“And they called it puppy love..."
by Orysia Paszczak Tracz
The summer camp season has ended. As I sent my older children off to camp, I reminisced about my teenage summers. I belonged to SUM (Ukrainian Youth Association), and the beautiful camp in Ellenville, N.Y. was my summer home. At first I was a just a camper, but later, at a still early age, became a counselor. The summer I graduated from eighth grade was also the summer my mother finally cut off my long braids. Sure, it was convenient to have braids, but at 13 I wanted a change. After all, I was a teenager now and even a counselor at camp! With my new straight-as-a-board shoulder length hair, I turned over a new leaf. It was hard work being a counselor. And I was responsible for a roomful of lovable but mischievous 7- and 8-year-old boys. But there was also time for fun. The counselors and older staff got together in the evenings for stories and songs. Many of the people had beautiful voices, and the Ukrainian harmonies of the folk songs were out of this world. One of the counselors was a handsome "older" man around 18. For a 13-year-old. that's pretty old. He was tall, tan, had a gorgeous smile, and was a marvelous dancer. I, and the rest of the younger female counselors, had a crush on him. Every Saturday evening there was a dance for the older campers and counselors. While the Ukrainian tangoes and waltzes played over the PA system, we either danced with the other girls, or waited for the young men to ask us to dance. There were usually fewer boys, so it was a big deal if you did dance with a boy.
For one of these Saturday dances. I planned to do something about my crush on Slavko, the"older man.” He was going yo notice me, because I was going to make myself especially pretty. From home, I had brought my mother's home permanent curlers. On a Thursday I asked my good friend Marusia to set my hair with these small plastic curlers. I remember instructing her to be sure to set the hair tight, because my hair was long and thick. I forgot that it was also fine. To ensure that it set well, I wore those curlers from late Thursday until early Saturday evening, a scarf tied back on my head. Do you want to guess what happened next? The curl was so tight we could barely get the curlers out of the hair! I say we, because every girl available was helping to free me from my beauty trap. After the curlers were finally removed, I had the first Afro on a Caucasian person, around five or six years before Afros became "in." Not only could we not get a comb or brush through it, my fingers couldn't get through it. Heartbreak! It's already getting dark, the dance is about to begin, and I'm in a panic about the frizzy mound atop my head. I'm supposed to dance with Slavko tonight!
I did go, with another scarf tied around my puffy head. I was so embarrassed I could die! My friends didn't help much, because to them this whole thing was a riot. Barely holding back tears of laughter, Marusia even reminded me how I had instructed her to make the curls, real tight, "so that it would hold." Slavko did dance with me once, if I remember correctly. He didn't even ask why there was a scarf on my head in the middle of summer, at a dance yet. If he knew I had a crush on him, he never let on. Thirty some years later. I can smile now as I recall this one-sided puppy-love affair, and my Ukrainian Afro. But at the time, it was no laughing matter.
The Ukrainian Weekly. No. 39, Sunday, September 27, 1987