It was a great summer. One of the best I can ever remember. The year was 1948. I was 17, about to be a senior in high school. Not sure why, but I felt a sense of freedom I never had before.
My mother worked in the New York office and during summers at Cejwin Camps, a private camp built around a lake in Port Jervis, New York. Cejwin was a collection of five camps divided by age and sex, hosting about 1,000 kids every summer.
I had been a camper there for several years. This summer I was to be a waiter. I went up early to work as an all-around gopher, delivering campers’ trunks to their assigned bunks and doing a variety of maintenance chores.
The physical labor was most enjoyable and there was time to play volleyball after dinner on a scrubby, makeshift court behind the kitchen with the guys from the kitchen crew. It was there I met and played with Punch and his brother Horace. Punch was about a year older than me and we connected.
After dark when we couldn’t see the ball anymore, we went across the road to a little beer joint to hangout and talk sports.
One night we watched Joe Louis outlast Jersey Joe Wolcott with a KO in 11 rounds at Yankee Stadium. The Brown Bomber, as Louis was called, had been a national hero since he won the heavyweight championship in 1937. He was now 34 and his skills were showing some signs of age. This was his last title defense.
Everyone at the beer joint was ecstatic that Louis had come back after losing some of the early rounds to keep the title. With all that enthusiasm, Horace, who had a car, said, “Let’s all go down to Harlem. The celebration will be great.”
So off we went. Ninety miles to NYC and a raucous celebration underway in all the homes and bars. Our first stop was to visit Punch and Horace’s mother, then it was on to the neighborhood bars.
It was a great, joyous night celebrating Joe Louis’ victory. We got back to camp in time to go to work at 8am.
When camp opened in early July, I moved into a tent with fellow waiters; Jerry White, Teddy Klotz, Bobby Sandler and tall Bill Walcoff. I knew Jerry from the year before when I was a camper and he was a waiter. I didn’t know the other guys but we all got along and had a lot of fun.
My summer girlfriend was Marilyn “Merry” Weintraub, a Bronx neighbor of Jerry White and we had a great time.
Punch and I played a lot of basketball whenever we had free time. He was good and fun to play with. The basketball court was a small wooden building. For outside shots beyond the foul line, you had to shoot through the cross beamed rafters; and if you drove to the basket, you ended up smack into a wire mesh wall.
I was pretty good at shooting through the angled rafters. Punch was quicker and a better rebounder.
You got one day off a week. Sometimes you just hung out, went into Port Jervis or hitchhiked to Monticello, the summer capital of the Catskills.
That summer was the first opportunity I had to have a black friend. Found out he was pretty much like me. I could drink more beer than him, but he was a better athlete.
It was a great summer.
P.S. Even though on separate coasts, Jerry and I have remained friends all these years.