By: Randi Leader Oakes
Let me tell you about being age 10 -19 with you, my eldest sister.
When I was 10 (and Jodi was 11, you were 13), I decided that I wanted to spend the summer at a sleepaway camp that some of my Highland Oaks friends had been attending.
I really didn’t know much about the place except that it was called Camp Akiba in the Pocono Mountains and you had no other option than going for 8 weeks! I had only been to Camp Pinewood previously WITH both of my sisters and it was only for four weeks, but I was determined to go.
Tammi didn’t have a ton of interest at the time and neither did Jodi. My parents were planning a family vacation out west (to California, Las Vegas and a few other places, I believe), but I was determined to go to this new camp. Somehow, Mom and Dad relented and allowed me to go – on my own – and I missed the family vacation that was beginning after my visiting day at Akiba.
Four weeks of camp go by and I am having a blast…after some early hiccups with my cabin assignment (which, of course, turned out perfectly in the end)…and I was ready to see my family.
As the Leader’s came up from Philly, drove under the “Strangers are friends that we just haven’t met yet” sign, they stepped into this glorious wonderland of trees, red cabins with white trim and white shutters, great big porches that ended up being great gathering places and cackles of laughter from hundreds of kids.
Tammi was hooked. She looked around and after about 10 minutes started asking, “How can I stay here for the next four weeks? I want to be HERE. Can’t we ask the owners for an exception?” Not bothered by the rules, she may have actually asked Lenny & Harriet (camp owners) if she could stay.
The best my parents could do for Tam (and Jo too) was to sign them up for the next summer. So, in the summer of 1974, Tammi got her wish and she went to Camp Akiba with her two little sisters.
Tam was in her element. She was selected as a Color War Captain (a VERY big deal), snuck out in the middle of the night to write songs for both the Blue and Gold teams and proved to be a born leader. Pun intended.
If you asked Tam now (and probably all three of us) she could sing her favorite Color War song to the tune of Kenny Loggins’s “Return to Pooh Corner”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iV4mol-Otw
Tam’s became BFFs with Debbi Banks (a lifer at Akiba), learned the names of all the Main Line neighborhood schools (Cheltenham, Lower Merion, Bala Cynwyd), sang “Drakes Fruit & Pies makes me wanna cry…” commercials and Anti-Flyers songs. I have a question for Tam too…”Who is Halsey Taylor?” I know she will know the answer.
Tam was in love. She returned to Akiba year after year and became a co-counselor with Karen Roth, stayed in touch with her campers and was always “All in” on everything. Every costume, every event, each inter-camp game – Tam was there…in joy, in love, in friendship and, as she always says, she was in her two months of her Happy Place in Reeders, PA.
Even after Tam graduated from UF, the camp thing never left her. As a matter of fact, she discovered a great continuation of camp by total fluke…she vacationed with a girlfriend at Club Med Martinique in 1982 (and if you know Club Med from those days…ALL of the stories are true!) and fell in love again…with Adult Camp.
Tam ended up being a G.O. at Club Med and then it was mine and Jodi’s turn to follow. And we did. I just ‘hung on’ a little bit longer than the others.
The ‘feeling’ of togetherness, teamwork, laughter, joy, fun and PLAY always stuck with my sister. Even as she was out covering the Mariel boat lifts, riots and drug wars as an investigative journalist, the Camp Akiba and Club Med “rightness of it all” stayed with Tammi.
Decades, kids and one husband and a Latin lover later, Tam could not turn off the ‘flame’ of her happy place in the back of her mind. After publishing a book with some incredible women, camp came up again and again.
The evolution of Tammi (even from ages 10 to 19) are still influencing this incredibly kind, loving and Queen of Connections woman. Campowerment was born, she brought in Chelsea and our Mom…and the three of them have shared some of the most incredible experiences of their lives together.
Ergo, to ask me only to write about 9 years as Tammi’s baby sister would be impossible without mentioning how that decade continues to influence Tammi today. At 60. That’s crazy.
Tammi Jo Leader-Fuller…you are just as loving and fun and energetic and trustworthy as you were when we were kids. I adore that you continue to be authentically YOU…the chick that is always game for a party, the chick who would rather fall asleep in the midst of tons of people and noise than go home and get in bed and possibly ‘miss’ something.
I am so incredibly blessed to have a sister like you…I adore our connection, our laughter and the way we share our lives with each other. I can’t imagine anyone else as my oldest sister in this lifetime.
It was besheret for us to be related and such incredible friends.
Wishing that each and all of your dreams come true, my Tam. I love you more than you love me. Betcha. Owe me.
Randi…aka Rahbi Sue…aka 42
P.S. More stories:
I forgot to mention stories about us skiing. We had adjoining rooms with our parents in Aspen every year. Tam snored with her old nose too and Jodi kept complaining as we were going to bed. I got up to pee in the middle of the night and Tam had a pillow and blanket in the bathtub and was fast asleep. The next day I asked why she was there and she said she didn’t want to hear Jodi bitching anymore. Lol.
Also, Tam usually ended up hurt too. Always in her FOMO mode, she’d take “one last run” with me and Jo. Inevitably, she’d fall and the ski patrol would show up and open up the toboggan for her to get in. As they unwrapped the canvas blanket, several mice jumped out and ran away. We were cracking up and Tam was crying in pain. She got in as her sisters peed themselves…
P.P.S. Last one (a classic):
There is the very famous story of a 2am call to Joan and Jerry. Mom picks up the ringing phone groggily and hears, “Hello, this is Officer So and So from the Miami Dade police department, is this Mrs. Leader?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, we have to tell you that we have your daughter here at the police station.”
“That can’t be possible, our daughter Jodi is asleep in her bed”
“By chance do you have another daughter…named Tammi?”
Love that one.