by Leah Caras (Larson) at age 15
Illustrated by Sarah Leah Nachimson, age 10 from CA
It’s my first, last, and only ‘last day of sixth grade’.
“Smile!” I say, peering into the viewfinder of my beloved camera. My classmates Bassie, Tova, and Gitty pose together as I click the shutter. Gitty is giving Tova ‘bunny ears,’ but it’s a cute photo anyway.
“Got it!” I grin. “Great photo!”
“Shaina, the photographer,” Gitty murmurs. My friends always tease me about my camera, but I’m the one they come to when they need a good photo.
Three o’clock. The moment we’ve all been waiting for. The moment we fantasized about in a boring math class in January, or when we looked at the calendar and realized it was June. The last bell rings! You would think that after waiting so long for this moment, everyone would sprint out of school. Instead, they take their time, packing up their bags, saying goodbye to teachers, and exchanging camp addresses with friends.
“I’m helping out at a kiddie camp for the first month,” Chaya reports.
“I’m going to camp Bnos Yisroel with Shaina this year. I went last year and it was great. Are you excited, Shaina?” Bassie looks both ways before crossing the street.
“Totally! I’ve already started packing.”
“You know, the packing list that the camp gives is crazy. I don’t think anyone could pack that little.”
“I know, I’m just using it as a minimum now.” I wave goodbye to my friends as I turn onto my street. “See you soon!”
* * * *
A few days later, I am sitting on the family room couch with my nine-year-old sister Devorah and twin sisters, Menucha and Dena, showing off the last-day-of-school photos.
“These photos are great,” Dena says. “What a cute pose. I wish I brought a camera to the last day of school. I just don’t think of these things.”
I have to admit, the photos are impressive. All of them came out sharp; I got great candid shots, smiles – and now they’re on paper forever!
After I finish looking through the photos three times (first for Devorah, Menucha and Dena, then for Yehuda, age six, and a third time for Sara’le, age four) I bring the pictures up to my room to get started on my scrapbook.
I take the thick maroon book from my shelf and flip through it. There is one page with my birth photo. There I am with a tiny scrunched face and watery blue eyes. My appearance definitely has improved! Then there are a few baby photos; me with broccoli baby food on my face, a studio portrait, me about to cry. The next one is me blowing out the candles on my fifth birthday. Then there’s my eighth birthday, when I finally got my own camera. After that there are lots of pages; birthdays, holidays, family reunions, photos with friends, family, camp counselors and teachers. I have a page for my fourth grade Chanukah play and another for the lemonade stand I made when I was nine.
As the sixth child out of 10, I’m missing quite a few years of pictures. It seems like my mother stopped taking photos after her second child. And being born only two years after identical twins doesn’t help. If anyone got in photos, it was the twins with their adorable matching outfits.
Well, there is nothing I can do about it now. Nothing except to make sure I have all the photos I want from this time in my life. I’m sort of memory keeper. I photograph my younger siblings for their future scrapbooks, and I insist that we take a family photo once a year. At every family simchah I show up with my camera, whether it is a cousin’s wedding or my sister’s bat mitzvah.
* * * *
The first day of camp! After finding out that Bassie and I are in the same bunk, we grab our overstuffed suitcases that were deposited in a pile on the grass and head toward our bunkhouse, suitcases thumping on the gravel path. Boy, they’re really heavy! Maybe I shouldn’t have packed three extra pairs of shoes. Or maybe the 10 rolls of film are weighing it down.
The first week goes by in a blur of cheering, hiking, swimming, secret whispering, sports, crafts, and giggling. Before I know it, it’s already Erev Shabbos. After I shower and get dressed, I quickly head to the phone to call my family before Shabbos. My mother tells me that Yehuda lost his first tooth.
“Make sure to take a picture of him, okay?”
“Gotta go, good Shabbos!”
* * * *
The next Monday, my bunk goes boating. Bassie and I make sure to get a boat together. We gingerly step in, trying to keep our feet dry and the boat right-side-up.
I sit down, place my camera on my lap, and grab an oar to begin paddling. Bassie paddles on the other side and soon we are gliding through the lake. I wave across the lake to my bunkmate, Chanie, who is accidentally paddling backwards.
Once we get to the middle of the lake, we stop paddling and relax in the sun. I love summer days. I close my eyes and feel the sun beating down on me. I hear a buzzing sound by my ear and open my eyes. A bee lands on Bassie’s shoulder. She jumps up. Our boat flips over, plunging us into the water.
I sink under the surface for a second, then bob up, thanks to my life jacket. Bassie is on the other side of our capsized boat, pushing her wet hair out of her face.
“I’m so sorry!” she cries, hanging onto one side of the boat.
“Let’s get the boat turned over!” I say. “Oh, no, wait…my camera!” Bassie looks nauseous and quickly scans the water for my camera. She finds it floating a few feet away, but I already know it’s no use. My photos are gone and my camera is ruined.
I sulk in our bunkhouse. I know it isn’t Bassie’s fault; she didn’t know the boat would capsize. I’m partly to blame for stupidly bringing my camera in the boat. I just can’t believe that I won’t have any photos from camp. Bassie apologizes a million-and-one times and tells me that if she had brought a camera, she would let me have it. I jump as the door to our bunkhouse opens.
“Hi Shaina, I heard about your camera.” My counselor, Rochie, sits down on the bed next to me.
I don’t say anything.
“Why do you need so many photos from camp?”
“I dunno…I just want to remember the fun times I’m having.”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re having fun now.”
“Well…if my camera hadn’t -”
“Just think about it. Do we keep memories, or do we make them?”
I’m about to ask for a clarification on what exactly Rochie is trying to say, but my bunkmates burst through the door, chattering loudly.
“Okay, Bunk Daled,” Rochie stands up and takes charge. “Time for arts and crafts!”
So I go to arts and crafts with no camera. At first I can barely concentrate on theShabbos candlesticks I am decorating. I can’t resist seeing all the great photo opportunities passing by. I tell myself to take a mental picture. Soon I’m actually enjoying myself.
Do we keep memories or do we make them? I’m still not sure exactly what Rochie meant, but I’m starting to get the idea…
* * * *
The rest of camp is amazing. The bonfires and storytelling, grand trip to a water park, staying up to all hours of the night (or morning),
swimming, cheering, and even boating. How could I ever forget?
Now I understand Rochie’s wise words. I was too busy trying to keep memories, to actually make memories. I was so focused on my camera, loading film, and posing for pictures, that I couldn’t enjoy the moment. Without my camera, I made memories.
* * * *
A few weeks after I get back from camp, I go outside to bring in the mail. Nestled in with the usual catalogs and bills I see a lavenderenvelope from one of my friends at camp. I tear it open, and along with a nice letter, there are doubles of all her photos! I look through them, remembering the fun times. Even without the photos, I know these memories are etched in me.
I bring the pictures upstairs to get started on my next scrapbook page.