61: Homesick

61: Homesick

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Homesick

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.

~Mary Anne Radmacher

“Isn’t this great?” Julie said, as the bus rumbled out of the parking lot. “Four whole weeks without our parents.”

As Mom and Dad shrank into nothing, I swallowed hard to force the lump out of my throat. “Four weeks,” I echoed. What had I done?

“Not to mention no more annoying brother,” a girl in front of us turned around.

Another head appeared next to her with long black pigtails that whacked me in the face as the bus found every pothole. “Make that brothers. And Mom’s new baby. Ugh.”

Talk soon turned to camp. These girls, most of them around twelve like me, had been going to this camp for years. I had no idea what they were talking about and Julie, a girl I’d only met two months earlier, didn’t explain. I just sat there, forgotten. How had I let this new friend talk me into a month at sleep-away camp? The frogs in my stomach were jumping so high, they were giving me a lump in my throat and pushing on my eyeballs.

Arriving at camp was no better. It was dry and dusty and smelled of horses. At least Julie and I were in the same A-frame cabin that we shared with five other girls and a counselor. She spent every day on a horse, smelling of horse, and covered in dust.

Sure, I’d ridden horses before, but one ride here was enough for me. The ground was so dry that riding meant being in a dust cloud. It took two days to get that taste out of my mouth, and the odor clung to me like a shadow.

I cried and wrote a sad letter home. First, I lightly sketched a picture of me crying. Then I wrote a letter over it. I’d been there more than a week by the time I got a reply: “We’ll see you Parents’ Weekend and talk about it then.”

Desperate to get away from the heat and to cleanse myself of the acrid air, I went swimming every chance I got.

“Synchronized swimming today,” a girl named April told me. I had no idea what that was, but if it meant being in the pool, I would try it. Soon I was part of her foursome, practicing a routine. We would perform it for Parents’ Weekend.

Unfortunately, swimming couldn’t last all day. I stared at the beckoning pool as I attempted to brush out my waist-length blond hair. “Well, come on,” April yanked my arm. “Auditions are today. Finally.”

“Auditions?” That did not sound like something to be excited about. Still, I tagged along with her through the dust.

“I’ve been waiting since I got here.” She pulled a script from her bag. The edges were wet from her swimsuit. “Li’l Abner.”

“Huh?”

“That’s the play they’re doing this year.”

“Play?” I stumbled. “Never heard of it.”

“You’re so short, you’d be great,” she smiled. “Play one of the kids.”

It turned out that girls all over camp had been practicing for the audition. There I was totally unprepared and not at all certain I wanted to be there.

“Just sing something,” the counselor in charge of the play told me.

“Uh.” My mouth was dry.

“How about ‘Happy Birthday’?” She played it on the guitar and I stumbled through in my low voice.

When the parts were posted the next day, I had made it! I actually had two parts. One was playing this little salesman who shows up and tries drinking this concoction that Li’l Abner claims made him so big. After I drank it, I got to shake and moan and stuff. Then people crowded around me to hide me so this really tall girl could pretend to be me all bigger. The other part was to be a dancer, singing and dancing a funny song.

The days flew by and I was actually having fun. Suddenly it was Parents’ Weekend. Our swimming routine went perfectly.

“Ready to go home now?” Mom asked.

I hesitated. The play was the last day of camp. That was two whole weeks away. Should I get relief from this horrible place and go home to my cozy bed and my mom’s cooking? They could find someone for my small part. As for dancing, I hid myself in the back, so no one would miss me there. Still, I would be letting everyone down.

Then, April was there. “Just wait till you come back and see the play. It is going to be the best ever!”

Now that I had found my own way instead of following Julie around, it wasn’t so bad. “Mom, I think I’ll stick it out.”

“I want you out in front,” the play director ordered the following day. “So the others can follow you.” Now the leader of the dancers, I hardly noticed the days passing.

That final day, with all the parents watching, I remembered all my lines and didn’t trip or anything when we danced.

“The next time I go to camp,” I told my mom on the ride home, “I’m picking it myself and going alone.”

Mom hugged me. “Boy, you sure are growing up.”

I smiled back at her. “Yeah,” I whispered. “But it’s good to be going home.”

~D. B. Zane

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