Revisiting the lake of my youth, will life ever be this happy, this good?
It begins with a sound.
The rhythmic lapping of water against the dock. That simple tempo awakens other sounds: the low growl of a boat engine in the distance, youthful laughter and shouts of “cannon ball.” The Beach Boys singing “Good Vibrations” followed by the keening vocals of Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming,”
The floodgates open and a blanket of sun warms my 12 year-old body, and the odors of suntan lotion and my ripened bathing suit — is it ever washed? — recall few baths because a 14 mile length of lake stretches out from this northern shore, and summer… seemingly never ends.
Visiting this lake again, a painful nostalgia has me in its grip so many years later, and, like a sleepwalker, I am unwittingly lulled to the lonely space of memory.
Every summer growing up, my five siblings and I moved from town to a lake only 10 minutes away… yet a universe away… from mundane rules and stifling structure, and I felt we existed at its center. Located in a tightly packed grove of other seasonal “camps” (a Maine colloquialism for anything from a shack to a house)there was an army of other big families whose kids were more than ready to participate in the daily drills of whiffle ball and red rover, red rover, call somebody over.
Other factions of friends, lucky to also inhabit this universe, arrived from the east and west shores by motor boat, and we’d hone our skills of getting up on one ski and jumping the wake. If we were really lucky, Charlie Hippler would pull twelve of us behind his powerful Cris Craft dubbed “The Big and Fast” at days end on a Saturday night.
The everglades had nothing on our exotic, little creek that wound its way mysteriously to its outlet, a water hazard on the fourth hole of a golf course. There we would fish for many a failed second- shot- Titlelists, and then resell them for a nice profit that bought Barbie dolls and fire balls.
On stormy days, we’d secure the boat and retreat to the big enclosed porch and watch blackening clouds come riding from the north. The world grew dark and calm and suddenly still until a thick, black line appeared in the distance. A driving rain propelled it forward with lightening strikes and cracks of thunder, and we’d anticipate the moment when it arrived blowing open with a bang! the closed glass doors.
We idolized Barry and David, two older teens who built in the woods, just beyond the wishing rock, a three story tree house equipped with screens. A marvel in its craftsmanship and creativity. If we promised to be good, they’d allow us to climb up.
Adults were a blurry vision on the periphery, but neighbor visits clinking cocktail glasses often led to impromptu parties that fluffed up feelings of security and well being because it confirmed our parents were popular and fun. Dashing between quick questions and light conversations, we’d steal cigarettes and beer and then quietly disappear. Life was good.
In a rare moment when I found myself alone, I’d slip away to the shoreline and wonder who I’d be at 18, where I’d be at 21. Any age beyond that was inconceivable.
The camp was sold many years ago. The circular road is now paved and the seasonal grove of my childhood seems crowded and over built.
Revisiting this space is twofold: It is both a happy remembrance of youth, a loving family, and an unabashed exuberance for life, and it is a painful reminder that time has marched on and the world is a much more complicated, predictable, and solitary place.