That Summer

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That year in NY State Summer Camp

There were some more man

Than I was

Taller in the wheelchair than I wis standing.


Vietnam had taken a spine, a leg;

Even the ridding of human waste

Given out to the European counsellor.


Still the broken spleens, backs and lives continue

War and want around the world.


Back in that precious summer

Learning human dignity is earned

Despite the despots, Gods and demons

Who trample those with weapons or not.

Hot Bubbling Road

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Hot Bubbling Road

I remember seeing the water boiling as the lakes of Yellowstone were a stone’s throw away. And soon death would take us to all ends, create a murmur of a black shadow and speaking that would follow us. The three of us.


The roads became longer once we got out to the eastern states beyond New York State itself. The Cherokee jeep we had was full. Jan and I had filled it with Chicken Ravioli tins from the American summer camp we had both been working in. Two guys from London and Oxford had joined us. New York State had coped well with the Dutch and Scottish student single figure invasion.

We had contacted the student organisation that we had got the jobs through and they had put us in touch with them. That made one Scotsman, one Dutchman and two others from Great Britain. Accordingly assembled this smattering of nationalities were a European contingent about to go across the continental United States.

The time zones that we went into before we reached Mountain Time, Arizona, I think were punctuated by hundreds of miles of road. We: Jan and I couldn’t drive the car so the others would drive.

Driving before Montana:

‘Did you pay the bill, Jan? ‘Tim said as the long lock of the Kansas highway opened up again and again before us.

‘No, I did not. I presumed Alex or Martin had.’ Jan replied, exhausted as the rest of us after the many hours of driving from New York.

Thereafter, Tim-a psychology student fretted and whined about the possibility of State Troopers giving us forced board in a town’s cells.

The sarcastic humour that Jan got was wasted on the other two who seemed as humourless as the gas station attendants we would meet across the miles and states we had been through before Wyoming.

Wyoming and Montana-this is what we had been looking forward to. The miles of forest containing bear, moose and buffalos and the famed volcanic geysers and springs including Old Faithful.



The Ranger at the Park entrance was surly beyond belief and warned us on no account to go camping beyond the allocated sites without a rifle.

It was getting dark as came to a pretty much deserted stop next to the pools of water that were the colours of the nebulae and supernova of NASA photographs. The bacteria in the super-heated water made them that way, we learnt from a quick scan on the tourist information boards.

We ran down to them as the light faded and could still see dust coming off the wooden walkways across the living, molten earth below; belching hot mud pools were all around.

‘We can get a photo, down near that really blueish one.’ Tim said.

We were all over the fence and walking on the bare and dry skin around the hot mud or water pools. A thousand myriad tones of blue and clear light mixed in the bright August sunlight.

A loud crack. This was from the split in the top layer of mud or rock.

Then Tim’s comic position with one hand and one leg wickedly bent.

Screaming, then more screaming. And all time and belief in solidity, God and mothers descended into movement and panic.

Jan, Mike and I backtracked onto the wooden walkway for tourists. We were gallus after walking for a quarter of an hour on the surfaces near the pools.

What and how-the concepts and panic all mixed as screams got louder yet thinner.

Kicking the wood from the walkway then getting the tallest of us to lie down and reach in.

And Jan bears the burns still up to his shoulder.


A month. A month before we returned to university in our own countries.


Later, even when sleep and work drew you down I always read any signs, watched for a problem when the kids were out or on holiday.

At least it was something to honour him.



When not sitting down which was most of the time Eve was about five foot eight and with shoulder length black hair. The way she folded herself to get into her wheelchair had a slowness and grace about it. The week I spent listening to her tales of the New York bar-the courts and her Hungarian roots was one that sticks in my mind.

When I was twenty-one and playing rugby these summer holidays from university working as a counsellor in New York state was a hiatus from part-time jobs, tournaments and working to please a girlfriend. Grace had come to our summer camp near Syracuse as part of a group of adults from New York City. When she walked off the buses with the help of one crutch she immediately stood out.

She was from Brooklyn and the languid and soft roll of the vowels on that word and her speech was quite mesmerising. Now with my new knees and a hip to be operated on and replaced I live alone and wonder about the lack of self-pity she showed when we talked. That she is dead from her multiple sclerosis simply makes me annoyed at the boy she confided in.

Eve and I would talk on the porch of the cabin she and I would talk about Scotland’s history, America’s history and the way her life had worked to get here. Her husband had left very quickly after the diagnosis and his law practice had made sure her claim against him was dragging on. She understood but disliked the way they had gone about things. A lawyer herself she had good and bad days.

 The male counsellors in the camp looked after adults and kids depending on the week’s age group. When Eve was there the male adults had some Vietnam veterans in the group. The ex-Marines were hugely independent and almost as big as us sitting down in the wheelchairs. The dignity of them putting with us helping them change their soiled underwear as they couldn’t do it themselves or wash them was something during that week I also have never forgotten.

After one powerful burst of rain from the sky had cleared to allow some sun to ease the humidity and small pools of water in the outfield Eve and I took a walk into the woods. There were two days to go before the bus back to New York arrived. Before then the visit to the theme park and the final camp fire events would plug the time before her group left.

 As we went into the woods on the specially built path the trees seemed to breathe a bit more easily after the deluge of rain from the sky. The wet dirt stuck to her wheelchair wheels. The chat was of the chilli dogs and other newly acquired tastes I had discovered. The calzone and other Italian foods she liked were just being conjured up when the skunk and its two young walked about six feet in front. The black eyes of the adult fixed on us. Eve whose left arm was the weaker grabbed her left leg while the fingers fanned out from the right one just above her right leg. The sniffing on the path in front of us by the group took a long minute before the group went off in to the bushes that were next to the path. Deciding against further expectations of an easy walk we left the possibility of other surprises to another time and returned to the main cabin to have a coffee. The pronunciation of coffee as cwawoffee Eve was the best bit as well as the pouring sugar allied to the box of doughnuts alighted from the camp store.

 It must have been the second last night I saw her in a corner of her cabin’s porch. The light from the lamp was unable to really penetrate this side of the porch. She was sitting in the wheelchair and weeping. The black hair was over her face and she was crying. I thought I knew why then but now I am less sure. It was not self-pity or anger but a release. She would be fine when back amongst any eyes and ears in the next half hour. It was just now she had to let some of it go now.

I don’t remember her leaving the camp to return to the city. And these many years and after seeing those close to you die I understand more and remember that right hand touch mine as we turned away from the family in the woods.