This photo was taken during the Summer of 1968. My mom, dad, my sister Patti and I would often go family camping. We were all members of the Northern New Jersey chapter of the National Camping and Hiking Association. The North Jersey chapter was one of the single largest chapters in the entire country. Of course, that’s me at the end of the picnic table on the right hand side. My sister is on the same side of the picnic table, just one up from the little kid sitting next to me. My mom is standing on the right hand side, wearing a white blouse.
My Unending Role of Being a Big Brother
By Richard Mabey Jr.
We all have roles that seem to fit us like a glove on a hand. One of those roles, that I am sure the good Lord built into my DNA, is the role of being a big brother. In dozens upon dozens of situations in my life, I have found myself carrying on the role of big brother. A role that I have always worked in earnest to be true to.
From about the time I was in eighth grade and on through my senior year of high school; my mom, dad, my sister Patti and myself, all belonged to the Northern New Jersey chapter of the National Camping and Hiking Association. As fate would have it, I was the oldest kid of the group. A lot of the children were considerably younger than me and they all adopted me as their older brother.
Not only was I adopted by all of these very wonderful and energetic children, but I was also adopted by a cute little English Sheepdog by the name of Fuzzy. It was a funny name for a dog. I don’t think Fuzzy liked his name very much. He belonged to one of the many families who went camping with us weekends with the North Jersey chapter of the NCHA.
I have to confess that in some ways it was a bit of a lonely time for me. There were no young people, my age, in the camping club. However, in another way, I really did enjoy my role as the big brother to all of these wonderful children. I remember that they would show me their report cards, when they got good grades. I remember one boy once showed me the wallet he had made from his leather craft kit. To tell the truth, I really was honored to be the big brother to so very many young children.
I often would set up games and activities for the children, during these family weekend campouts that were held at various campgrounds throughout northern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and upstate New York. Ring toss was always a favorite with the kids. As was rubber horse shoes, badminton, bean bag toss, capture the flag, and a host of other outdoor fun activities.
I remember that some of the very young children would call me Uncle Richie. I was really honored with that respectful title. It was something that some of the parents of the very young children encouraged their kids to call me. I remember that it did make me feel good. It was kind of heart warming.
In June of 1970, I completed my junior year of high school. That summer, something very special happened. Something from which my life would never, ever be the same. A couple by the name of Ray and Joan joined the club, with their two daughters Penny and Patti.
I fell in love with Penny, the very moment I saw her. Penny had this stunning beauty. She was graceful, read poetry, was a very direct young lady who said what was on her mind, and she had this incredibly long brown hair. I was totally smitten with her. But, I have to confess that I inwardly thought that she was totally out of my league.
I never told anyone that I was completely taken with Penny. I never told anyone that she held the key to my heart. Somehow and someway, the camping kids figured it out. Then in the late summer of 1970, a very special moment came to bless my life.
I remember Penny and I, and all the children were sitting at a picnic table. One of the kids suddenly shouted out, “Uncle Richie, when ya’ gonna ask Penny for a date?”
I have to confess, I was so embarrassed. My face turned seven shades of red. I couldn’t finish a simple sentence. Somehow, with Penny sitting at the very same picnic table, I managed to get the words out, “come on you kids, you’re missing all the fun of playing ring toss.”
Well, I remember, so very well, watching the kids run off to the little area where I had set up the ring toss game. Penny and I would were then alone, sitting at the picnic table. Oh, how well I remember this moment. I was totally embarrassed.
Then Penny looked me straight in the eye. All she said to me was, “well.”
I, like a real dope, answered back rather sheepishly, “well, what?”
Penny didn’t miss a beat. In a rather stern voice she replied, “well, when are you going to ask me out for a date?”
I stuttered and stammered. My heart pounded like a big bass drum. The palms of my hands were drenched in sweat. The temples of my head pounded and pounded. And, I simply said, “now. I guess I’m asking you now. Penny would you like to go on a date with me?”
Penny had this big grin. She laughed. And, all she said was “no.”
I replied rather shyly, “okay, I understand.”
Penny then said to me, in this rather direct and straight forward way, “of course I’ll go out on a date with you! My goodness it took you long enough to ask me! Our families have gone camping together four or five times!”
As all the kids played ring toss, Penny and I sat at that wooden picnic table. Penny wrote down her telephone number on a piece of scratch paper. She handed me the piece of paper.
“If I don’t have too much homework, we can see a movie next Saturday night,” Penny instructed me as we held hands, for the first time, across the span of the wooden beams of that old picnic table.
“That would be good,” I remember saying.
“Good? It would be great, Richard, and you know it! Face it! You hit the jackpot!” Penny told me as we continued to hold hands and looked into each other’s eyes.
Penny changed my life. She believed in me, more than I could have ever believed in myself. She made me sign up for the staff of my college newspaper. She encouraged me to write articles for the old Lincoln Park Herald. She fiercely encouraged me to always do my very best when writing a story or article.
I often wonder how different those years of my senior year of high school and first year of college would have been if that little seven year old boy had never shouted out, “Uncle Richie, when ya’ gonna ask Penny for a date?”
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I never did thank that little boy.
Peace and harmony,