I met my husband while we were both working at Camp Innabah. If you’re anywhere around Southeast PA you should definitely check it out-it’s a great camp. I started attending their day camp program when I was just 4 years old and I was hooked. I came back every summer, first for half week overnights, then the whole week, then the whole summer. That’s right folks I was a camp counselor (I’m sure everyone is shocked). I met my husband my first summer on staff, though he didn’t remember that meeting. I’m not sure why not. We were both counseling a jr. high camp and something we had for dinner that first night didn’t sit well with me so I spent the whole first night throwing up. It was obviously super romantic-a real Hallmark movie moment.
We spent the next two summers, my second and third years on staff, working together and building a friendship- neither of us interested in anything more. But my fourth, and last, summer on staff something changed. Part of it may have been that by this point most of the staff was younger than us, part of it might have been that the rest of our friend group had already coupled up (I’m not kidding-there are at least 5 other married couples who met at summer camp during this same time period), but most of it was we always got along really well and enjoyed spending time together.
That summer we started falling in love. Jeff was working maintenance and I was in charge of the camper in leadership training program which meant that while we were both very busy during the day we didn’t have any evening responsibilities. Once dinner was done we had a few hours each night to hang out with each other. I even started spending my “day off” (the 22 hours between camp sessions) at camp so we could spend more time together. At the end of the summer we decided to see if it would work in the real world, though we were both prepared to admit it had just been a summer fling. Spoiler alert-it worked in the real world, like really worked.
Even though I worked with a variety of camps my favorites were always our challenge camps-camps designed for people with special needs. These campers came back year after year and we built relationships. My fifth summer as a counselor/volunteer these campers were celebrating my engagement. The summer after that they were looking at my wedding album. Jeff and I started a life together-and a lot of that life still included Camp Innabah. We went to the open houses and races and even volunteered to lead camps over the summer. Including my favorite camp with my favorite campers. They loved to tease us about our relationship and when Jeff couldn’t make it they always asked about him.
Then Jeff died. He died about a month before I was scheduled to lead my favorite camp. At the time it felt important to go-to prove to myself that I could still do it. Parts of that week were so incredibly hard. I was surrounded by memories of us, and those memories were painful. But it was also so incredibly healing. If you haven’t had the immense privilege of working with people with special needs you are missing out. These campers brought me cards, they spoiled me with hugs, they said things like, “I’m sure Jeff is up in heaven playing cards with my grandma.” To be clear I was not accepting hugs or sappy sayings from anyone else but I was able to receive from these genuine, caring, soul-soothing folks. Being with this group of campers was healing in a way nothing else could be.
Last summer camp was cancelled due to Covid. So that brings us to now. I recently finished another week at camp. It is still bittersweet to be in that place where I feel in love. It was a huge part of my life before I met Jeff and it is a part of my life after him. It is something that is both just mine and it is also the foundation of our love story. Our story runs underneath everything. I can’t ride in the wagon with my campers without thinking of all the times Jeff would drive a hayride and then give me my own private ride after the campers were done. I can’t walk to the pool without thinking of “lifeguard Pinard.” Campers ask me when milkshakes will be back in the camp store and all I can think about is the time Jeff and I made the biggest mess trying to make milkshakes for everyone.
But life continues and I am able to make new memories at camp while remembering my old memories with…well it’s not quite fondness but it’s also quite as painful as it was before. And my campers have moved on as well. This year instead of cards and sympathy I got chants of “Sarah needs a boyfriend.” After making it very clear that nobody needs a boyfriend I decided to play along. I asked them who my boyfriend should be and the clear answer was Sean Mendes. So if he’s available I guess I am too. Do you think he wants to work at summer camp??