Spare Change?

When I was twelve – or possibly thirteen – I somehow found myself working at a summer camp meant for wilderness-loving young men aged 7-17. While it was my younger brother’s first camp experience, pulling up to the dusty mess hall brought back fond memories of the summers I’d spent at Girl Scout camp in my younger days.

(The fact that I considered ages 7-11 my “younger days” as a tween should tell you exactly why my mother essentially kicked me out of the car and drove off when a camp staffer asked if I’d like to help watch the younger kids.)

Of course, I jumped at the chance. I was just building up my babysitting business, and helping watch the 4-6 year old siblings of the older day campers would be great experience. Even if my boss was a terrifying tower of a woman I’ll call Marjorie.

Looking back on it, I’m sure I was actually taller than Marjorie. But with her crunchy black curls and ever-present cigarette, her raspy voice and her direct stare, I felt about two feet tall in her presence.

But I wasn’t in her presence very often. Because Marjorie, in her infinite wisdom, proclaimed me fit to look after a dozen glorified toddlers – on my own – for eight hours a day. Occasionally her son, a stocky 16-year-old with a Sasquatchian thatch of chest hair poking out of his t-shirt, would offer to help, but he was quickly and easily distracted by his friends and fellow counselors.

Luckily, the kids were great. And I had an endless supply of activities with which to amuse them – an old television with a stock of Disney tapes for afternoon naps, “water” counselors to take them out in rowboats and an overenthusiastic young archer who casually asked for my phone number as he strung a bow for a fidgety five-year-old.

But there’s always a bad bulb in the box. Well, if not bad, then one not quite as bright as its fellows. In our group? That was Stevie.

Stevie was by all accounts more puppy than person. He was five, with huge blue eyes and shaggy dark hair, and had a surprisingly broad vocabulary for his age; however, he was also an unintentional biohazard. Prone to stuffing interesting things in either his mouth or down his pants, he frequently and generously offered to share dead frogs or shiny rocks with the other children.

Of course, most of them politely declined. Stevie was perfectly happy to enjoy his treats alone, though he was disappointed when no one asked to share the hairy sandwich he’d found at the back of the mess hall snack fridge.

And because Stevie was such a snacker, I’d assumed he’d mentioned the little camp store to his mother. Full of $0.50 treats, I usually brought my little charges by every afternoon around 3:30, so they’d go home to their parents happily full of sugar. Without fail, all dozen proudly spent their $0.50 each day.

By the fourth day, it occurred to me Stevie’s mother might not know about the store, and so I mentioned it to her.

“Oh, but I’ve been sending it with him every day.”

“Really? He never has money to spend.”

A quick check-in with Stevie determined yes, he had received two shiny quarters every morning, and yes, he had eaten them as an afternoon snack.

I was horrified.

Stevie’s mother was horrified.

Stevie was delighted.

The next day, I started collecting money directly from parents in the morning. Stevie, having made the trip to the local hospital for some industrial strength prune juice, was missing from my group that day. But he reappeared on Monday, sprightly as ever and $2 lighter.

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