Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Vermont Summer, Putney Work Camp and Pinky From Java

      A Java Temple Bird

Going away was not a big thing at our house. 

My family went away a lot, New York, London, Washington, tony Palm Beach, Vermont. But I had not experienced a single peregrination by myself, ever. 

Oh, at 12 years old,  I often took the train into Manhattan to buy clothes at Bergdof's and to have a butter-drenched lunch of escargots at La Cave aux Henri XlV (where every table is in the corner). But this summer was to be my big adventure with more than 60 nights away from my matriarchal nest in New Haven. 

I was being sent to Vermont, to a work camp from June 20 until August 20. 1961. Not a forced labor camp, but instead, a residential summer camp for teens who would spend a summer working on a farm and going on strenuous hikes over the White Mountains. And, parents paid for this. A lot. It was very expensive.

Putney Work Camp was very well known amongst New England parents and intelligensia. It was founded in 1935 and adhered to the belief that kids could thrive in Vermont for two months while working on the Putney School Dairy and Horse Farm, learning the arts, and being outdoors in the rugged mountains of New England. A prescription for teen summer angst and loneliness. All the campers were on fast tracks toward ivy league colleges and had to read at least 8 classics before the end of summer---and write book reviews. Anything to escape from sweaty tomes so summer camp beckoned.

Today, however, Putney Work Camp is no more and has been relegated to a beautiful hillside graveyard along with many philosophies born during the New Deal. Putney School though is alive and flourishing with its dairy farm and growing areas that support the school's student diet. They still offer summer arts programs-with an accent on the arts without wilderness trips or farming chores. Cost-around $8000 for 6 weeks without extras. Below is a daily schedule that is similar to the schedule we had at our work camp. 

8:00 Breakfast
8:30 Sing
9:00 Morning Workshops begin
10:15 Milk Lunch
11:45 Morning Workshops end
12:00 Lunch
1:15 Afternoon Workshops begin
2:30 Juice break
4:00 Afternoon Workshops end
4:15 Afternoon Activities
5:30 Optional Puddle Swim
6:00 Dinner
7:15 Evening Activities
9:00 Social Hour
10:00 In dorms
11:00 Lights out
“Wherever there are birds, there is hope.”

It took weeks to prepare for my summer at Putney. Literally stacks of camping gear and clothes had to be purchased and all labelled and ready to go by opening day. It then dawned on me-who was going to take care of Pinky? 

My beautiful Java Temple bird with his lovely pink beak was a little chirping angel. In a cage at my bedside at 239 Everit Street in New Haven, Pinky was always there. I had to clean his cage and give him food and water-a yucky task. I recall giving him showers in my own bathroom. He was beautiful-shiny grey, white, black with that pinky nose."Not to worry," my grandmother said, "I will take care of him for you."

My mother went away on one of her gallivants after I was dropped off at Putney. I loved Putney at once and literally changed from an awkward redhead 14 year old into a savvy, strong hiker, horse keeper and farmer. A pivotal summer, for all.

I came home in August on the train with my packback full of birch bark and silly, rhyming stories to tell. My grandmother said  she had taken great care of Pinky. I ran up the big staircase to my bedroom to give Pinky a little kiss but found him lying on the floor of his cage. He had no water in his water dish and little food. I had to tell my grandmother that Pinky was dead and gave him a nice backyard burial.

I do not know what happened to Pinky. My grandmother probably tried to watch over him, but she played golf and bridge at the New Haven Country Club a lot so she probably was not home very often. My mother was absent, my sister away at her camp. Our maid Siggie was probably cleaning the entire house readying it for the rugged winter ahead. Poor little Pinky. He was so pretty. 

Over the summer I had learned many things at Putney about loss and life, especially on the farm with animals born and then quickly dying, but my little Pinky's death saddened me. Tears sprinkled onto his smooth gray feathers.

Back home in New Haven, I resumed my pre-debutante life with days at my girl's school sans backpack and Pinky. My bedroom  and I were never the same again, though. Pinky had flown where I could not go. A one way trip back to Java by way of Putney, Vermont, I hope.

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