Monthly Archives: September 2016

Lake Effects 3: Borderlands

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.  20160909_171401

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.



Lake Effects 2: French Lessons

Lake Champlain view from Kingsland Bay State Park by Julia Parent.  The park was created after Ecole Champlain met its demise.

Summer is, for all intents and purposes, over.  But as the temperature still soars to near 100 here in Washington, DC, I will transport myself to the lake of my childhood for a couple more summery memories.  Fast forward from my earliest recollections of Lake Champlain in my last post to my teen years, as a “kitchen girl” at Camp Ecole Champlain, where wealthy sunburned girls learned French at the feet of instructors with sexy accents cutting across the Francophone world.

Alas, I have no extant photos from my two years slaving away in the Ecole Champlain kitchen, but believe me it was a thrilling time, living away from home above the kitchen in a vast rustic attic divided (just barely) between male and female dorm spaces.  My fellow kitchen girl, Rose from Montreal, supplemented my high school French with peppery phrases like “Ferme ta gueule!” (an unsavory way of saying “Shut up”).  My boyfriend du jour, a nice farm boy from nearby, brought me a pet rabbit, dubbed Little Bunny Foo-Foo, who never did master the litter box.

Even as lowly kitchen staff, we were allowed in our off-hours to partake in classes, all taught in French.  I don’t recall any judo instructions in French, but I do remember at least one horseback riding command: “Deposez vous etrier!” (drop your stirrups).  I didn’t last long at horseback riding, falling unceremoniously off one day and pulling a huge muscle at the top of my leg, my agony garnering no sympathy from the imposing instructor.

One night stands out in my memory, and not in a good way: the night I learned never to mix your liquors.  Starting out with a concoction of kalhua and milk (which the older but dubiously wiser cook called “a milkshake except crunchy!”), then progressing to a couple of beers, and finishing off with straight Scotch.  I don’t recall how I made it upstairs to my bed, but I do recall waking up in the middle of the night throwing up. Several times.  And the misery of having to help serve breakfast the next morning. Warning:  do not try tomato juice as a hangover treatment.  It burns all the way down.

The lake was ever-present during the Ecole Champlain summers, as its shore wrapped around the grounds like a cool and inviting compress on a hungover brow.  The swimming beach and watercraft were accessible for us laborers, and we availed ourselves of their use frequently.  But it was more of a scenic backdrop to the Upstairs, Downstairs antics of the camp than the main attraction.  Just as to this day I cannot stomach the smell of Scotch, the Ecole years are buried in my psyche and resurface at a turn of certain French phrases, or Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album which we often played while mopping the dining room floor.  Where to now, St. Peter?