I was 17. I had landed a job in a summer camp for rich kids in upstate New York. I would be teaching arts and crafts. My boyfriend also had a job at the same camp. He would be teaching hmmmm…I don’t actually recall, but something sports related. Both of us were hired to come up there a month early and “build the camp.” OK, so I did not get hired to come up and build the camp, but I was hired to come up and cook for the 40 guys who were hired to build the camp.
So, up we went. Those weeks spent on Lake George will always be some of my fondest memories. It was beautiful. I was having a blast cooking for the guys and they were really appreciative (especially of my cherry pie!) The days were long and everyone worked hard. When the evenings came, we relaxed.
Sometimes we went out on the lake in canoes, and sometimes we played cards in one of the cabins. Occasionally we went into town and had some fun shooting pool. But it was always pretty wholesome stuff. My boyfriend and I liked to play chess and Backgammon (truth) and often spent the late nights engaged in such sport.
About three times a week, the camp owner would come through to make certain everything was getting accomplished according to schedule, to review menus with me, and to drive me into town to grocery shop. All was well in the camp. That is until the day the other “camp counselors” started to arrive.
I was friendly, but I had also been given strict instructions of meal preparation and so far, the guys had been golden. Janet was a large woman, also hired to teach arts and crafts. She was in her late 30’s, I’m sure, and she was immediately convinced she was my boss. In the arts and crafts world, I have no doubt this was to be the reality, but in the kitchen she was not.
Trouble began almost immediately when Janet informed me that she wanted a “special” breakfast order served to her. Well, I had no way of fulfilling her request, as the owner had been clear about what I could offer and when. I did try to work with Janet, but it was obvious that I was just a person who rubbed her the wrong way.
For the next week or so, I knew trouble was lurking, but I could never quite put my finger on it. So, it was little surprise to me when I was summoned to the owner’s house for a chat. There I was informed that Janet had reported that I and my boyfriend had been sleeping together in one of the cabins. It mattered not that the accusation was false. It mattered not that the person “reporting” me was new on the scene and I had already spent more than a month proving myself trustworthy.
What did matter was the allegation had been made, and the owner could not take the chance that I would set a bad example for the rich kids. So, even before I had an opportunity to teach my first arts and crafts lesson, but not before the permanent cook arrived to take over the kitchen, I was fired and told to take the bus back to Maryland. Of course, the owner called my father and explained “why” I was being fired.
Well I was young and I was proud, and I was angry that an adult had lied about me. But what made me angrier still was that Janet was the adult assigned to drive me to the bus station. What made me angriest of all was when this woman, this person who had never liked me from the moment she laid eyes on me, this woman who had taken it upon herself to see that I was relieved of my income that very crucial summer before I began college, asked me, when we arrived at the bus station, “Would you like to pray with me?”
I looked at her, and I said, “Janet, I used to respect adults. You have taken that from me. You have, however, taught me a valuable lesson. I will never trust an adult who presents herself falsely and then asks to share a prayer. I will pray when I am ready. I thank you for asking, but I don’t care to pray with you.”
I got out of the van and never looked back. I was scared that my father would believe the lies. I had a long bus ride back to Maryland and I can assure you, I did pray. But I thought an awful lot about how nutty the world is. I just kept thinking, “if she just didn’t like me and didn’t want me working there, why couldn’t she have just said so. Why did she have to make up the lie?”
In the end my father met me at the bus station. He accepted my version of what happened. He even drove me all the way back up there, a week or so later, when I turned 18, to help me job hunt in the town, so I could be near my boyfriend. I did not find another job that summer. But I did get to share a nice long car trip with Dad and I did learn a little bit about the importance of perceptions, and the damage of false accusations.
And I am proud to say, it is the only job from which I have ever been fired.