You should know right off that even though my dad wears an orange prison jumpsuit to work and my sister, Maxey, could win an Olympic medal in the bossathon, I was the happiest girl in the whole state of Texas. In one week, I was headed to camp! I was so excited I wanted to jump up and down. But when you're nearly eleven, you're supposed to be past that. Instead, I talked about Camp Wickitawa until Mom said her ears were going to start spurting blood.
It's our school tradition at St. Dominic's that every fourth-grade student gets to go to camp for the week of spring vacation as long as they don't get any Fs, have lice, or do anything really bad. In the "bad" category, things had been circling the drain a few weeks back. One of my two best friends, Aurora Triboni, got suspended from school for roughing up a sixth grader who goes by the name of Booger Boy. After that happened, Aurora decided to go to public school at Sam Houston Elementary so she can play basketball with sixth-grade girls who are big like her. And I don't mean just tall. They wear bras that are all totally filled up.
But Principal Obermeyer said that even though Aurora goes to public school now, she could come to camp with us. This is why I adore my principal. Plus, she saved my life when I nearly got hit by lightning in a big storm a while ago. She isn't afraid of lightning or bullies, even though she used to be a little sister just like me. It gives a girl hope.
I checked my camp packing list, which I'd pinned up on my bulletin board in the room I share with Maxey, my big sister. Somebody had added a few things to my list!
Very funny, Maxey! If I even go within breathing distance of her stupid bulletin board, she goes ballistic. I got out my thickest, darkest marker and crossed off what she'd written. I was not going to let her ruin my good mood. Even though she's in seventh grade and has already been to camp, she was extremely jealous about me getting my turn. When she first got home from her camp, she talked about it for weeks and weeks. I was only a first grader then, but I soaked it all in. I memorized every single detail, and could probably find my way around Camp Wickitawa with my eyes closed.
I knew it has a big private lake where you can swim and ride in canoes. There's a little store called Totem Village that sells candy and souvenirs, and a giant fire pit for sing-alongs and marshmallow roasts. The big dining hall is called Mess and it has a soda machine with all the free refills you want (and no mothers watching to make you stop before your teeth rot).
The boys have their bunkhouses on the other side of camp, and you only have to see them sometimes. Which is good, because Maxey says that the boys go all mongo woodsy. They don't brush their teeth even though they're supposed to, and they eat live bugs and everything! I don't think Donal from my class would eat a live bug, even if he is a boy. Which is why my friends and I don't mind if he hangs out with us sometimes. (He might eat a dead one, though.) Maxey might be making some of that stuff up, but I'll know soon enough. The girls don't have to eat bugs, and we sleep on cots in wooden cabins. And we each get a small dresser for our things. My own dresser! At home I have to share one with Maxey.
And if you are a very good camper, you might win Outstanding Camper of the Week. They pick just one from your whole class. I wanted to win it so bad it kept me awake nearly the whole month before camp. But I didn't just want it. I needed to win it.
Outside the principal's office was a long hallway with rows of framed pictures of all the other fifty-seven kids who had won it. One of them is my mom! One of them is not Maxey, and she's still sore about it. Now it was my turn to take my place on the wall. I could earn back my family's honor. My dad didn't only steal a lot of money from the people in our town. He stole our family's good name, and I wanted it back. Everyone would see the picture in the Tyler Wash Tribune of me standing next to Principal Obermeyer. From then on, whenever people thought of the Maloney family, they'd think that the town black sheep had turned snowy white.
Going to camp was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me! I was even taking our special big suitcase, which I'd never gotten to use in my whole life. I'd never been on a vacation before. Not even once. For one, our family--which was down to me, Mom, and Maxey--couldn't afford it, and two, my mom never stopped working. She was a nearly famous girls' high school basketball coach, and if she wasn't coaching, she worked extra games as a referee Just to Make Ends Meet. Which they might have if she wasn't trying to pay back some of the people my dad stole money from.
I had all my favorite clothes washed and rolled up on the bed, army-style, like Grandpa did his. Before he died last year, he taught me a lot of cool stuff like that. I can still hardly think about him without wishing I was with him when he went on to the Great Big Pasture. Pretty Girl, his old white cat, sat right on top of Grandpa until it was time for the ambulance to take him away. And one of the paramedics got her scratchy signature right on his arm.
I lifted Pretty Girl from the nest she'd made in the suitcase and gave her a soft kiss on the head. She was so old and skinny she felt like a chicken carcass with no meat left on it. Her purr-o-meter started up, and I sang Grandpa's favorite song, "Puff the Magic Dragon," to her. She loved hearing it. Pretty Girl was going to miss me bad. I'd be super lonesome for her too, but I had a feeling I'd be so busy having a blast that Pretty Girl was going to get the worst of the missing.
Shows you what I know.
Excerpted from Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity by Mary Hershey. Copyright © 2011 by Mary Hershey. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.