Jo March had it all figured out. Ever since I read Little Men in middle school, I’ve kind of been jealous of her life. Not only did she get the guy—the cuddly, adorable, incomparable Professor Bhaer—she got two hilariously lovable little boys and a whole houseful of lads and lasses to dote on and serve as an example of awesomeness. I mean, that sounds like a pretty sweet life to me. But since Plumfield isn’t for sale, I guess I’m going to have to settle for the second best thing—Aunt Hannah Camp.
Known formally as the Aunt Hannah Adventure (or AHA!) Aunt Hannah Camp is my favorite of my grand plans for the future that I dreamed up on an airplane. While I would love to have kids of my own (Hester, Jonathan, Madeleine and Pieter) and my brother is responsible for carrying on our family name, my Southern roots compel me to adopt the children of my friends as my de facto nieces and nephews. They’ll call me Aunt Hannah, I’ll take them to PG-13 movies at age eight, buy them skateboards and generally be the cool aunt every kid deserves—like Auntie Mame, but with fewer parties involving bathtub gin.
Every summer, my nieces and nephews—biological, imaginary and adopted—will gather at my home for one week of creative shenanigans. Ages six to fourteen, bunking down in my living room or tents in the backyard, hopefully having the time of their lives. We’ll do all the typical camp activities—tie-dye, s’mores, multiple rounds of Kumbaya, couple with repeated watching of classic Disney movies, hikes through the neighborhood, scavengers hunts in the grocery store, intense games of Capture the Flag, and a grand performance of a classic musical—I’m thinking “The Sound of Music” for our inaugural production. Girls will have access to my vast collection of Barbies and dress up clothes, while boys can enjoy Legos, a train set and shovels to dig for buried treasure. And of course, if a lad wants to play House and a lass wants to try her hand a piracy, who’s going to stop them? Not Aunt Hannah. She’ll be too busing hunting for gnomes in the garden to protest. Being “Cool Aunt Hannah” is a goal of mine just below being the World’s Best Mom, and I feel like Aunt Hannah Camp, with batches of chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven and unlimited access to crayons and face paint, is a major step towards achieving this goal.
Part of the reason I’m so attached to Aunt Hannah Camp is my own personal nostalgia for my childhood. I grew up in Kentucky, in a neighborhood with a giant park, in a house with a huge backyard that never seemed quiet in the summers. My most vivid memories of my childhood summers involve eight to ten other kids besides my brother and I running free throughout our house from backyard to basement, playing hide and seek and digging ditches underneath our playhouse dressed in whatever costume captured our fancy. My mother would fill big paper bags with popcorn and gallon jugs with lemonade and would occasionally appear on the back porch to take a head count and remind us to include the younger kids and not trample the flower beds in the front yard. The remedy for minor cuts and scrapes was some dirt, a Band-Aid and a hug and a ball thrown over the neighbor’s fence required strategic planning for expeditions that rivaled that of “The Sandlot”. In my memories of my childhood, screams of laughter and sunny afternoons loom large, bringing adjectives like “innocent” and “idyllic” to mind.
And that’s the goal of Aunt Hannah Camp. I want to give my kids, their friends, my nieces and nephews and any other ragamuffin the chance to run wild through the fields of imagination. At Aunt Hannah Camp, the kids can change their names to camp names, be an astronaut or a cowgirl or a sailor, and have memories of trips to the zoo, rainy days at museums and baking soda and vinegar volcanoes dyed bright purple. I want to give my favorite piece of my childhood to my future children. I realized that such a week—from Sunday to Saturday, sunup to sundown and every time in between—would be both exhausting and exhilarating, which is why there is a second part to my plan. When the last child has gone home, the last s’more has been eaten and the last encore of “So Long, Farewell” has faded away, Aunt Hannah will pack her bags and be sent by the grateful, rested parents to a spa in some remote location, where she can have some grown-up camp time, with her eyes closed and a Swedish massage. That’s something Jo March never even considered.
“It takes so little to make a child happy, that it is a pity in a world full of sunshine and pleasant things, that there should be any wistful faces, empty hands, or lonely little hearts.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Men