Hail for a Chief
A schoolgirl’s summer is the shortest season, and for me, an annual introduction to my
own autonomy. Since I began my reign as instructor at the Yacht Club Junior Sailing
Program, I’ve undergone a gradual and fundamental transformation in the short spurts of July
and August, following the footprints of mentors and attempting to shape myself into one.
During my first summer of volunteer employment, I had just passed my twelfth birthday;
my retainers were brand-new and lisp-inducing; and my hair, chopped for charity in February,
had barely grown past my chin. After taking my counselors’ orders for the previous four
summers, I was suddenly in charge of giving them, and I was petrified. I thus followed my
superiors’ instructions unequivocally, hoping to make the best impression possible and, more
importantly, to not mess everything up.
Storm clouds were congregating by the smokestacks that hiccupped on the harbor’s edge
one August Thursday as I released the last of fourteen small sailboats into the building waves.
Within minutes, my fellow counselors and I chose to bring the children off the water early; they
were safely shipped to the nearby members’ clubhouse while five of us remained to gather the
sails and rudders left behind on the docks. We scooped up as much as possible under a black and
bruising sky, then launched ourselves into chase boats and sprinted back to the now-empty
classroom. Before we had crossed the gravel parking lot, hail began to fall in half-fist chunks
and thunder roared across the harbor.
Lightning struck. We’ve never determined if it hit the classroom directly or zapped
something nearby; regardless, my companions and I were hurled to the floor, shrieking. I was
terrified, but hysterical with laughter, for the strike and all that had preceded it composed the
most exhilarating experience of my twelve-year life. With a squall and a scream I had survived
nature’s wrath and protected both club equipment and the children under my charge. I was
forthwith a real employee, a devoted role model; I could even be, as I am now, an heir to the
head counselor throne.
As I trekked from classroom to clubhouse, rain and hail continued to pelt my unprotected
skin. I couldn’t bring myself to quiet my giggles or cease my skipping, uphill, through the wet
gravel; my charges were close at hand, though, and I soon regained my composure. I had tasted
the brine of responsibility, leaving the camper world behind, and for the following four summers
would never return to sweet, fleeting youth.
I was ferried from my childhood by inflatable dinghy that stormy August, and with each
passing summer my journey continues, ever seeking the upwind route to maturity. I make my
greatest advances in heat and high wind thanks to the demands of the harbor to which I owe my
passion and discovery of my young-adult niche: cultivating sailors and people in the beloved
saltwater where I, too, had grown up.