In many families Camp White Elk is a tradition that spans generations. Fathers who've spent childhood summers at the camp are eager to give their sons the same experience. The first grandson arrived in 1979; his grandfather had been at Camp White Elk in Stanley's first year, 1933. But none of the Gang had this kind of family relationship to Camp White Elk. None of their parents had attended the camp, and in fact, except for Charlie, all were first time campers that magic summer of 1961.
For Charlie, it was a tradition. He'd started at Camp White Elk at age nine in 1950. He was a camper for six years, and then a part of our counselor training program for two summers. The training program was usually a one summer program, but we did allow some kids to do it in two half seasons. Charlie was a counselor for us when he graduated from high school in 1958. The magic summer of 1961 was his fourth summer as a counselor. So for Charlie, Camp White Elk was a tradition.
For most of the Gang it had been their parents who'd learned about Camp White Elk, usually from other parents, and had encouraged their boys to attend. All had come with a mixture of reluctance to leave home and friends, fear of the unknown, and eagerness for adventure-except for Hal. Hal had been a complete picture of reluctance and fear. All had, of course, had a wonderful time-the time of their lives as all agreed. Except for Tim they all returned the next summer, but not as a group. Tim hadn't come because Charlie was a counselor again. The next summer, 1963, all had returned as a group and Charlie had headed off to Des Moines and his job with the Red Cross. 1963 was the last summer any of the Gang were campers at Camp White Elk-though Hal and Ronnie returned for at least a week, and usually two, every summer. Those two have never missed!
So, do three years make a tradition? Well, nobody cared about the word. All agreed it was an experience they wanted to pass on to their children. Thus far, however, nobody had made a move to send one of the boys to camp. I think it was the range of ages that deterred them. In 1989 Willie was sixteen, and Milt-Tina and Merle's second boy-was the youngest at four. Of course, Willie's father, Billy, didn't have the connection to Camp White Elk, and Willie had turned down a chance to go: a lake is simply not where a diver wants to be. Besides, since he was apart from his parents all winter, he wanted to be with them in the summer.
I decided that it was going to be up to me to get the kids to camp. Me? Sorry, this is Jeff. I sort of joined the Gang through the back door. As Stanley's assistant I knew all of the boys, but it was only after I fell in love with Dick that we became part of the Gang. And in the fullness of time Charlie asked me to tell you about inviting the Gang's kids to camp in 1989. But, as you know, Charlie wants something else in his stories: the story of the writer's growing up as a sexual being. In my case, a gay sexual being.
I grew up in the west side suburbs of Chicago. It was a very middle class home with middle class virtues and values. Those did not include homosexuality. My parents sent me to Camp White Elk beginning right after the war-in 1945 when I was just barely eight years old. I loved it. I loved the kids. I loved the lake. I loved my counselors. As I got older, I began to realize that I really did love my counselors and some of the other kids. I couldn't be open about it, but I could be a whole lot closer to the boys I loved at camp than in school. I wasn't a loser in school, but I wasn't a big winner either. And I had the good sense not to let anyone know that I was gay-though as the high school years went by I became very certain of it myself.
At camp, in my mid-teens, I shared my big secret with a couple of boys that I knew well and whom I suspected might be gay. One was, and one wasn't. The boy who wasn't gay was very sympathetic and we talked many hours about sexuality, and about his sexual exploits with girls-which seemed to be many. The gay kid only wanted to get into my pants, and I wasn't sure that I was ready for that. I was very afraid of being caught if we did "anything" and so I refused to go along. Of course, I know now that Stanley would've been very sympathetic to two teenage boys who were exploring their sexuality in the woods. But fear governed my life back then.
I went to Northern Illinois State College at DeKalb (it became Northern Illinois University after my freshman year). It was a good school and I had a good time. I even studied some and got fairly decent grades. I was deep in the closet, and never felt comfortable sharing my secret with anyone. No love, no sex. I jacked off often, and I'll have to admit that my roommates never knew, and I never knew what they did. I've read several comments in these episodes about how silly that is, and I agree. But if you're gay and in the closet, talking to your roommate about masturbating is the last thing you're going to contemplate.
As to Charlie's question of how I learned to masturbate, I'll have to admit that I simply can't remember. I didn't do it in elementary school and I did in high school. Somewhere in between I guess I figured it out, but that's lost in my memory.
I was a counselor for Stanley after my senior year of high school and every summer thereafter. When I graduated from NIU, Stanley offered me a year round job as the Assistant Director of Camp White Elk. Not many years later Stanley retired, saying that he'd watched me as his assistant and was confident that the camp was in good hands. Of course, Stanley never really retired. He had a home at the camp and was there every summer. He was around all the time, and the kids loved him. But he didn't try to mind the store, saying that that was my job, and it was his job to stay out of the way. His willingness to let me be in charge made it very easy for me to come to him for help and advice when it was needed. Stanley was quite a guy.
Getting the Gang kids to camp came with problems-namely their ages. Our literature said that we accepted boys from age eight on, and we had from time to time made an exception and accepted a seven year old, particularly if he was ahead in school and would be attending school in the fall with eight year olds. But Milt was four! True, Milt was all alone at the bottom, because his brother Max was six, as was Shel. But how could we have every other Gang boy-twelve or thirteen in all depending on whether Willie came-and leave Milt back in Grand Forks?
I got a really great idea! I called Franklin and Phil on the telephone and asked them if they'd like to be camp counselors for a summer. Phil loved the idea, as a teacher he had his summer free. Franklin, however, said he couldn't leave Democracy House for the summer. When Phil heard Franklin say that, he chimed in with, "Franklin, Jerry'd be glad to manage Democracy House for the summer, and you know full well that he's capable of it. He's been providing psychological services, and could easily cover for you this summer."
Nobody likes to think that they can be replaced, but Franklin did have to admit that Jerry could and would do the job well. As it turned out, Franklin only joined us for the second half of the summer, as you'll see.
We did a lot of thinking about how to handle all of the boys. Dick and I flew over to Grand Forks in March to talk about the details. The big question was whether to have all of the boys stay together as a group, or spread them throughout the camp. Both approaches had drawbacks. If we kept them together as a group they'd probably have a better time, because they really did enjoy each other's company. On the other hand, they might miss making new friends and getting to know people different from them. As a group they could help Milt and the other young ones participate. It probably wouldn't be possible for Milt to come if he had to be part of a group of strange eight year old boys, as they wouldn't want to deal with a four year old, and they were, in fact, paying customers.
It was Charlie who suggested the solution we finally adopted. Those who were eight years old when camp started would come to the first camp session and be a part of the camper group appropriate for their age. That would allow all of the Gang boys to go except Max and Milt, Tina and Merle's boys, and Sheldon, the foursome's youngest. Auggie would be the youngest, turning eight in early June-the month camp opened. If anybody could handle it, Auggie was that somebody. Phil would be a counselor and would have the youngest boys, which would include Auggie and Perry-Paul and Amanda's boy.
Camp White Elk had moved to two 3 ½ week sessions, followed by the two week special session, which had been the time that the Gang became the Gang. During the second session all of the Gang kids would move into the smallest cabin, which accommodated only two camper groups. Franklin would join as the second counselor in the cabin, and he'd bring Max, Milt, and Shel with him to camp. There was great debate as to how to divide the group into two camper groups: by age or by mixing the ages. It was decided to mix the ages, but to be prepared to separate the ages if necessary-in case the little ones couldn't keep up.
Well, it turned out that the little ones could keep up, and on those occasions when they started to fall behind, the older boys helped them willingly.
The summer was a huge success. All of the boys fit in beautifully. They got along well with the other campers, and even when they were living together in the second session, they avoided being cliquish. Phil and Franklin had been worried about that, and were prepared to step in with guidance if needed, but it was never needed. Nels, Carl's oldest, and Willie's brother Bob were the oldest of the group, since Willie had elected not to come-staying home and diving was really important to Willie. The two of them were thirteen -not among the older boys in camp, since it ranged in age up to seventeen. But they held their own, and were popular, as were all of the Gang's boys.
During the first session everyone tried to avoid being obvious about being a special group. That was a decision the boys made, and it was their conscious effort not to appear to be a group that prevented any cliquishness. Hal and Ronnie made their visit to camp early that year, because of scheduling issues with the super collider. So they were there for the last week and a half of the first session. The Gang boys sort of gave away their special relationship to each other as they all called Hal and Ronnie, Uncle Hal and Uncle Ronnie. They'd decided, together, not to use the "Uncle," but old habits die slowly, and they all quickly slipped, and finally agreed to just call them Uncle Hal and Uncle Ronnie. The rest of the kids in camp started calling them that as well-which was met with some resistance by Hal and Ronnie, but they soon accommodated.
The boys discovered that they liked to sail. They all became pretty good sailors and the older ones passed the tests required to skipper a boat without a counselor on board. I say the older ones, but that wasn't completely correct. Auggie took to a sailboat like a fish to water or a Tim to a balance beam. Within a week he could sail a boat as well as anyone in camp! The sailing director had a few qualms about awarding a skipper badge to Auggie-almost the youngest boy in camp. It was agreed between the two of them that Auggie could skipper a boat, but had to have a responsible older camper aboard, even if Auggie had the skipper badge (and was the skipper) and the older boy did not. It was fun to watch this eight-year-old directing two teenagers in putting up the sail, handling the centerboard, and casting off, without seeming to put the older boys down. A few of the older boys couldn't handle it, but they simply didn't sail with Auggie. One afternoon I watched Auggie make a perfect landing at the dock and drop the mainsail with ease and style, while his crew of two teenagers took down the jib and raised the centerboard. As Jeremy, the young man that had handled the jib, walked off the dock, I pulled him aside for a chat. "How do you like sailing with little Auggie?"
"He's a great sailor. Absolutely fearless. There's a strong wind out there today and Auggie was riding it as high as he could. He had all three of us sitting on the high side; anybody on the other side would've gotten his butt wet."
"Does it bother you to have a skipper half your age?"
"Auggie isn't half my age; he's much older than that."
"You're sixteen, aren't you?"
"You're shitting me! Oh, sorry, Jeff."
"That's OK. I do know the word. And, no, I'm not shitting you."
"I thought he was about twelve. Even then he talks like he's older. He can't be eight. Where did he learn to sail like that?"
"Right here at camp, in the first week."
"Jeff, I've been coming here for four years and I can't sail that well. I've got my skipper badge, but, honestly, sometimes it's more fun to sail with Auggie than to skipper myself."
I said, "Jeremy, tomorrow, why don't you invite Auggie to crew for you. I'll bet he would."
I watched the next day as the same three boys set out: Auggie was crew; Jeremy was skipper. As we waited for lunch that day I asked Jeremy about his sail with Auggie. "Gee, Jeff, Auggie was great. He just minded his business, held the jib, and seemed to be enjoying himself. I swallowed my pride and asked him to sit next to me and give me some pointers. He did, and as he sat there he sort of talked to himself about what he'd do with the squall that was coming, or how he'd plan his tacks. His mind was always about five steps ahead of the boat-and of me. It was fascinating. I got up my nerve and asked him how old he was. You're right; he's eight. But he's going to middle school next year. The kid's a genius. Do you know who his father is?"
"Yes, I do. I'm surprised that you seem to."
"After about an hour of Auggie simply thinking out loud about how to sail, and me following his suggestions, we got talking about different things. You have no sense that you're talking to a little kid. He got to talking about the clouds and how he'd like to paint them. We got talking about art and one thing led to another. His father is Sid Madison."
"How do you know who Sid Madison is?"
"Sid Madison? The artist? Doesn't everybody know who he is?"
"Jeremy, except for Auggie's group of friends, I'll bet you're one of maybe two or three boys in camp that know who Sid Madison is. How do you happen to know that?"
"Art was a required course in ninth grade. The teacher made a big deal out of Sid Madison because he was so young. She was trying to get us to think that we really could be artists. We visited a gallery in Chicago that displayed his work. I like realistic art. I can't deal with all this modern stuff. Madison really knows how to paint a picture."
"I hope you told Auggie that."
"Oh, I did. He said that the next time Sid visits the gallery in Chicago Auggie will let me know so I can meet him."
Charlie does this when he's storytelling, so I guess it's OK for me: I'm going to jump ahead and tell you of Sid's visit to Chicago. One day I got a telephone call from Auggie, asking me for Jeremy's telephone number in Chicago. I gave him the number, and I also asked him what was up. He was following through on his promise to Jeremy of the summer before. He called Jeremy that evening. Jeremy's mother got him to the telephone. "Hello."
"Hey, Jeremy, it's Auggie, from camp."
"Oh. Hi, Auggie. How's it going?"
"Fine. How about you?"
"Great. Why the call?"
"Listen, my dad's going to be at the Altoni Gallery in Chicago this weekend. They're opening a new exhibit. Would you like to meet him?"
"Auggie, I sure would. That's wonderful."
"The V.I.P. reception is at 7:00 p.m. on Friday. Dad'll put your name on the list."
"Auggie, are you going to be there?"
"I don't think so. I don't usually go with dad on trips like that. I have school."
"Auggie, I know you could miss a day or two of school and it wouldn't make any difference. Why don't you see if you can come with your dad? Then you could spend the weekend at my house, and we'd get you back to your dad on Sunday. Is that when he'll be heading back?"
"I'd love that, Jeremy. Look, I'll have to talk to my mom and dad. I'll call you back."
The conversation with Sid and Cathy was very brief. Both Sid and Cathy bought into Norman's advice that you always said, "Yes," to a child unless there was a solid reason to say, "No." So a conversation that in many families would involve a lot of hemming and hawing, a lot of questions, warnings to the child that he had to behave if he was going to have privileges like that, and so forth, in the Madison household took about a minute:
"Can I go to Chicago with dad? Jeremy, the kid from camp that I told you about, has invited me to spend the weekend with him."
"Auggie, that sounds like fun. Sure you can. We ought to call Jeremy's parents to make sure that he isn't overstepping in issuing that invitation."
Another telephone call and all was set.
Jeremy and his parents arrived at the gallery at 7:00 that Friday and found that they were in the middle of a high society reception, featuring the big names of the Chicago art world. Auggie, age 8, seemed to fit right in. So did Jeremy at age 16. It turned out that Jeremy'd had a very good art class in the ninth grade and recognized a number of the artists present. He told Auggie, "My old art teacher would be so jealous if I told her about this evening."
Sid overheard that comment and said to Jeremy, "Jeremy, it's only 7:30. This is going to go on until at least ten. Why don't you call your teacher and invite him to come down to the gallery?"
"He's a she, sir, and I'd love to do that if I could. Would it be OK?"
"Of course. Go in the office there and use the telephone."
Auggie went with him and reported that the conversation was a little strange. Here is the one side of it that Auggie could hear.
"Mrs. Schwartz, this is Jeremy Hudson."
"I'm sorry I called you at home; I have an invitation that can't wait until Monday."
"Mrs. Schwartz, I really wish you'd let me tell you why I called."
"I'm standing in the Altoni Gallery on Michigan Avenue. We're in the middle of the V.I.P. reception for a new show by Sid Madison. Sid, er, Mr. Madison, has asked me to invite you to join us here if you could make it on such short notice. The reception will go at least until ten this evening."
"Sid Madison, the artist we learned about in your class two years ago."
"Yes, Sid Madison."
"Yes, the Sid Madison."
"No, this isn't a joke."
"Mrs. Schwartz, I have to go. Mr. Madison says that he would enjoy meeting any high school teacher that includes him in her syllabus."
"Goodbye, Mrs. Schwartz."
Auggie asked, "She thought you were making it up?"
"It wouldn't make a very good practical joke. If she got here and your father wasn't here I'd be dead meat. What did she think I was doing?"
"You'll have to admit it was a bit out of left field."
"Yeah, I guess it was. How else could I have handled it?"
"I don't know. I hope she comes."
"She finally said she would, and threatened me with my life if it was a joke."
Sid came up and started asking Jeremy all kinds of questions; about himself, his studies, sports, art, family. Sid seldom ran low on curiosity. Then he had to move on to other people, as glad-handing the folks in Chicago with enough money to buy his paintings was part of the game-a game that Sid had learned well from Andre Stilson.
At about 8:30 a woman arrived at the door and told the doorman she was Irene Schwartz. The doorman, having been prompted, greeted her with, "Good evening, Mrs. Schwartz. Mr. Madison is expecting you."
Then he took her straight to Auggie who was standing talking to Jeremy. Auggie said, "Good evening Mrs. Schwartz. I'm August Madison."
Mrs. Schwartz seemed a little flustered, but she managed a "How do you do, Mr. Madison."
Auggie smiled and went on, "Jeremy's told me that you like my father's paintings. Let me introduce you to him."
Only then did Irene Schwartz actually meet the great Sid Madison. Actually they hit it off very well. Schwartz really did admire Sid's work, and she was a good art teacher. She was easily forgiven for giving Jeremy a hard time on the phone. Everyone admitted that it'd been a really off the wall invitation. Before Irene Schwartz left that evening she had met a half dozen of the top artists in Chicago and had persuaded two of them to visit her studio class and talk with her painting students. Jeremy's only problem with the evening was that since he was no longer taking a class from Mrs. Schwartz he missed the A grade that the evening would've guaranteed.
Jeremy and Auggie had a great time for the weekend. Jeremy had a group of his friends in on Saturday evening and introduced them to Auggie. Jeremy was part of the debate team, and most of the group were his fellow debaters. Auggie held his own with the group, and seemed to fit in well. One of Jeremy's friends said to him, "You're certainly very little for a high school student. How old are you?"
Auggie replied, "Am I allow to lie?"
"No. How old are you, really?"
"I don't believe it."
"It's better that way."
They never did believe him, but he was able to convince them that he was in middle school and not high school. Jeremy watched the whole conversation and could hardly keep from bursting out laughing.
Sunday Sid came by the house to pick up Auggie. He brought in his camera and sketch pad and took lots of pictures of Jeremy, as well as making a bunch of sketches. Jeremy had to go change into the coat and tie that he wore for debating; more sketches and photos. Three weeks later a framed oil portrait-three feet high, not the six feet that Sid sometimes painted-of Jeremy making a point in a debate arrived by UPS. Auggie and Sid still keep in touch with Jeremy-he's a successful Chicago lawyer. The painting is one of his most prized possessions.
Well, I need to get back to Camp White Elk. During the second session all of the Gang boys moved into one cabin. The first thing they wanted to do was "make the circle." They'd heard their dads talking about making the circle and they were determined to do it. And there was talk about beating their fathers' record. That seemed pretty unlikely, considering the young ages of some of the boys. But that didn't deter Milt and the other young kids from insisting on going, nor did it deter the older boys from taking them.
So they set off. There were thirteen boys plus Phil and Franklin. Franklin put Max and Milt in the canoe with him and Phil paired with the next littlest boy, Shel. The rest of the group was paired up with the biggest boys with the smallest boys. Franklin told them, "Look, guys. I learned my lesson years ago. Put the big boys in the bow; little boys in the stern. Sternmen, your job is to keep the canoe going straight; after that any help you can be with paddling is great, but keep it going straight." Max and Milt would take terns in the stern.
I informed them that since their fathers' day the average time for the trip was about four hours. Before their fathers' time the camp had sort of figured it at six hours, because it was considered a day trip and included stopping to play and swim along the way. Tim changed all that. For good or for ill, it'd become a test, and if you didn't make the four hour mark, shame on you.
They set off at exactly 8:00 a.m. The last we heard from them was Milt saying, "Three hours."
I shouted back, "Go, kid." I said to the others on the dock seeing them off, "Fat chance. I hope they make the four hours. Those are mighty little kids."
At about 10:40 Stanley walked down on the dock. I walked down next to him and said, "They have four and six year old paddlers. They can't make three hours."
"Sure. What do you want to bet?"
"If I win, I get to watch you and Dick have sex tonight."
"And I if I win?"
"You won't win."
"We have to have a bet."
"You name it."
"You kiss me. Full blown. On the lips. Lots of tongue."
"I'd do that for you anyway."
"We have a bet."
Stanley looked out over the lake and said, "We don't have a bet. I've won. Here they come."
I looked out and, indeed, here they came. Franklin, Max and Milt were in the lead canoe with Milt paddling like mad. He was using the correct "J" stroke and doing a super job of making the canoe go straight. Franklin had a strong steady stroke that I imagined hadn't varied, except for the portages, for the entire trip. Next were the two middle kids, the foursomes' Cam and the threesome's Kevin. The others were all close, with Phil and Sheldon bringing up the rear. I suspected that that didn't have anything to do with strength, but with the need to have a counselor bringing up the rear.
The first canoe bumped the dock, softly, at 10:58. It wasn't quite a new record, but it was amazing. Phil's canoe bumped at 11:00 exactly. The entire group had made the three hours. Stanley smiled and said, "I'll see you tonight."
Word quickly spread around the camp that the group had "made the circle" in three hours. A lot of folks came down to the waterfront to greet them. It was clear that their success was respected more than envied, but there certainly was some of that.
Cabin vs. cabin baseball games were common at Camp White Elk. At announcement time after the evening meal some camper would stand up and, on behalf of his cabin, challenge another cabin to a game of baseball. The games were nearly all arranged in advance, and then a kid from the younger cabin would issue the challenge. In years when one of the younger cabins had a really good team they'd challenge the older boys. But the unwritten rule was that you started with the cabin just older than you and worked up. One year the youngest cabin beat all comers. It was incredible: a cabin load of eight and nine year olds worked their way up and eventually challenged the sixteen and seventeen year olds. It was a squeaker, but the little kids won. They had a good pitcher, but curve balls were forbidden to protect young arms, so his ability to strike a lot of kids out was limited. The secret of the success of the little kids was three nine year olds. One played first base; one played short stop; and the last played center field. They knew each other in St. Louis. The father of one of them was a Cardinal and they'd learned to play baseball from the greats. It was fun to hear them talking about Uncle Stan. Not much got by them, and they were simply unbeatable.
But the Gang boys weren't in that league. With their range of ages they made an interesting team-and they always had Milt issue their challenges. But they got beat about as often as they beat anyone. But they had a real good time playing. Milt got a lot of walks-he had a difficult to hit strike zone. He played in the outfield, and not much got past him. Bud Bruder, at age nine, was the pitcher. It looked to me like he was born to pitch just like his father was born to run. Only time would tell. But he was a terrific pitcher that summer. The teenagers weren't any better.
The third week of camp, when Hall and Ronnie had come, was Junior Bruder's big week. He liked to run, and he and his dad roamed the woods trails just like Hal had when he was young. Hal knew every trail and shared his knowledge with Junior. That occupied most of their mornings, but the rest of the day Junior participated in everything. Hal filled his time either running, swimming, or joining Ronnie under his tree.
Ronnie nearly always collected a small group of boys that liked to join him under the tree and talk. They were very often loners and kids that seemed to others to be misfits. Nobody was a misfit to Ronnie, and they seemed to sense a kindred spirit. I've gotten many a letter from a mother or dad expressing appreciation for Ronnie's friendship with their son. And Ronnie was really good about continuing the friendship by letter after camp. How he had time for that, I'll never know. But he considered it a point of honor, a responsibility to a boy who'd asked for friendship. Ronnie only asked that the boy write first, and then answer his mail. I know for a fact that some of that correspondence continued long in to adulthood.
At the end of the summer the boys sat down with me as a group and thanked me for letting them experience the camp that had been so important in their fathers' lives. They were reluctant to share the next thing, but I didn't mind. They'd decided that as much as they loved their camp experience, they didn't want to spend the entire summer in the future. They were grateful for the experience that summer, and it'd given them a chance to get to know the camp intimately. But in future summers they'd like to book the small cabin for the last session-the two week session. And that tradition has lasted. The young men of the Gang gather at Camp White Elk for the last two weeks of the summer. It takes a mighty conflict for any of them to miss. We've set the bottom age limit at five (we couldn't make it older or Milt would've been excluded). New generations have filled in, and there's always a good group. Phil's the regular counselor. Someone else from the Gang comes to help out. Often it's Ronnie or Hal or both. Tim and Charlie came one year. The only Gang member who isn't very interested is Kyle. He's simply too absorbed in his particles. He's visited several times-he often comes to pick up Ronnie and Hal at the end of their two weeks. He says he prefers to love the camp from a distance. Bless him.
Several individual boys from the Gang have come to camp for one of the earlier sessions and simply participated in the regular camp program. Auggie, in particular, like to come for the sailing. While we encourage boys to try all of the camp activities, for Auggie that there is some other activity than sailing isn't even considered, except for rainy days when he can be found in the craft shop or off is some corner with a sketch pad. Watching Auggie sail a boat is like watching Tim mount a balance beam. His landings are as consistently perfect as Tim's. Older boys line up for a chance to crew with him; he declines to crew for most of the other boys, but he makes Jeremy an exception. They were only together at camp for one more year, but in that year they became quite good friends.
Oh, yes, I left you in suspense about Stanley, didn't I? The night of the boys making the circle and my losing my bet with Stanley, he arrived at our door at about 9:30. Dick opened the door. Stanley asked, "Did Jeff tell you about the bet he lost today?"
"Well, go get him to explain it to you. I'll wait in the living room."
Dick found me and asked, "What bet did you lose to Stanley today? He's here and he looks like he intends to collect."
I'd forgotten. I guess that I never really thought that Stanley was serious. But here he was, and I guessed he was serious. I explained the bet to Dick, who burst out laughing. "Stanley wants to watch us have sex?"
"Well, let's really put on a show for him."
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Of course, it'll be fun. Stanley asked for it. You don't have to be shy."
"Stanley's been like a father to me, Dick. How would you like to have sex with me with your mother watching?"
"If she asked to watch?"
"Even if she asked, wouldn't it bother you?"
"Maybe. It's hard to say. I guess the only way that I would know would be to try it, and that isn't going to happen because Mom isn't going to ask. And she sure isn't going to bet over it." With that he giggled. "Let's go get Stanley."
Dick took me by the hand and marched into the living room where Stanley was sitting, calmly reading one of our magazines. "Let's go, Stanley," he said. Stanley and I were both pulled to the bedroom. Stanley sat down in a chair, which he pulled to the corner. Dick undressed. I was in sort of a stupor and not functioning very well. Dick told me, "You've got to wake up, Jeff. This is going to be fun." He started undressing me. Slowly the thought of who was in the corner receded from my mind and the here and now of a naked Dick came to the forefront. Dick sucked me and fucked me, and then licked up the mess on my stomach from my second ejaculation.
I don't know what Stanley thought of the whole thing. He stayed to the end and then slipped out with just a, "Thank you." Nothing more was ever said about the event. But a few days later Stanley came up to me and said, "Let's take a walk in the woods."
We set off along one of Hal's trails. We hadn't gone far when Stanley said, "Let's pretend the boys took three and half hours. Then you would've won the bet and I'd owe you a kiss. With that he wrapped his arms around me, kissed me full on the lips, and let his tongue slip inside. Our tongues fought for a while, and we pushed our heads together harder and harder. It was quite a kiss. It seemed to go on forever, but, of course, it didn't. It eventually ended, and again Stanley gave a quiet, "Thank you."
That November, 1989, Stanley died in his sleep at his home in Detroit. He had massive heart failure during the night. Even if he hadn't been alone, and medical help had been available, it would've killed him. Or at least that's what his doctor said. I've always believed that he had a premonition of his death that summer, and that that explains the two unusual events that grew out of our bet.
Stanley had left a letter for me with instructions for his funeral. There was a service in Detroit, especially for the group which he called his "winter friends." I'd never realized how large a group it was. Our relationship was almost exclusively camp-related. That meant in the summer and in the office in Detroit. We did very little together socially in Detroit. I'd somehow thought that Stanley was more or less a recluse in the winter. But when more than 200 people showed up for his funeral I learned differently. They spoke about his bridge playing, his involvement with a local model train club where he was the driving force behind a beautiful train layout the club members were building, and his woodworking. I knew he played bridge, and I'd seen him make small things in the wood shop at camp, but I had no idea of how extensive these interests were, nor how much skill they represented. Now, after his death, I was learning a great deal about him for the first time. And I'd thought we'd been as close as father and son!
He left the camp to me, and his assets (mainly his house, which was sold by his estate) in Detroit went to his model railroad club. His investments were left to me with specific instructions that they were to be used for improvements to the camp and/or to purchase land as it became available to create a buffer to protect Camp White Elk from the intrusion of second home development in the UP. It was quite a bit of money, and I've faithfully used it for those purposes. There was one condition of his leaving the camp to me: The Gang was to be welcome at Camp White Elk forever. This meant the Gang, its children, its children's children, forever. I realized that such a requirement could bankrupt the camp, but I knew it would never come to that. I was easily able to sign a letter to his executor agreeing to that condition. It wasn't necessary, but the will had been written before Dick and I were members of the Gang, and Stanley had never rewritten it.
Stanley was cremated and I took his ashes to camp the next summer, 1990. We had four different services for him. We had one at an evening campfire on the last day of camp of each session. We sang his favorite camp songs, shared some stories of him, and then tossed a part of his ashes into the fire. The fourth service took place two days after the camp closed for the season. It was for the Gang. But I explained that it was only for those of the Gang that had been campers at Camp White Elk. Those were the ones that had the special bond with Stanley. It was the original eight, plus Carl, plus all of the children except Willie. Phil was invited because he'd been a counselor at the camp. With Dick and me it made a total of 25. We gathered in the corner of the field, the famous corner where Tim and Charlie first professed their love to each other. Stanley had been very specific about where the service was to take place. He considered the love of Tim and Charlie to be one of the great successes of Camp White Elk. It was to be celebrated along with his life. We each told a story about Stanley. Dick told about my losing the bet and us performing for Stanley, and I told about our kiss. Dick was a little nervous about telling his story with the young boys present, but their fathers assured us that it was OK. Then we each took a small bit of the remainder of his ashes and we followed Hal down his favorite trail. Each of us in our own time dropped our ashes along the trail. Stanley will live forever in our hearts and memories, and in the soil of his beloved Camp White Elk.
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