Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time rewritten every line?
Childish naïveté, of course, painted our world in bright colors even in an era of Cold War tensions, fallout shelters and comical classroom air raid drills. But can next summer’s campers have the same sheltered sense—realistic or not—of security, protection, order, permanence?
We now recognize how and why our ’50s and ’60s vision was filtered through the gauzy lens of parents, teachers and camp directors with fresh memories of dark, dangerous years. Many had been uprooted, losing homes, family members and innocence.
For this first-generation American, camp summers began just a dozen years after the end of World War II, when “camp” meant something else entirely.
Survivors’ efforts to shield our generation blended with attempts to convey the importance of patriotism, the value of democracy, the need to embrace our American-ness. They had brutal reasons not to take this land’s benefits and safeguards for granted, and they sure didn’t want us to.
Never was this clearer than at the Catskills flagpole rituals, which resonate more meaningfully now amid our national trauma.
While appreciating the words and messages of God Bless America and the Pledge of Allegiance with fresh relevance, we can imagine that Stern Summer Camp directors Ellen and Gerry Bucky considered the morning and dusk ceremonies to be as vital as breakfast and dinner—nourishment for young Americans who should savor the land of the free and the home of the brave, even if they didn’t grasp why yet.
In the secular atmosphere of our camp, where prayers were heard only at Sabbath services, another form of worship provided bookends to the daily routines of recreation, arts and crafts, athletics, letter-writing, musical rehearsals and exploring. The flag that waved on a hill in front of the pool—a banner raised, lowered and folded by campers of all ages—represented a new start for the relatively recent immigrants who were our directors and parents.
It represented, theoretically, liberty and justice for all . . . one nation, from sea to shining sea.
We endured, mostly, these daily routines and refrains with varying degrees of impatience or memorization. How less hokey they seem now in our altered adulthood of lapel flags, Fourth of July-style street scenes, taped-up newspaper flags, red, white and blue TV logos . . . Old Glory everywhere from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans.
How comforting, during the autumn of our national angst, to know the words to our anthems and to recall singing them in the Catskills, as well as at school.
Gradually, lastingly, we absorbed lessons of pride in our birthplace, our patriotic songs and our flag (“don’t let it drop”)—feelings that swell anew for reasons no one could have imagined during those peaceful Pine Bush months at our summer home, sweet home.