From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Smashing Potato Chips

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.


He looked like a pirate.

With his bandanna tied in a knot behind his little nine-year-old head, he looked like a pirate, a sad pirate. The first time little David came to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, Connecticut, he was bald and worn out from chemotherapy treatments. He was also very angry.

Paul Newman’s camp counselors were hoping to fill David’s days with fun and laughter. But David stayed inside himself, wanting to be alone, or in a corner of the cabin. At this camp for children with life-threatening illnesses, we had seen some pretty tough children worn out by cancer rally and bounce back despite their illness. But the destructive forces raging through little David seemed to be winning no matter what we tried with him. Five days into the eight-day session saw a quiet, sad little pirate.

Then something happened on that fifth night. Something at camp that we would call “huge.”

It was cabin night. That’s the time when campers and counselors spend time together in each individual cabin instead of an all-camp activity. Campers love cabin nights because there’s always a bedtime snack. On the cabin table that night were bags of Jays Ripple Potato Chips and cartons of Newman’s Own Lemonade.

David slowly walked over to the table, leaving his corner to join the rest of us. He took one of the bags of potato chips and started smashing it with his little fists. As all the other campers looked on in disbelief, I wondered what the cabin counselor would do.

The college-age volunteer counselor positioned a bag of chips on the table in front of himself, and he, too, started smashing it with his fist. The campers went bonkers as everyone ran to the table to get in on the fun of smashing potato chips with their fists.

Somehow everyone knew, everyone sensed, that whatever anger held David captive within, was now being released.

For the last couple days of the session, David was a different kid. He was a little nine-year-old boy again, trying to fill the hours of each remaining day at camp with as much fun as could be possible.

When the session ended, David asked if he could come back again. Since so many children want to come to camp, it’s rare that a child can come twice in one summer. Somehow the camp doctor saw the need to make an exception to this rule. So David, the little pirate, showed up a few days later with a smile as wide as a mile on his face.

This time, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t try to fit into his day. He sure was having a great time at camp. David asked me if I needed an altar boy when I celebrated Mass at the gazebo in the woods. Sure enough, he was my altar boy. I remembered how intently he listened to me when I talked about death. I said it’s only a doorway. You walk through the door and there’s the Lord God and behind God a whole line of people waiting to hug you.

After Mass, he said to me, “Hey Fatha, a door, huh?”

A couple more days of fun passed and tonight was the talent show. The tradition is that campers and counselors dress up in costumes, and everyone gets a standing ovation for singing and dancing or simply just acting like fools on stage.

The show had begun: lights, camera, action.

Unfortunately, the only action taking place in our row of seats was little David making his way from counselor to counselor to say an early good-bye to camp. He had become quite ill and had to go to the hospital because of this new crisis.

When this little nine-year-old pirate stood in front of me, he gave me a hug and a big wet kiss on my cheek. I was crying. He was crying. A whole row of counselors was in tears. After the hug and kiss, he put his hands on my shoulders, winked and with a gleam in his eyes said: “See you on the other side of the door, Fatha.”

Father Domenic Jose Roscioli

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For more information on The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, contact 565 Ashford Center Rd., Ashford, CT 06278; 860-429-3444; fax: 860-429-7295; e-mail: [email protected]; Web site:]

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