Everyone remembers their first job. Maybe it was counter work in a fast-food restaurant or a sleepy retail outlet, a small internship in a big company. It’s the first time exchanging creativity and labor for hard cash, learning to work with an organization and to please a customer.
For me, it was summer as a counselor at the Wally Y Day Camp, run by the North Suburban YMCA in Northbrook, Illinois. Four days each week, I supervised groups of 6-11-year-old campers through full days of fun activities in the local forest preserve. I was paid a princely $35 per week.
The job was actually a delight. It was great to be working outdoors, spending the summer with my best friend, and socializing evenings and weekends with the rest of the staff. I was good at songs on the bus and nature awareness exercises, composing skits for Friday assemblies and awarding baby-food meals to kids who forgot their lunches.
So, with an extra hour or two before I had to catch a flight to Europe, I took advantage of a warm autumn afternoon to head back into Potawatomi Woods.
Forty-odd years since that distant summer: little has changed. The entry road still wound in to the stone picnic shelter, facing the fireplace that we used for a stage. The open woods spread beyond, the trail to the lake still in place. The Pit was filled in, where campers used to roll in the dirt when the counselors ran out of activities; the smelly scummy Swamp remained.
Beyond the woods, the path opened onto the Lake and the River, where we taught the kids to fish and skip stones.
I took a shortcut through the woods to get back to the car, sure of my ancient reading of the terrain. Predictably, I got hopelessly lost. I found my way out the far side of the preserve onto Portwine Road, then humbly took the long way back around the perimeter to find the entry road again.
The visit brought back a lot of memories: these are the sorts of circles that I love to close, bringing back the people and events that still can seem as close as yesterday.