Music Takes Me Back – Camp Marcella 1993

campmarcellarechallindexOn the Sunday that marked the midway point of the camp session, the routine changed. We got to sleep in an extra hour, and after breakfast, we had Sunday Morning Program. Phil opened the program with a new song, a slower song than the whale song or “Great Balls of Fire” or the aorta song.

“Welcome to my morning
Welcome to my day
I’m the one responsible
I made it just this way
I made myself some pictures
To see what they might bring
I think I made it perfectly
I wouldn’t change a thing
La-la-la, La-la-la-la-la-la…”

I wasn’t crazy about this song. It just sounded too much like what my parents would say, all this crap about being responsible. And there was plenty I would change if I could. I would erase my albinism in a heartbeat. I would erase all my mom’s loud, shrill rages, all the punishments she gave me. I would erase all the jackasses at school, the girls who made fun of me, the boys who had to remind me, day in and day out, that I was not dateable just as everyone else was starting to date, the girls and boys who threatened to beat me up behind the bike racks, the people who threw spitballs and called me “whitey” and “ghost” and “snowball” and “albino bitch” and all the rest. But I sang along anyway, and by the time we circled back to a repeat of the first verse, it almost felt just a little bit, just a smidge, true.

We heard a story about a boy whose teacher sent a note home saying that he marched to the beat of a different drum–the first time I’d heard that phrase–and then we learned another Harry Chapin song, called “Flowers are Red,” about a boy whose teacher squelches his artistic creativity and forces him to paint flowers, which he wanted to color with every hue in the rainbow in only red. It gets so ingrained that when he goes to a new school with a nice teacher who encourages creativity, all the boy can do is paint in strict green and red.

We ended the program with “Circle,” which we usually didn’t sing except at night. I sat between Becky and Luis, and during the song, we put our arms around each other, rocking side to side in unison. It almost made me cry. I still didn’t know if I wanted to choose Luis, but with Becky I was sure. If we weren’t blind, if we had all the choice in the world, we probably still would have found each other as friends. We rocked through the rest of the song.

It is always music that takes me back to Camp Marcella. During the school year that followed my first summer at camp, I discovered The Beatles song “In My Life,” and in my mind, it was written about me and Camp Marcella. Years and years later, that is still always what that song means to me. “Flowers are Red,” was the first song I fumbled through on guitar as an adult. Many of the Marcella songs belonged in their own world, never to be heard anywhere else. I could pick and choose when to listen to them, when to allow that big wave of too much emotion–longing and love and nostalgia–to rise up and crash against my throat, leak out my eyes.

But when I was twenty-three, I was working at a kitchen at another camp, a camp that had music, but nothing like the Marcella songs. This camp had nothing to do with any sort of disability; it was a regular summer camp, and its songs to me seemed so fluffy and light, too weightless to create crashing waves of emotion or gorgeously heavy hearts.

One Sunday morning, after most of the campers had left, I was taking in the elaborate cereal bar as a few teenage counselors milled about the podium near where the CD player was. Suddenly, I stopped, against all the momentum of pushing a cart full with bins of Cheerios and Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies, and tubs full of melting ice around big cartons of yogurt, as I heard the familiar, unmistakeable la-la-las of “Welcome to My Morning.” I had never heard this song anywhere outside of Sunday Morning Program and hearing it so many years later gave me whole-body chills so intense it was almost like an out-of-body experience, a time warp, a temporary wormhole back to that morning in 1993, rocking with Becky and Luis.


Here’s an excerpt from a long-form memoir project I’m working on called Eclipses of Jupiter, about growing up with albinism. There are a lot of chapters devoted to stories and experiences from different blind camps and programs and this is from the chapter on my first summer at Camp Marcella, at age twelve.

Check out the Samples Page, as well as Published and Early Work, to read more of my writing.

~Emilia J

8 thoughts on “Music Takes Me Back – Camp Marcella 1993

    • Hi Icy, I don’t know if I’ve said this before but I LOVE your site :)

      Scientists say that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory because it goes straight to the limbic system and can transport you back instantly. There may not be a neurological basis for this claim, but I feel music is the same way.


  1. Emilia, like many of us that went to camp Marcella we all have that unmistakable feeling of wonder when something like that happens I went as a child to camp and I worked there I found my wife there that place is richer than most when it comes to showing one who and what they are. Keep up the great writing I am also writing a book about going up with albinism “A Life Lived in Black and White” I hope to have it completed by March of 2015

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