hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 6, 2012

Closing summer camp a rueful chore

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Next to opening a summer camp, the most undesirable task would be closing it down for the winter.

Everything else in between is heaven’s paradise: A lake in which to frolic, animals and birds to remind me of God’s eclectic world, grandchildren galore enjoying the amenities with my own children, sunsets on the deck, a barbeque sizzle and absolute peace and quiet – when the kids are gone.

Okay, a fireworks barrage dices the solitude every July 4th and the mosquitoes are apt to get under your skin. Sometimes, you get an unwanted guest intruding upon your privacy, and there are the usual maintenance tasks that require attention.

But on the whole, the pluses outweigh the minuses. One of those liabilities is calling it quits for another season. I try putting it off for as long as Mother Nature and Mother Nancy will allow. The moment we get a late-fall chill, a desperate voice rings out.

“Time to pack our belongings and move back home,” says my wife, bundled in her favorite afghan. “Think I’ve had enough of this place. It’s getting rather cold around here.”

“Naw, it’s just your imagination,” I’ll counter. “Think summer. Think sun.”

“It’s r-ain-y an-nd co-ld out there,” she stammers. “Let’s giv-ve it up.”

Thus begins the great meltdown. Where to begin? In come the deck and yard furnishings, but not before they get a good wipe-down. The acorns need attention, not to mention the leaves that have gathered. For every wheelbarrow you mount, two other loads are waiting their turn.

Into the woods they go, only to blow back out.

Let’s see. Clean out the wood stove. Secure the windows. Empty out the refrigerator and shelves. Pull in the boats and the dock. But first, you must secure a helping hand. Try as you might, nobody’s free. Then you realize why. Late October can be a brutal month for a swim.

Take down the flags. I fly two: American and Armenian. Repack two wardrobes. Empty all liquids. Call the utility companies and suspend service.

The hard part has yet to come. Disengage the plumbing and drain the water. Used to be a time when I’d crawl under the house to disjoin a copper pipe. When that burst last year, I got smart and switched to plastic.

After I bought this place 42 years ago, the owner gave me some parting advice. He said, “Get to know your hardware dealer.”

I’m no plumber. Nor am I a carpenter or electrician. But I learned fast, especially after paying exorbitant fees and coping with their attitudes. I remember calling a guy “when all else failed.” He came a week later after I was a nervous wreck, flicked a switch, cured my problem, and handed me a bill that bowled me over.

Just goes to show you a valuable lesson. What people like me lack in intelligence, they usually make up for in stupidity. One day, I climbed into the well to dislodge a pipe, balancing myself between two rocks. One slip and I would have been in four feet of water, looking for a way out. I did this for years until a plumber brought me to my senses.

“You nuts, climbing in there like that?” he retorted. “That won’t freeze. It’s beneath the ground and encased in plastic. Just leave it alone.”

Sage advice. No damage done, especially to myself.

I’m living the modern age now. I bought myself a generator and blow the water out. No more crawling or fishing through paneling to disconnect pipes. Out with the wrenches and screwdrivers. I have a bad feeling about this place. When I’m gone, who’s going to handle the maintenance and upkeep? Will my children perform the physical labor or pay to have the services done? Will they know which pipe to address and where the valves are located?

I’ve offered to show them the routine, but can never pin them down. Little do they realize the work that goes into keeping a camp in shape. On the other hand, why should I worry about it after I’m gone? It’s their problem if they wish to inherit it. Days later, when the last acorn is retrieved and the remnants of summer and fall are in repose, I look around and dwell upon the memories I shall leave behind.

Listening closely, I can hear the voices of the young spilling from the lakefront. “Papa, watch me swim. Papa, I just saw a fish as big as your boat. Papa, can we play Frisbee?”

I watch a blue heron take flight and a loon drifting by. I reflect upon all the good times that such a place has rendered and wait impatiently for spring. It never seems to come soon enough.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.