Gaudeamus Igitur

Gaudeamus igitur,
Juvenes dum sumus;
Post icundum iuventutem,
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.

Let us therefore rejoice,
While we are young;
After our youth,
After a troublesome old age
The ground will hold us.

IUVENES DUM SUMUS

On the living room wall of Camp Low Gear, a scruffy family compound of wooden cabins nicknamed for its precarious driveway, five Latin words rust. Below the peeled-log geometry of the ceiling, the steel letters nailed onto the wood read: Gaudeamus igitur iuvenes dum sumus: therefore, let us rejoice while we are young.

My grandparents purchased Camp Low Gear for $18,000 in 1969 without ever having seen it. The camp came with a Honeymoon Cabin, a Girl’s Cabin, a Ping Pong House, a Boat House, a Motel, old sheets, old towels, old silverware, old wooden row boats, old single style ping pong table, and old Latin words nailed onto the wall. The sellers, as the story goes, were desperate. We have kept almost all of it, adding slouchy hiking boots to line the hallways and deflated fishing vests to hang from the walls. We scribbled over the kitchen wallpaper, too, punctuating August with penciled-in entries showing just how tall we had grown.

At Camp Low Gear, I learned all about rejoicing while I was young. I learned to catch toads and make mud castles for them. I learned to play Sorry, President, Bull Shit, Monopoly, Hearts, Scrabble, Banagrams, Boggle, and, eventually, Drinking and Drawing. I learned to take out low wooden guide boats onto the lake when it was glassy and calm, and ply the oars through my blistering hands.

We—two grandparents, eight parents, and eleven children—spent Adirondack, or as my grandmother calls it during thunderstorms, Adir-“rain”-dack, days splashing in the lake in worn out swimsuits and sitting on the porch, passing around sections of the Sunday New York Times. We ate big dinners around a long table lit by skinny candles dripping wax sculptures onto the old wood. After, we moved to the living room, a place that occupied a particular space in the day. Before the dispersal of bodies out the creaky doors onto the dark paths toward the various sleep spots, we lingered below the Latin invocation that told us to rejoice. We draped ourselves in blankets, braided each other’s hair, and played Yahtzee! on the carpet.

POST IUCUNDAM IUVENTUTEM

The summer after my grandfather died, my grandmother, Mema, became bony. She pulled a bandana through the belt loops of her jeans and tied it in a bow to keep them up. She got angry if anyone whispered (she knew we were talking about her). The place became a museum of her heartbreak: his old flies pinned into felt fishing hats, his initials painted in nail polish on the wooden boats, his chairs cold and empty in each room. For years after his death, his voice stayed on the machine.

When Mema visits in August now, she points at the trees and complains that they look unkempt. She says they never used to look that way, covered with dead branches and leaves. She forgets Sport died, sometimes. Her eyes turn wet with sadness. How did he die, again? How long has it been? Really—has it really been eight years?

POST MOLESTAM SENECTUTEM

The verse from the line in the living room continues, after “therefore let us rejoice while we are young,” with “after a pleasant youth, after a troubling old age, the earth will have us.” That latter part is cropped from the verse on the wall. I didn’t know that until I started writing this, that the song continues, that it is about death. Recently, my mom says she can’t think about the future of the camp past five years from now, repeating from time to time that Mema is 85, you know.

NOS HABEBIT HUMUS.

This past August, I swam into the middle of the lake one evening toward a gathering of six loons. They were calling with a haunting song, a shrill sound trickling and echoing, carrying across the lake. I swam closer, my jaw low, spitting up copper-colored water. The birds let me near their circle. After a couple of minutes of listening, I let out my own trickling, wanna-be loon song. They stopped and stared. Two bent their necks and plunged under, and three others skimmed the surface of the water, startled, splashing the lake up with webbed toes. The last one stayed, before it ducked down to hunt with the others.

Everyone was still on the porch when I walked up from the dock. My uncle immediately made fun of me for pretending I was a loon. The breeze of August carried a bite of autumn—of first frosts and brown leaves—so we wandered back inside the walls of the camp, to the kitchen, the dining room, and eventually, the living room, where we lingered together below the rusting Latin words. We rejoiced together. We are still young. So we played a few rounds of Yahtzee!, read a few pages of a book, drank a few sips of tea. Then, one by one, we dispersed back through the creaky doors to the dark paths—to our own, separate, beds.

Diana Saverin grew up swimming with loons, rowing a creaky dingy, and trying (failing) to catch trout around Little Moose Lake. She was the youngest of her generation to swim across the lake and back (no noodle required), a fact she wants you and everyone else to know because it means a lot to her and is a very noteworthy accomplishment. If you would like to join her in a more local polar plunge, email her at diana.saverin@yale.edu.

Comments are closed.