this point, Yonaton had been back in Israel with his family and was in Yeshiva.  I’d received a few letters – again leading my lovely, supportive father to mock me endlessly.

And my brother and his friends…note the shotgun threat. It will rear its  head again later on.  He had a double-barrelled shotgun that he kept in the bedroom when I was growing up. Secretly I think my dad wished he hadn’t been born into a Jewish family so he could have embraced his inner redneck with gusto. As it was, he had to settle for keeping a couple of guns, ostensibly for self-defence should anyone burgle the house while we were in, and to shoot snakes with them once or twice a year.  In fact, every so often the neighbors would hear a gunshot and they’d stick their heads outside and shout over their fences “Has Stanley seen another snake?” So the shotgun was for snakes, intruders, and as a threat made to boys he thought wanted to date me, boys who dated my friends, and friends of my brothers who irritated him. He liked watching our friends squirm.

In any case, this was pretty typical of the letters I received all through summer camp. I did eventually write him back – just not as often as he wrote me.

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.