Thursday, August 4, 2011


I started seventh grade from a campground. Battle Run Campground in Summersville, West Virginia, to be exact. It's a beautiful place, tree-shaded, lakeside. In fact, it's made up of a sort of sprawling peninsula, surrounded on three sides by shimmery dark-green lake water.

It is the perfect place to vacation.

Up until school started, it was the perfect place to live.

Let me tell you about school nights and school mornings in a campground. Campgrounds are not built for school days. They are built for hazy summer memories of campfires and marshmallows and bathing suits and bicycles.

And, apparently, beer and country music. At least according to the campers at Site 16 next door to me. The campers there stayed up well into the night, blasting Alan Jackson's newly-released "Chattahoochee" over and over.

I'm sure it was shocking to those drunken campers when, at one in the morning, a disgruntled twelve-year-old stuck her head out of her tent and screeched, "Don't you people know it's a school night?"

But it wasn't their fault I couldn't sleep. It was not because of the song.

Up until now, it had been summer. Summer was when you're supposed to stay in a campground, but now it was school time and school time is fall and fall is when you're supposed to rake leaves into neat piles on the flat lawn of your three-bedroom brick ranch-style house with the chain link fence and the one-lane street.

Well, we had the one-lane street. It looped and spun among progressively-empty campsites as September came.

I don't remember being nervous about school, but I do remember being cold. Five-thirty a.m., walking barefoot to the shower house and waiting longer each day for the water to get warm, I cursed the hour and the lack of sun. Why did school have to start so early, anyway? Why didn't they leave time for a swim first?

After school, I came home to the campground and unleashed my stress in the form of a swim, or a gallop on foot around the campground, or a bike ride. It wasn't till darkness gathered, an inch earlier every day, that I remembered about homework. Me and my sisters would stroll down to the shower house, most always empty these days, and set up shop in the laundry room, scribbing in notebooks and watching the storms come, occasionally remembering to do a math problem or to study a spelling word.

It was awesome.

Waking up, and coming home, in a place like Battle Run, well, that was blissful. It was the middle part of the day that stank. Seventh grade was a shock because it was different from anything I had known. People I knew -- a lot of people, since I had attended four elementary schools, two of them twice -- were suddenly taller and meaner. The pressure to conform, to fit in, to be like everybody else was immense, which was a challenge for a very literal kid, since no two people in that school were alike. Everybody had their own problems, their own situations, their own rude comments and their own little hang-ups.

As far as I knew, none of them lived in a campground.

For the first time, I wondered if maybe I wasn't supposed to like where I lived. But I still did.

A while back, I wrote a book about a kid living in a campground. For a lot of reasons, she doesn't love it as much as I did, but a big part of her loves it very much. Which is how most homes are. The book is called BODY OF WATER and it will start seventh grade -- I mean, it will be released -- October 25.

God, I hope it doesn't fit in.


Betty (Beth) said...

I love your writing and I can't wait to read your new book. Thanks!

Granny Kate said...

Yummy! That's what your writing is. I gobble it up and grow contentedly plump. I miss our camping summer -- except when the leaves turn up in the evenings, hinting rain coming at night. Then I'm glad we've each got a roof over our heads. Sigh... but back then, I could peek out through the tent flap and see the little flashlights in each tiny dome. And now, I rely on the internet to tell me all our kittens are cozy at home.

Sarah Dooley said...

Thanks, Betty!

And, thanks, Mama. :)

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Yay for a new book!

Heather Kelly said...

Can't wait to read your new book! Woo-hoo!