Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Here’s hoping you don’t remember that I wrote about this many years ago. But I doubt if you were one of my two readers then. So I feel safe telling you that every year about this time I think back to one of the most memorable experiences of my life — apart from personal milestones, THE most memorable experience of my life. And I have to smile.
The summer I was 15, my Dad decided I should go to camp. I had never been to camp before, except for a yearly experience with the church synod (West Virginia), when all the families “camped” together at Jackson’s Mill, and I knew I loved that. All the time in the world to go out on the various paths by myself, which was more fun than having to put up with someone else at interesting moments, like when you’d see a mysterious flower in the woods and investigate it, or chase a rabbit, or stand stock still when you saw a snake. Oh, yes, camp was definitely my kind of thing, we thought, and my Dad had no doubt that I would enjoy it. So in August, about a year after my mother died, he packed me off to a church camp near Gettysburg called Nawakwa.
Reader, I hated it. In the last year, I had become very independent. Perhaps that is why Daddy (Everybody, even boys, called their father Daddy in those days — see the Waltons on TV. My brothers still do, reminiscing.) wanted me to get a little structure in my life — I was getting too strong-minded for my own good? Or maybe he just wanted me to have some fun.
Well, camp wasn’t it. Every time I wanted to, say, take a private walk in the woods, they had scheduled that hour, for, oh, writing letters home, which I was all in favor of but on my own time. They assigned us “buddies” so that you NEVER had a chance to be alone! And we played (a lot of) organized games. Besides being overweight, or perhaps because of it, I wasn’t very good at that kind of thing, and always got left in the back 40 while everyone else was on top of the ball. Actually, I usually wanted to read or write or go for a walk at game time. In other words, what was planned for each hour of the day was rarely what (or when) I felt like doing it.
This is called “structured,” and I was all in favor of it, as long as I was the one doing the structuring. But I had to go by their rules. Yuck!
I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
At the end of a miserable week bucking authority, things looked brighter. My aunt and uncle, who lived in Gettysburg, picked me up and put me on the train for — New York City! This was the reward for my travails at camp. (Had Daddy known that camp would be less than, well, copacetic for me?)
Now, we had a family tradition of going to New York City every few years to see the sights and go to shows. (Always the Music Hall, and whatever was tops on Broadway at the time. In those days, you didn’t have to worry quite so much about the quality of the content. Even Daddy had no qualms about taking a 15-year-old girl to many of the big shows on Broadway at the time. So, when I got old enough, Mother and Daddy had taken me with them, once or twice. I loved it!)
That was the pattern we were following when he met me at the train station in New York City that afternoon. There was however one difference, I might say, an unexpected difference. A huge difference.
That day turned out to be VJ Day!
And even Daddy couldn’t do anything about it.
How he felt about all this I never had the brains to ask him in later years. (How dumb we all are in real life, not to inquire into things we will spend the rest of our lives wondering about! If you have questions about your earlier life experiences or even just want to share them all over again — for goodness’ sake — stop reading this right now and talk to your parents about them! Live them over again, together.)
That iconic picture we all know from VJ Day in NYC was — the way it was. Servicemen were kissing girls all over the landscape — as innocently as could probably ever be possible (and certainly more so than it would be nowadays). And soldiers and sailors everywhere were taking advantage of it. (Not that I am so ignorant as to think it was all sweetness and light all over New York City — but, hey, where I was, Daddy was. Darn it!)
I kept hoping that the sheer weight of numbers would work in my favor but it never happened. Daddy stayed too close, so that all around young soldiers and sailors were kissing every girl in sight — except in my vicinity.
Still, it was exciting as all get-out. Even when we went to the Broadway shows Daddy had scheduled for us (I forget which they were — “Song of Norway” may have been one) the seats were only half full and the first night or two you could hear cheering and the ongoing whistles, and fire sirens, and smell the excitement from the outside between numbers. Even the singers and dancers on stage sounded as if they had rather been out there in the middle of the action.
I didn’t waste too much time fretting about my chaperone! We had a wonderful time together that week and Camp Nawakwa disappeared into the mists of the past, to reappear years later (surprise!) as a mildly enjoyable experience. But forever secondary to the world-wide excitement that I had been privileged to join in, wholly by accident, that Aug. 15 of 1945.
Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.