My Grandpa’s 41-Year-Old T-Shirt

Why saying goodbye to summer camp is so personal.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to camp forever, but I never prepared for what it felt like to actually face my last summer at camp.

It was packing that made the reality start to set in. Ever since the day I received the news that I would be an ISJL Education Fellow, my thoughts were flooded with predictions about what lied ahead. Even before I really needed to be readying for the big move, I eagerly began packing to start my new chapter in Jackson, Mississippi. First, I placed my heels at the bottom of what used to be my camp trunk, then came the dress pants, followed by a series of blazers and blouses. Everything was happening so fast until I found myself folding my Grandpa’s Greene Family Camp shirt.

That over-worn, falling-apart-at-the-seams T-shirt immediately called my Grandpa to mind. My grandfather’s shirt had the same effect on me that he would have, reminding me to take a minute to appreciate what I’m leaving behind.

I paused what I was doing and looked at my trunk, a receptacle now filled with the new me. Suddenly nostalgia consumed me, and I pictured all the old things I would have packed for camp; I could almost see my Chacos protruding through the mess of Nike shorts and my own over-worn, oversized T-shirts. I could almost hear my mom yelling at me in the background, telling me that I don’t need to bring my whole closet to camp.

Then I snapped myself out of it: “Enough, I’m not going to camp anymore, I’m an adult now, I’m moving to Mississippi… I’m moving to Mississippi, I’m starting a job, I’m not going to camp anymore!”

I shoved my Grandpa’s decades-old T-shirt into a bag I was leaving behind. Tears were swelling, tugging at my eyes until my vision blurred.

Forty-one years ago, my Grandpa wore this shirt on the first opening day of Greene Family Camp, and I am just putting this piece of history into a bag brimming with unwanted clothing? Letting go of his shirt was too symbolic for me to bear.

I’m sure you’re wondering, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a summer camp!”

Yes, it’s a camp. It’s the place where I roasted marshmallows and sang kumbaya around the campfire for 16 years.  I know that it’s time to move on. But I’m not just moving on from Greene Family Camp; giving up my summers there felt like letting go of the last living part of my Grandpa.

My grandfather helped to establish this camp, which has provided so many wonderful experiences for so many people, including me. After he passed away, being at camp was the closest I could ever come to seeing him face to face again. I had a role in his dream there and I couldn’t wait to perform for him every summer. I don’t mean to say that I was acting, in fact I was my truest self while at camp. What I mean is that I felt like he reserved his summers to watch me at camp. As for the rest of the year, I hoped he was watching over my mom and her brothers, and of course Grandma, but for those two months it felt like it was just the two of us.

Now, as a college graduate with a full-time job, I know I can’t spend my summers at camp. But I am so grateful for the summers I spent there, and for the connection it has given me to my grandfather. I know he’ll still spend his summers watching me, even if it that means leaving the campgrounds in Texas to travel across the South… and beyond. I am still living my Grandpa’s dream only now my camp trunk has wheels.

Special note: With Hurricane Harvey hitting this area hard, our hearts are all in Texas this week; we want to give a special shout out to the staff at Greene Family Camp and their efforts to aid others in recovery.

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