When I was nearing the end of my freshman year in college, I started looking around for a summer job. By a sheer miracle, and some stretching of the truth about my prior experience, I parlayed my Ecole Champlain kitchen girl experience into a job as a cook at a summer camp of another ilk – where a bunch of well-to-do families preoccupied with other important matters (drinking gin and tonics, playing tennis) hired a cook for the summer and ate three meals a day, six days a week in a central dining hall.
Camp Randolph (which I have just noticed has its own jokey Facebook page so I assume still exists) is a necklace of family-owned cottages on two levels overlooking Lake Champlain in Highgate Springs, Vermont. The lake widens here into a huge, beautiful bay bordering Canada.
As the first week of the camp cooking experience approached, I was totally terrified, though armed with recipes feeding a crowd, thanks to the kind cooks at my college dining room, who shared the secrets of Brownie Pudding for 50 and other delights. What were these people thinking, hiring an 19-year-old to cook for them all summer, were they crazy?
My only help was three high school aged “waitresses,” local girls who, like me in the past couple of summers, were reveling in living (just slightly) away from home, in the quarters above the dining room. But, after a few missteps in quantities and varieties of foods that this crowd – ranging from babies through senior citizens – would all eat, I settled into the job, made great friends with the waitresses, and even got invited to some of the cocktail parties thrown by the residents. We had private jokes about the various residents, including Mr. Dunham, who kept a garden and supplied us with way too many zucchinis, and one who always declared the food “Marvy!”
It was a great adventure the first summer, heartbreaking the second when I fell hard for the son of one of the camp families and got dumped, and definitely a drag the third year, when the “been there, done that” settled in. The consolation was, as usual, the Lake. In between meal preparations, grocery orders, and clean up, the waitresses and I spent as much time on or in the lake as possible, all three of those summers. Canoeing around Bandstand Island, swimming at the little public beach, getting a thrill ride on someone’s power boat, or just sitting on a dock watching its many moods, as I had so many years before much further south, the connection to the lake made it all worthwhile.
So there you have it, my formative summers on the lake, spanning the borders between being a kid and becoming a semi-grownup. Although I still try to get in or around water as often as possible, I have never been closer to a body of water, in proximity or spirit, since those summers. I probably swallowed enough of Lake Champlain for a lifetime in those years, though, so maybe that is why it still seems to run in my blood.