Sunday, August 30, 2009

Between Heaven and Earth...


This is the only photo I have in my collection of our other summer camp; my much loved cousin Bren has told me she has many more she can send me when she unpacks her new home, so she'll send some to me in a few weeks. Anticipation!

I can't remember the actual name of the lake; we called it "Lakewood" because directly across the water was Lakewood Theater, a beautiful summer stock program that featured some rather fantastic actors. Some were famous, some not--but they were always wonderful. I believe I saw my first production of "Godspell" there--one of my favorite plays. Years later, I played The Prostitute at another program and had the time of my life. Always wondered what it would have been like, though, to play it at Lakewood.

This camp was near Skowhegan, Maine, near Madison, and the lake was ringed with cute little cottages, clapboard homes, boats, canoes, docks, and splashing children. Unlike Guagas, it was heavily popular and populated; there was no sense of isolation here. As much as I liked our more remote retreat, Lakewood was my favorite place to go every summer, and I looked forward eagerly to the day when we'd pack our car and start the journey north. For a girl like myself, who wasn't all that outdoorsy, Lakewood was my idea of a summer camp. We had hot and cold running water, a real bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen (small though it was), and electricity. If memory serves, we didn't have a telephone, but neighbors to the right and left did, so we were always able to contact someone if necessary.

There is a beautiful, expansive backyard that spreads down about five hundred feet to the somewhat rocky shoreline. Dad built a gorgeous dock that jutted out into the lake, and we'd have loads of fun having contests to see who could run and jump the furthest. My grandfather was a pilot and owned a Cessna...110, I think--a two-seat floater plane, and would literally park it out on the lake in front of the dock. This served as the marker point for swimming races. The water was clear and cool; you could see everything when you went under and opened your eyes. We'd swim out and drape our arms over the Cessna's floats, just dangling in the water, while tiny little fish would curiously nibble at our toes.

We had several boats; nothing fancy, but there was a small Sunfish-type sailboat, a motorboat, rowboat, and I think at least two canoes. My entire family tried so hard to teach me how to water ski, but I was a wuss. Having a deaf ear meant that my balance was just crappy, and for a preadolescent, there is nothing worse than feeling inadequately dorky in front of your conversely athletic and poised sister and cousins. Amy took to skiing like...well, like a duck to water, and Bren and her sister Cap were equally proficient, as were my father and grandparents. I was perfectly content to sit in the back of the boat and operate as lookout, shouting to the driver when a skier wiped out in the water. I loved being on the boats, but I was terrified of trying to get up on those skis. Now, I realize I was completely capable of doing it, but it was the potential humiliation that stymied me and prevented it from happening. I've still never managed to get past that particular childhood obstacle.

Canoe fights, however, were fun for me; me, Amy, my cousins, and the two girls next door with whom we hung out and played with nearly every day would pile into the boats and proceed to go to war with our oars and any other weaponry we could invent or pilfer, trying to knock our opponents out of their canoes or, better yet, sinking them in it. There were really no rules, and we were diabolical in our pursuit of championship, ending up either drenched to the bone or submerged in ignominy along with the fish. I would usually bail as soon as it looked like our canoe was about to go under, leaping gleefully clear of the doomed vessel, not caring if I was fully clothed or not. Then I'd swim over and try to tip the other team's canoe.

Mom was pretty happy when I was outdoors, being active and playing with the other kids, but I also loved reading for hours on end. Sometimes I'd find a quiet spot somewhere on the grounds and tuck into a good book--okay, I was hiding--or I'd sit on the dock while the others cavorted with waterskis and sailed. But my favorite spot was the sunporch. It was a beautiful, rustic room in the back of our small cottage, surrounded on three sides by windows that let the sun drench the walls with warmth and light. A porch swing hung invitingly at one end, and tucked into the wall was a massive collection of comic books. Good ones. Archie, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Justice League--even a couple of Superboy and Supergirls. I would lie back on that swing for literally hours, a stack of comics on the table next to me, a cool drink in my hand, and my nose buried avidly in the stories. It was a source of consternation to my mother--she just couldn't understand why in the world I would prefer to stay on that porch and read instead of being out in the sun and the wind and the water. My perception was; there's gonna be another sunny day tomorrow. Today I want to read for awhile; is that so wrong? It got to the point where my parents would let me read only during certain hours or if it was raining. For a while that worked, but now that I'm forty, I can reveal that I managed to sneak books and comics into secret locations and disappear to read them. One ideal spot was the graveyard across the lane; I'd tuck myself up behind a tree or one of the monuments, and they'd never find me there.

I was a rather bookish, isolated girl, mostly because of my own insecuriaties. I was a skinny, pale-skinned, awkward black-haired little girl with buck teeth. My sister and cousins, however, were athletic, tanned, poised, active, and absolutely gorgeous creatures who looked amazing with their hair wet and who could get up on waterskis. No thanks, I thought. I'll stick with James Clavell's Shogun.

They're still gorgeous and graceful, and I'm still awkward and I weigh too much, but that's another blog entry...

However, I wasn't a total recluse. I'd get up early in the morning and go fishing with my dad. Despite the fact that I was no more of a morning person then than I am now, I loved that time with him, and would willingly forego my warm bed or tent to load up the boat with fishing poles, tackle, and bait, and go out on the water with him in the predawn hours. I wrote an article about it once: 

Once we were in the boat, out in the middle of the lake, my grumbling stopped, and by the time Dad and I started back towards shore, answering my mother's breakfast bell, I was always happy I had come, whether or not I had caught anything...Flashes of memory come back to me; the blue rowboat Daddy and I would sit in for hours, our lines in the water, no sound over the lake except a few early-rising loons.  I remember it was peaceful--so much so that it was tempting to just go back to sleep. but then my line might give a little tug, and my energy was suddenly renewed, like an electric shock through my body.  All fatigue was forgotten as I carefully reeled the line as my father gently encouraged and instructed me.

Although it has been many years since I've picked up a fishing rod and tackle, I remember the elation of catching a good-sized trout and knowing I'd be eating it for breakfast that morning. It didn't matter if Dad caught more fish than I did, or if we got none at all, really.  It was the effort and the work athat went into it that mattered--and the time I got to spend with my father that was just ours. 

Dad taught me how to gut and clean my own fish, and we'd have our fresh catch at breakfast that day. It's one of my fondest memories; being out on the lake watching the sun come up with him, and hearing my grandmother ring that bell to call us in to eat, the sound of it unmistakeably clear across the quiet water...and we'd haul in anchor and head home, ready to begin another idyllic day at Lakewood.

Gone Fishin'....


Shelley said...

Wow, reading your words brought me back 20 + years...the canoe fights, skiing, swimming, Lakewood Theater....ahhhhhhh....those were such wonderful, memorable days.

By the way, you have a beautiful way of capturing the essence of living on the lake. Thanks for sharing :)

Irish Girl said...

Thanks, Shelly!! Glad you stopped by!