Thursday, July 24, 2014

Traditions of July

Ready, set, lake!

Newman Lake water levels are higher than they have been
in years. That means less beach but more swimming
space at the lake of my childhood.

Our humid summer days have finally rolled onto the land. Many of us have been out looking for them. Whispers of a summer version of the polar vortex were beginning to sound all too familiar only a week ago, but early this week all those rumors were put to rest.

I recall the heat of July when I was a child; those days of sudden, sweltering sun. The air would turn into a heavy quilt, pressing up against you in an invisible yet bracing fashion like you’d been made frail from the winter and needed safe keeping. Shirts would come off, shorts put on, and a day at the beach was often the best cure for beating the heat.

My family would go to Newman Lake on those sort of days. Mom would pack a cooler with water bottles, fruit, and cold salads. My sister or I would be charged with getting the beach towels from the linen closet, and one or both of my younger brothers would tear recklessly around the house, scarcely clothed, screaming “swimming! swimming!” or something to that effect. They never wore many clothes when we were little.

We would all pile into the car after it was loaded with the cooler and a pile of towels. Some of us smelling strongly of sun block, others of bug spray, and others just smelling. Adorned in faded yet somehow colorful swimwear, it was always a rush to get the car on the highway so we could have some air moving in the vehicle.

Windows down, arms flailing in the wind, great big smiles - that’s how I remember summer...
We knew every turn and straight away of STH 182. We knew the bumps in the pavement and the tall stands of pines. We knew we were headed east, that the ride was about 18 minutes, and we knew we loved summer.

Finally at the beach, the four of us would dash from the car across the scorching blacktop in our bare feet. Being the first to the grass line with your toes still in tact was a small victory. Poor mom was left lugging the beach bag full of towels.

Picking out a spot to sit at the beach was sometimes a chore, depending on how crowded it was. With only a few pines planted sparsely on the open grassy area, finding a shaded spot for four kids was probably a bit challenging for mom. Once we did get a spot, though, we set up so many towels, blankets, fun noodles, inflatable tubes, and water guns it looked more like a small fort than a picnic.

Not until mom was sure we had everything and that she would be able to see us in the water were we allowed to go in the lake. And then another race was set in motion - a scramble over the shore and into the water.

The older of my two younger brothers would run right in with me. My sister, the older she got, was more careful than simply diving into the lake. And then there was my youngest brother...it took him awhile to finally be fun (we weren’t allowed to splash him).

Sometimes the water was as warm as a bath, other times it felt more like Lake Superior. Either way, we made a go of it for as long as we could. We’d play sharks or alligators or play catch with one of those spongy water footballs. When we had one of those inflatable raft things (we went through those things fast), that was the island all games were set around. One year I remember we even had these water guns that were like a syringe you could refill quickly by drawing right out of the lake. Those provided some pretty epic battles.

Those were the days we would play as hard as we could for the time we were allotted. I know now mom wanted to give us good experiences as children, but I think she also knew we’d sleep well that night.

We fooled around a lot, but we got comfortable in the water. Now we’re all strong swimmers. We learned to take breaks and rest so as not to be so tired we couldn't swim, how to drink water at the beach blanket periodically to avoid dehydration, and to make sure nobody went under accidentally. If mom wasn’t watching us like a hawk, she sure made it seem like she was.

Those days at the beach are countless in my mind’s eye, but I’m sure in reality there were only a few each year. Now I look back fondly on them, and when the opportunity arises, as it did earlier this week, I want to replicate for my soon-to-be step daughter what my mother did for me - a memory worthy of tradition.

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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