Love at First Note
"Camp Jancbrook lives on forever,
Does not perish with the frost
But remains within our memory
Fondest beauty never lost.”
(Sung to “Ode to Joy,” with apologies to Beethoven)
Summer 1965. First year of Brooklyn College under my belt, I reported to my summer job. I was hired as a day camp counselor for five-year-olds at Camp Jancbrook, sponsored by the East Flatbush-Rugby YMHA. Irv Saltzman was a fellow counselor.
“Hmm, he’s kind of cute,” I thought when I met Irv at the pre-camp orientation.
And then I heard him sing the camp theme song, above. It was love at first note.
He sang to the kids on the long bus ride to the open spaces of Long Island, and I was hooked. At the end of that summer, we started dating. We hung out and sang folk songs with a group of friends in Louise’s basement rec room. I felt chills running up and down my spine as Irv strummed his guitar while singing Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “House of the Rising Sun” by Peter, Paul and Mary.
Irv made me laugh as he played such Tom Lehrer favorites as “The Masochism Tango,” “I Hold Your Hand in Mine” and “Oedipus Rex.” I was impressed that he could recite the “Element Song,” naming all the chemical elements in rapid-fire succession while striking the right chords on his guitar.
And of course, there was “When You Are Old and Gray.” Funny when we were 18. Not so much now. The lyrics to that uplifting ditty include, “Your teeth will start to go, dear. Your waist will start to spread. In twenty years or so, dear, I'll wish that you were dead. I'll never love you then at all the way I do today. So please remember, when I leave in December, I told you so in May.”
Luckily, after almost 52 years of marriage, despite my spreading waist, Irv has stuck with me. And his singing still brings joy into my life. Though he hasn’t been able to rehearse with his small music group for six weeks, he still practices at home. Working at my computer, I rejoice when I hear his voice drift up the stairs as he runs through Hassler’s “Missa Secunda.” When he sings along to the prayers on Zoom Shabbat, I am filled with gratitude and love. How lucky I am, in these trying times, to have live music in my own home.
Camp Jancbrook truly does live on forever in my memory. It changed my life, and I am forever grateful for the summer of ’65.