Saturday, August 26, 2017

Summer Memories... with Margaret Bourke-White

In August 1961, for 3 nights, I slept next to Margaret Bourke-White. I was right there, sleeping right next to her, in a small wooden cabin on Martha's Vineyard that actually could only fit two cots and a small dresser. She had the bed on the left side of that cabin next to the trees and I slept in the bed closer to the water on the other side. The cabin was just to the right of this photo, which I took that summer.

The cabin was in Vineyard Haven on the grounds of The School of Creative Arts, a summer camp owned and managed by Kathleen Hinni, who was the dance instructor at The Chapin School in NYC. The cabin looked like this, but the door was not decorated with the art work of campers. Miss Bourke-White had Parkinson's Disease and she chose to spend quiet summers at the camp on Martha's Vineyard with her friend, Miss Hinni. A few of her photos hung in the main house's living room. 

I slept there for three nights because I was sick. The procedure was for campers who fell ill to pack up and go to stay with Miss Bourke-White, in that cabin's designated "sick bed." So, for three nights, I lay there sick as a dog and rather unaware of her presence or the magnitude of the great accomplishments of the remarkable woman who slept next to me. 

What I do remember is that in the middle of one of those nights in her cabin I was awakened by a head counselor who told me that one of the girls in my cabin had tried to kill herself by overdosing on Midol. She wanted to know if that camper told me of her intentions to die that night. She actually did, but I lied and said I knew nothing. I did not want to betray a best friend's confidence. I also knew of her plans to "run away" from camp and spend a day in town with her boyfriend, who looked like Sal Mineo. Who could blame her? It was a camp for girls only and we were all terribly homesick and boy crazy and hungry in so many ways.

Years later, I read in a local newspaper that this camper smothered her infant son and she was found later that day wandering the streets of her Long Island home town. I became severely depressed. 

All summer long, we danced and gazed at the water on hot days and jumped in and out of cabins for fun. I spent four summers at that camp. Even though our days were filled with inspiring activity, they were the four most miserable summers of my life. Still to this day, when I hear a ferry fog horn I am reminded of those lonely times when that sound filled the air and made us all long to be any place else... but there. 

Gold Miners in Johannesburg's Robinson Deep Mine was displayed in the living room of the main house: