Back in the early days of Rehoboth’s restaurant renaissance in the 1980s and ‘90s, the local drinking and dining establishments would celebrate the end of the summer season with a survivor’s party for their employees and friends. Tim Ragan at the Blue Moon says he doesn’t remember one since Sydney’s closed. Joe Zuber at Dos Locos tells me that they continue to have a survivor’s party for their staff, but that it’s not the same as it used to be, when everyone would get together at one bar.
Hugh Fuller at the Purple Parrot echoes that thought. “It’s normally Tuesday after Memorial Day,” he says. “We do it the second Tuesday. It’s called Tumbleweed Tuesday, but not like it was years ago.”
For all of us here at CAMP Rehoboth, the Tuesday after Labor Day is our survivor’s day, but it’s not much of a party. Though the office is closed that day, we’re all at home trying to catch up on the sleep we missed, and relax the sore muscles we incurred, during the week-long set-up and break-down of our monster of an event Sundance.
We use the term “survivor” loosely, of course; survivorship is relative. In our case, it is the satisfied exhaustion that comes after a grueling summer of work, and a job well done. Quite often, the word is used in much more dire circumstances to describe survivors of disease, war, and natural or man-made disasters.
As individuals, each one of us goes through our own personal struggles during our lifetime. For some, survival is making it through a particularly harsh break-up or divorce. Others struggle with issues related to addiction, self-worth, sexual identity, or abuse. As teenagers we grapple with finding our place in the world and understanding who we are as human beings. Surviving each hurdle as it comes along makes us stronger, and hopefully wiser, people.
On August 31, the day of the Sundance, I turned 60. It was remarkably uneventful—the age thing, not Sundance—and my heart and soul feel as young as they ever did. The difficult transition for me, came somewhere in my late 30s, almost 25 years ago. In retrospect, it was more about growing up and facing responsibility than anything else—and I think, about accepting that aging is just a part of life.
Looking at my art from that time period, I can clearly see stress and pain in it today. It was the early 90s, and the medications that would eventually keep our many dying friends alive would not be available for several years. Survival for those with AIDS was a daily life and death matter.
I still have one painting from that time period hanging in my studio. It’s a fairly large piece, dated 1992. It’s been in my studio since then, and I would be hard pressed to ever sell it. It’s far from what I would consider my best work, but it captures the pain of that period in my life—and my sense of survival, and hope for the future.
The image itself is stretched out to thin and painful points—as were many of my paintings that year. In it, a naked man (painted in black and white) is crawling through a stone doorway in a wall fragment that is all that is left in whatever structure once occupied that space. The man is beaten down and almost defeated, but still alive. In the background, a dense, textured, black sky is being peeled away to reveal a rainbow one.
I keep this piece because it is a daily reminder to me that there is hope in every situation.
Those late 80s/early 90s years were pivotal for me in many ways—and very creative. It was during that time that we started Sundance, moved to Rehoboth full time, and a short time later founded, CAMP Rehoboth.
From the beginning, CAMP Rehoboth was a learning process built from the grassroots up. We had no teachers, no role models. Survival for CAMP Rehoboth in those early years was step by step, day by day—and more than just a few of our friends thought we were crazy.
Next year CAMP Rehoboth will celebrate its 25th Anniversary. That quarter century has certainly given us some survival tips:
1) Don’t give up! If something is worth doing, it takes work. That’s true for relationships; that’s true for organizations. In everything there will be good days and bad days. Never give in to despair.
2) Tell the truth. The only way to build trust and support is to be open and honest. It’s one of the Ten Commandments for a reason.
3) Listen. Stop talking and really listen to what others have to say. More than we care to admit, many of our problems stem from miscommunication.
4) Forgive easily. We all make mistakes. We all lose our tempers at times and say things we really don’t mean. Don’t hang on to hurt feelings. Let it go.
5) Say thank you. Honor the gifts of those around you. A community is a tapestry of many colors—each as valuable as the next.
As I was preparing for this article I searched the CAMP Rehoboth website to see if we had written about survival in the past. I found no direct reference, but I did stumble across some Rehoboth history articles written by Fay Jacobs and Libby Stiff, that reminded me how different Rehoboth was 30 years ago. This is taken from May 5, 2000 - CAMP Memories by Fay Jacobs and Libby Stiff, and was written about the early days of the Blue Moon.
During the first summer of operation, Rehoboth Mayor John Hughes called owners Joyce Felton and Victor Pisapia into his office for a dressing down. It seems that somebody sent the mayor an article describing what he called “gay food in Rehoboth.” Victor, who was closeted at the time, stayed very quiet. Joyce wanted to know just exactly what made food gay.
“It’s your clientele,” came the answer. And the Mayor explained that there was no way this town wanted a gay restaurant. It was a warning.
While Joyce and Victor worked seven days a week to keep the restaurant going, a mobilization was going on in town. There were meetings, sides were drawn and the beginnings of an organization called AGVO anti-gay vigilante organization. Just as Joyce and Victor were frightened by the reactions the Blue Moon unleashed, so too, were the members of the opposition frightened by this new community they feared and didn’t understand.
It was into that kind of environment that CAMP Rehoboth was born a few years later, with the simple goal of making this a better place for everyone—gay and straight. We have survived all these years, because that continues to be our mission.
Next year’s 25th Anniversary will just have to be one heck of good survivor’s party!
Murray Archibald, CAMP Co-founder and President of the Board of Directors of CAMP Rehoboth, is an artist in Rehoboth Beach.