LOVE AND POLLYWOGS FROM CAMP CALAMITY

by Mary L. Hershey


CHAPTER ONE


You should know right off that even though my dad wears an orange prison jumpsuit to work, and my sister Maxey could win an Olympic Medal in the Bossathon, I was the happiest girl in the whole state of Texas. In one week, I was headed to camp! I was so excited I wanted to jump up and down.  But, when you’re nearly eleven, you’re supposed to be past that. Instead, I talked about Camp Wickitawa until Mom said her ears were going to start spurting blood.

It’s our school tradition at St. Dominic’s that every fourth grade student gets to go camp as long as they don’t get any Fs, have lice, or do anything really bad.  In the ‘bad’ category, things had been circling the drain a few weeks back.  One of my two best friends, Aurora Triboni, got suspended from school for roughing up a sixth grader who goes by the name of Booger Boy.  After that happened, Aurora decided to go public school at Sam Houston Elementary so she could play basketball with the sixth grade girls that are big like her. And I don’t mean just tall.  They wear bras that all totally filled up. 

But Principal Obermeyer said that even though Aurora goes to public school now, she could come to camp with us.  This is why I adore my principal.  Plus, she saved my life when I nearly got hit by lightning in a big storm a while back.  She isn’t afraid of lightning or bullies, even though she used to be a little sister just like me. 

It gives a girl like me hope.

I checked my camp packing list that I’d pinned up on my bulletin board in the room I share with my big sister.  Somebody had added a few things to my list!

Freckle Remover

Hair Straightener

Freak-No-More Spray

A Personality

Very funny, Maxey!  If I even came within breathing distance of her stupid bulletin board, she went ballistic.  I got out my thickest, darkest marker and crossed off what she’d written. I was not going to let her ruin my good mood. Even though she was in seventh grade and had already been to camp, she was extremely jealous about me getting my turn. When she’d first gotten home from her camp, she talked about it for weeks and weeks. I was only a first grader then, but I’d soaked it all in.  I’d memorized every single detail, and could probably find my way around Camp Wickitawa with my eyes closed.

I knew it had a big private lake where you could swim and ride in canoes. There was a little store called Totem Village that sold candy and souvenirs, and a giant fire pit for sing-alongs and roasting marshmallows. The big dining hall was called “Mess” and it had a soda machine with all the free refills you wanted (and no mothers watching to make you stop before your teeth rot).

The boys have their bunkhouses on the other side of camp, and you only have to see them sometimes. Which is good, because Maxey says that the boys go all mongo woodsy. They don’t brush their teeth even though they’re supposed to and they eat live bugs and everything! She might be making some of that up, but I’ll know soon enough. The girls don’t have to eat bugs and we sleep on cots in wooden cabins. And we each get a small dresser for our things. My own dresser!  At home I had to share one with Maxey.

And, if you are a very good camper, you might win Outstanding Camper of the Week.  They pick just one from your whole class. I wanted to win it so bad it had kept me awake nearly the whole month before camp.  But I just didn’t want it.  I needed to win it.

Outside Principal’s office was a long hallway with rows of framed pictures of all the other fifty-seven kids that had won it.  One of them is my mom!  One of them is NOT Maxey, and she was still sore about it.  Now it was my turn to take my place on the wall.  I could earn back my family’s honor. Everyone in town would see my picture in the Tyler Wash Tribune standing next to Principal Obermeyer.  From then on, whenever people thought of the Maloney family, they’d think that the town black sheep that had turned snowy white.

Going to camp was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me! I was even taking our special big suitcase that I’d never gotten to use in my whole life. I’d never been on a vacation before. Not even once. For one, our family—which was down to me, Mom and Maxey-- couldn’t afford it, and two, my mom never stopped working.  She was a nearly famous girls’ high school basketball coach, and if she wasn’t coaching, she worked extra games as a referee to Just to Make Ends Meet.  Which they might have if she wasn’t trying to pay back some of the people my dad stole money from.

I had all my favorite clothes washed and rolled up on the bed, Army-style, like Grandpa did his.  Before he died last year, he’d taught me a lot of cool stuff like this. I still could hardly think about him without wishing I’d been there when he’d gone on to the Great Big Pasture.  Pretty Girl, his old white cat had been there, and she’d sat right on top of him until it was time for the paramedics to take Grandpa away.  And one got her scratchy signature right on his arm.

I lifted her from the nest she’d made in the suitcase, and gave her a soft  kiss on the head.  She was so old and skinny she felt like a chicken carcass with no meat left on her. Her purrometer started up, and I sang Grandpa’s favorite song, Puff the Magic Dragon, to her.  She loved hearing it.  Pretty Girl was going to miss me bad. I’d be super lonesome for her, too, but I had a feeling I’d be so busy having a blast, that Pretty Girl was going to get the worst of the missing.

Yeah, shows you what I know.

* * *


Every Friday after school, we have our Angel Scout meeting, which is like Girls Scouts, only instead of selling cookies, we sell chocolate bars that taste like brown crayons. We do a lot of good deeds, and wear beanies with angel wings that look more like alien ears.  What I love most about Angel Scouts is our leader, Sister Lucille, who is a redhead like me.  Secondly, I love the fact that I’m the Treasurer of the whole troop. Maxey says me being treasurer is the definition of irony, and people must have elected me as a joke.  Being Treasurer was not a joke, and I was excellent at it.  There was just that one time a few months back when all the money went missing but it was not my fault.  And we got it all back.  Thanks to me, we had more money than ever since I talked Father Frank, my mom’s best friend, who was taking a time-out from being a priest, into making a big donation.  Frank was kind of loaded.

“Effie!  Over here!” Nit called.  “Found them!”

Instead of our regular meeting at school, Sister Lucille had brought all the fourth grade girls to Earline’s Eight-Eight Cents Store so we could by our toiletries for camp.  Afterwards we were going to Big Arlene’s for dinner as a special treat. The boys had their own separate meetings on Friday with my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Giles. They were not buying toiletries for camp.  They were probably out skinning javelinas or having spit contests. I scurried over to the aisle where my other best friend, Nit, was hunting down some of our supplies.

“Perfect!” I breathed.  “And look! There are three of them!” She’d found the disposable razors.  We were going to shave our legs at camp and maybe Aurora’s underarms, too.  They were pretty furry already. I kept checking mine everyday, but nothing sprouted so far.  Mom says I have about four more years to go, but you never know!

“Don’t let Sister see those when you go pay,” I warned.  “She might rat us out.”

“I won’t,” Nit promised. “Do you have Aurora’s list there, too?”

Aurora was at basketball practice at Sam Houston’s, but was going to meet up with all of us for hamburgers.

“She mostly has snacks on her list,” I said, reading it off.  “Three XL bags teriyaki-flavored jerky, a six-pack of strawberry sugarless gum, malted milk balls, pretzels, jumbo bag of tortilla chips, jalapeno bean dip—“

“Effie, I don’t think they have dip at Earline’s.”

“Yeah, me neither,” I said, scratching that off the list. “I’ll go grab the rest of her stuff, and you go find the little shampoo and lotions, okay?  We’ll get some extras for Aurora even if she didn’t ask for them.”

“Good idea!” Nit said, and hurried off.

I took my basket and headed off to the snack aisle. I could hardly stop myself from shivering with excitement. If shopping for camp was this much fun, I couldn’t even imagine how much fun I was going to have once we actually got there.

I turned the corner and banged right into a brick wall.  Only it wasn’t a brick wall at all.  It was Kayla Quintana, fellow Angel Scout, and my archiest enemy of them all. Person I’d Least Like to Run Into When I Was Alone.

She had mean eyes and mean lips to match. She liked to wear very tight, sparkly clothes, when she wasn’t wearing her black and green plaid school uniforms.

“Watch IT, Effeline!” she snarled. Kayla used to be Aurora’s best friend until Aurora smartened up and realized what a snake Kayla was.  No insults to snakes intended. I’m pretty sure that Kayla would like to see me dead. Even before I hooked up with her ex-best friend, Kayla loved to torment me.  It was a special hobby of hers.

“Sorry,” I said automatically, even though I wished I could take it back.  I’m a very polite girl.  I once apologized to a lamp when I crashed into it. I looked down in Kayla’s hand-basket, and drew in my breath. The whole thing was nearly full to the brim of teriyaki-flavored jerky.  What was she doing? Trying to buy out the whole jerky section so Aurora wouldn’t get any? Or, was she going to try to lure Aurora back to her at camp? This had a very bad smell to it.

I tried to move around her but she sidestepped, blocking me. This was one of Maxey’s favorite games, and I sucked at it. I spun around to go the other way, but she grabbed the back of my sweater with her claws.

“Leggo, Kayla” I said, a warning in my voice.

“Leggo what?” she said

“Let GO of my sweater right now!”

“Or, what?  You gonna do something about it?  Where’s your little friendship club? You get kicked out already?”

“Girls?” Sister Lucille said, coming up behind Kayla.  “Everything okay here?”

“Fine, Sister!” Kayla said.  “Effie’s sweater just got caught on my basket.  I was trying to get it free without tearing it. I think it’s the only one she has, you know.”

My face burned.  The Quintana’s lived in the fanciest house in town, and Kayla loved to make fun of us because we were kind of poor.

“Let me see, Kayla,” Sister said.  “Move your hand.”

“Oh, got it, Sister!” she said.  “There you go, Effie.  Not a single tear or snag.”

I whipped around and gave her a muddy look. I didn’t even care if Sister Lucille saw.

Sister peered in Kayla’s basket.  “I don’t think this is what your mother wanted you to spend all of your toiletry money on tonight. Let’s leave some of this jerky here, and go find you some soap and toothpaste, shall we?”

I tried not to smile as Sister led Kayla off to the boring aisle. I grabbed the bags of jerky I needed, and went off to find Nit again.
I knew Kayla was jealous of what she called my “little friendship club.”  Her mouth made this mean twist whenever she said it. Up until just a few months ago, I didn’t have a best friend. Or, even a pretty good friend.  Ever since my old best friend Lola Jo moved away when I was in second grade, I’d been the odd girl out.  Some kids are kind of funny around me because of my dad, even though that whole mess happened five years ago.

Now I was the only girl in my entire fourth grade class at St. Dominic’s that has two best friends! Girl-wise, they couldn’t be any more different. Aurora is extremely sporty, loads of fun and would give you the shirt right off her back. Even though it would be three sizes too big. Aurora double-crossed me once when we first became friends, but I gave her another chance.  Before you start thinking I’m like a saint or anything, it was Nit who talked me into forgiving her.  She said Aurora was still UIK (Under the Influence of Kayla) and couldn’t help herself.  But, she’s cured of it now.

My other best friend, Nit, which is short for Trinity, is really smart and NOT a freak like some people think just because she has a talent for figuring things out. Sometimes even before they happen.  If you’re Irish, which I am, we call that “fey.”  This usually comes in extremely handy.

Except I think Nit’s fey button was in the OFF position because we did not get any warning about what was going to happen the minute I set foot on Camp Wickitawa! Or maybe Nit did know, but she didn’t dare tell me.  Because if I could have known what was in store for me during my very first vacation away from home, I would have had the special suitcase unpacked faster than you can say John Jacob Jingle Heimer Smith!

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