Today, I sat in my car for a few extra minutes, listening to the roaring wind, brainstorming how I could make my groceries teleport from my trunk to my house while I stayed nestled inside my safe little car.
Winter hurts. A sunny, warmer than usual day today, but a kind of windy that makes me wonder who’s behind all this huffing and puffing that will blow my house away. Soon, the thermometers will drop again and join in this boisterous wind by demanding we stay inside our homes and build a virtual life.
We’ll wear our pajamas inside out and swap humans for Netflix, lying to ourselves more and more, Oh, Campbell’s soup like that commercial sounds great for dinner.
These days, we dream of warmth and sunshine, a life we can feel and touch and smell without fear of shriveling or chapping or cracking.
And I know this is exactly why people always light up when I tell them about my family’s lake house.
We moved down to North Carolina every summer as soon as I stood on my tippy toes to rip off the last loop from my rainbow paper chain counting down the days of school. Yes, I say, born into a family of educators, I hit the jackpot.
Most 95 degree days, we woke up to the smell of Grandma’s french toast or the bang of Grandpa’s hammer. I ran around in pajamas with all my boy cousins, waiting for the sun to shine on our day’s adventures. Mom applied gobs of the thick white sunscreen (extra for my little pink nose with the tiny scar that made a summer appearance) and we put on our first swimsuit for the day. We always had to change out of our wet suits before we could sit on the furniture for a grilled cheese sandwich, so we hung up three or four suits throughout the day on the clothesline off the back screened-in porch.
If we lost our flip-flops, (Always leave them by the back door!, Mom always said,) we complained the whole slow way down the gravel hill. Our feet toughened up by July, growing a layer of the tough stuff. Good thing because we reached the edge of the dock and saw all the splinters waiting for tiny toes. Grandpa used his tweezers to wiggle those little rascals out. This won’t hurt a bit, he lied every time.
Grandma and Aunt Teresa watched in the creaky rope swing on the edge of the dock as we promised that this next one would DEFINITELY make the world’s BIGGEST splash. We secretly hoped Grandpa never found that WD-40 for that creaky swing because we liked to hear our biggest fans were still there, still swinging, still watching for our goggled eyes to bug up to the surface. Our feet danced on the sandpapered diving board, then did anything to avoid the slimy steps underwater. If we jumped off the neighbor’s roof into the water, you better believe our feet danced to dodge that black scalding roof.
There’s nothing digital about lake life. Splinters in our toes from wooden docks, scrapes on our knees from climbing trees, lightening bugs squirming in our cupped hands. You can look at pictures to relive the memories, but you’ll only understand if you’ve felt the sun heat the top of the water in the cove by the end of the summer and you need to dive deeper to find the cold spots. You’ll only understand if you’ve felt your thighs burn and your ear ache from all those times you wiped out on water skis. You’ll only understand if you’ve tasted the pig that roasted all day on your dry lawn.
Especially in cold winter months, I miss the ring of the dinner bell. I miss the screen door slamming shut and the sliding door too heavy to open without leaving fingerprints on the glass. I miss Grandpa’s red tractor firing up and the old boat gargling. I miss Sweet Caroline blaring out of the pontoon boat or Jackson 5 echoing off every boat house in the cove. I miss the voices that carry over the water, asking for a cold one or a purple ice pop, shouting stories to neighbors about all that happened in a year. I miss the marshmallows catching fire when they wedged in the hot coals. I miss the thunderstorms that paint the sky black in an instant stroke, the hustle as we all carry up rafts and life jackets that could blow away. I even miss the blistering sunburn.
Sometimes we popped in our favorite VHS or played Mario Cart for our afternoon break from the heat. But mostly we played Othello and built card houses. We designed tree fort sketches and wrote stories on the typewriter about the fictitious man who discovered Lake Gaston.
People light up when I talk about this little cove of paradise.
Because I think we all crave a life of feeling the splinters from old wooden docks.
We all crave a day of real adventure when we could discover Pirate Cove and then spend the night waiting for a shooting star to leap across the clear sky blanketed with billions of stars.
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