The Site of an Early Crush
I'm not sure where the camp's name of Royal Rock came from, but some kids attributed it to a big rock that sat on the sweeping front lawn of a beautiful estate house where the camp was based. The rock was large enough so that several kids could sit on it at once, and it was a touchstone of sorts: a safe area for capture the flag, a spot on the horizon to race to when having relays, or a place to sit and have a snack.
It afforded a majestic view of the Hudson River as well. One late afternoon, I'd wandered down alone the hill to the rock to recover an overthrown baseball. Upon retrieving the ball, I looked up to see that I'd been followed. There, illuminated by the last rays of a carefree summer day, was Beth.
She was about two years older than me; perhaps 14, and someone I'd learned had an actual crush on me—the first time in my life I'd ever been made aware of such a thing.
Beth always seemed serious and very commanding—unlike many other girls her age—she just seemed older, wiser and more mature. She was also (to my eyes) exceptionally pretty. When I heard the news I did not know what to do. In fact, I was petrified. Whenever I saw her now, it was hard to function.
My first true crush, but I was too scared to ever speak to her. She was a wonderful swimmer and I'd watch, as she'd emerge from the pool after swimming laps during lunch, her long blonde hair pushed back, her red one–piece bathing suit gleaming in the sun. She caught me gawking a time or two and smiled and waved. I'd blush and walk away, dizzy.
And here, in the cool of an approaching summer evening, she'd cornered me by the rock. Her hair was still wet from a late afternoon swim. She wore blue denim cut off shorts and a purple t–shirt with an iron-on rainbow design on front.
She asked if I'd sit down on the rock with her and I did. After a short moment of silence, looking off at the Hudson River she said quietly, "You know I like you, right?" I just nodded. I was seriously in fear of my heart giving out. She continued, now addressing me eye to eye. "Look, you're here at camp to have fun and I know I make you uncomfortable so I just want you to know that I don't want you to be nervous or anything. I won't bother you, I promise, but if you ever want to talk or maybe go see a movie or something, you just let me know, okay?"
I don't think I said a word the entire time, instead nodding slightly as my lungs fought for air. She gave my arm a little touch, then got up and headed back to the pool where, presumably, she glide gracefully through the water, turning professionally as she reached one side, then pushing off and, doing it all over again.
The rest of the weeks were a bit of a Beth blur. I'd see her talking to older guys (counselors), and I wondered what might have been. But she was true to her word—she put no pressure on me—though secretly I sort of wish she had.
The morning of the last day of camp, she told me to meet her at the rock. I nodded (still no sounds from me in her presence).
I hurried over after camp to the rock. A moment later, Beth was there too. She came in close, gave me a quick hug and a peck on the cheek, said "Have a good year at school" and then trotted off to the waiting car full of kids in the lot.
And that was it. The scent of her, sun tan lotion and floral scented shampoo, hung in the hair as I watched her get smaller. She waved from the car and smiled. Then, like a mirage, she was gone. I don't think I'd ever been sadder than at that moment. School was next, and a long cold winter.
Why did summer ever have to end?
Why did Royal Rock ever have to end?
A Squeezed–in Landmark
Back in present time, driving up the main road to the mansion last summer, I was disoriented.
There was no more mansion.
Or acres of open property.
It had been all but completely developed. I was crestfallen.
There were so many town homes, I could barely figure out where anything used to be. After realizing that some original pine trees were still there (near where the snack bar had been), I made a path through a backyard to see, incredibly, that the swimming pool survived—only now it served not a day camp, but the new community. Standing there, I could picture the swimming lessons I took. I relived the races we had, the endless hours of summer fun, and the beautiful image of Beth emerging from the water. And that was it.
Everything else was gone.
Heading back to my car though, I noticed something. There, in the part of the main lawn that wasn't yet built upon, was the rock. It was smaller than I remembered, as things from the past often are. But it was there. It had survived. I went and sat on the rock, and for a moment I was back in time, an innocent, awkward kid, in the shadow of my first real crush.
The camp was gone. The view of the river from the rock was almost gone.
But the memory of Royal Rock was rich and alive in the sweet summer sun.
My friend, the writer Warren Beath (The Death of James Dean) wrote this: "I like to read and build an architectural structure of the imagination, and the final step is actually to walk into itâ€“ to inhabit the same space as the events while experiencing them emotionally. I seem to retain a connection with the event and the place, and I relive it continually. These are the places of my dreams."
I believe he is referring to places of great historical import, but it also holds true for places that are not so famous.
"Personal landmarks," spots where we ourselves did something grand, learned something, grew, saw the light, saw the darkness—places you can always revisit to rekindle a memory or even teach your kids something about you.
As anonymous as they may seem to the rest of the world, these spots are yours—you were there—so don't forget them—appreciate those places and a part of you will live there forever.
Chris Epting is the writer/photographer of 18 books, including Hello, It's Me - Dispatches From a Pop Culture Junkie. Others include James Dean Died Here; Led Zeppelin Crashed Here; Roadside Baseball; and The Ruby Slippers, Madonna's Bra, and Einstein's Brain. He has contributed articles for such publications as the Los Angeles Times, Westways, Travel + Leisure and Preservation magazine, and is the National Spokesman for the Hampton hotel Save-A-Landmark program. Chris lives in Huntington Beach, CA with his wife and their two children.
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