Shaindle’s Shpiel

This is the story of my friendship with Gail Medwed.

Shaindle: Gail, what is your memory of how we met?

Gail: It all started on a stormy, summer night in 1988. Butch and I were on a long carpool line, waiting to pick up our twins at Camp AJECOMCE’s late-night program. The rain was torrential, the wind was howling, and the thunder claps shook the car. As we inched closer, we heard voices shouting out carpool numbers.

We finally got to the loading spot, and this bedraggled, dripping-wet woman opens the door and urges my boys to get in the car. Recognizing her as Shaindle, the camp director, I attempted an introduction. Circumstances being what they were, this was probably not the appropriate time to chat. On our ride home, I said to Butch, “So that’s the infamous Shaindle” we had heard so much about, mostly from our oldest son, Marc, who worked at camp and just adored her. In fact, many times he said, “You’ve just got to meet her. You’ll love her!” Turns out he was right.

Shaindle: Aw, shucks!

Gail: I was at a point in my life where I could go back to work or apply to law school. At about this time “My Life With Shaindle” began when you offered me a position at camp. Working with you turned out to be an adventure I will never forget.

Shaindle Schmuckler

Shaindle Schmuckler

Walking into the camp office in April, when camp starts in June, is kind of like falling down the rabbit hole in Wonderland. All the characters were there, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. I was amazed and impressed that everyone actually knew what they were doing.

Getting ready for 1,000 campers and 100 staff was a constant swirl of recruiting, creating programs, getting the campgrounds ready, organizing bus routes and carpools, all without the benefit of the technology we all rely on today. Our state-of-the-art technology consisted of two typewriters and a fax machine.

Shaindle: I thought we were lucky to have that IBM Selectric. What else stands out in your memory?

Gail: We had animals. We had full-size horses and ponies in our stables. We had a thriving small animal farm fed and cared for by our campers and nature staff. We had sheep, lambs, goats and even a potbellied pig named Pamela.

Shaindle: I seem to recall a sheep story and a Pamela story.

Gail: Here’s the sheep story. One night at 2 a.m., we received an emergency call: Our animals escaped. I woke Butch and Marc, and we drove to Zaban Park to find the animals. We walked around the pitch-black, deserted campgrounds, bumping into each other, until Marc had a brilliant idea. Pretending he was a sheep, he cried “baaa, baaa,” and, sure enough, we heard “baaa, baaa” in response. He kept this up until we found the animals. My son the sheep! As long as Marc kept up his “baaa, baaa, baaaing,” they followed us all the way to their pen.

Shaindle: Did I ever thank you for not waking me?

Gail: Yes, many times. Let me tell you about my first summer with you, which has become legendary in my mind because of the constant rain, every day, all summer long.

Running an outdoor summer camp in Hotlanta under the best of circumstances is challenging. Running it in almost constant rain is almost beyond description. Our beautiful campgrounds became swampland. Activity shelters were flooded. The Zaban building was not available to us, except in the case of a threat of tornadoes.

Shaindle: Thank G-d, we did not have any of those.

Gail: Do you remember the all-time favorite activity that year was mud ball. Our creative staff designed a mud ball field. At the end of the game, everyone was hosed down, dried off, changed into their clothes. Every day we were washing and drying bathing suits and towels to be sent home the next day.

Shaindle: Tell me about Pamela

Gail: Pamela somehow escaped during one of our rainstorms. Never letting a good crisis go to waste, and realizing the value of a great kids program, they were all dispatched to watch and cheer as our counselors tried to catch a very slippery, fast, wet pig. Pamela was about the size of a basketball. It took the better part of the afternoon to catch her.

Shaindle: My sides are splitting with laughter at this memory

Gail: There’s more! One morning, after a camping overnight, we arrived at camp early to assist staff with breakfast. I was met by a very animated senior counselor who just had to share a dream about being licked by our pig; when she awoke, she was actually being licked by a sheep. We returned to her group’s shelter, and there we found a big fat sheep surrounded by a couple of little lambs.

We asked counselors to carry the lambs and lead the mama back to the farm. As soon as she saw her babies being picked up, she took off, heading for the main entrance of Zaban Park with you and me in hot pursuit! By now it’s about 7:30 a.m., the height of rush-hour traffic. Cars and buses are driving by, but luckily mama sheep stayed on the sidewalk. Drivers realized quickly that we were not just out for a morning jog and started honking, rolling down their windows and cheering us on. A busload of commuters slowed to witness this spectacle; I think they were cheering for the sheep. Suddenly, mama sheep takes a sharp right into a subdivision and starts running up a driveway. We thought we had her cornered, but she slipped away and ran into someone’s back yard. Several homeowners, hearing the commotion, came out to see what was going on. We finally stopped mama sheep, and then you and I sat on her to keep her from running. Finally a counselor in his jeep picked us up and headed back to camp. We were triumphant! It was only 8 a.m., a full day ahead.

Shaindle: We did have some great times together. We still do; we are so lucky to have found each other.

Gail: Every day was a new adventure. I never knew what to expect. It seemed like constant chaos. But within all the chaos, I could see a rhythm, and I was comforted knowing that these crazy people actually knew what they were doing. And the queen of the crazies was, of course, you!

Shaindle: Do you remember peeking out the window of my office and realizing we could be related one day?

Gail: You and I started noticing a buzz around our children, Eric and Marla, both of whom were working in camp. We began making plans for our grandchildren, although the mantra my son and your daughter insisted upon sounded like this: “We aren’t dating; we’re just friends.” The mantra continued right up until the time of their engagement.

Shaindle: I recall we spent hours watching them “not date.” We were so excited to see them together. We found it almost impossible to practice the old saying: “Mum’s the word.”

Gail: Two successful professionals, one home, two cars and three boys later, they are still friends. Shaindle, you and I have been together for nearly 30 years. You are my dearest friend.

Yes, it is possible for in-laws to be friends. Everyone should be so lucky.