My Bad Little Girl Summer (1974)

A bite of scorched popcorn brings to mind the taste of Du Maurier cigarettes smoked the summer I was 8 years old, over four decades ago…

When I was eight years old my brother Mark taught me how to smoke.  He preferred Du Maurier which, at the time, were 75 cents a pack. He even gave me the confidence to buy them. I was to tell the store owner that they were for my Uncle.  Things being the way they were then, this actually worked.  Never mind that I was a little girl and that I was apparently sent to buy cigarettes by a loved uncle.

The other day, forty-four years later, I was biting into scorched popcorn and there it was.  The forgotten taste of Du Maurier and all the memories of my ‘bad little girl’ summer when I tried my best to keep up with two of my older brothers and all of their mischievous adventures.  That was the summer I learned how to lie to Mom and Dad and to be devious.  I was normally a very well behaved child, so this new-found deviousness was a somewhat bitter pill of guilt and subsequent worry.

We would run through the field of long blond hay and go up to the abandoned barn next to our lake-side property where we spent every summer.  There was an ancient hemp rope tied way up in the loft of the barn rafters.  We would swing on that rope and then let go with abandon and tumble into the very dry hay below, our woops mostly held in due to the danger of being found out and sound carrying so well anywhere near the lake.  Going into the barn was trespassing.  We were forbidden by Dad to go there, but, we went there almost every day anyway.  It was fabulously fun and exciting.

Later that summer, a large family arrived to rent #2 cabin for three weeks and we all became friends.  Mark thought Maureen was quite something.  She was very friendly and kind to me even though she was a teenager.  When I told her that Mark liked her, she blushed and lowered her dark lashes and head of shiny hair.  We were swimming at the time and so carried on with our game of back flips in the water.  After that though, suddenly our simple swinging on the hemp rope turned into heated games of ‘spin the bottle’ and ‘strip poker’.

Maureen’s Dad had a pick-up truck and he would take a dozen of us into town to get ice-cream.  Clutching a shiny quarter each, we would stand in the back of the pick-up, the little ones holding tight to the teens while the pick-up would bounce over the camp roads and then onto the highway to Maggie River, two miles away.  Racing down the pretty country road, over the Trouble River bridge, bugs hitting us full tilt, eyes squinted while our hair parted crazily in the whistling wind.  No shoes, no shirt, no hat, no sunglasses, no sunscreen, no cellphone.  It was a carefree time.

At night we would have huge campfires with s’mores (graham crackers, chocolate and browned marshmallows) or we would boil corn and roast wieners on sticks or pop some popcorn, drinking spring water (fetched from the artesian spring down the road) directly from a huge thermos on the picnic table, bending and turning our heads to allow the cool water to splash right into our mouths.  No bottled water.  It wasn’t invented yet.  We would sing all the old songs and there would always be a couple of guitars.  The children would sit on blankets near the fire and the adults would be on the chairs or a stump of wood with a stubby of Molsen Golden. Many times I fell asleep by the campfire and one of my older brothers or sisters would wake me when it was time to go.

We would look up at the night sky to see a gazillion stars twinkling and then a lonesome loon would call on the lake.  In the field the fireflies would flash, lighting our way to our beds. The copious crickets singing us to sleep. It was magical.

On rainy days we would play card games in one of the cabins or, sometimes we would play large games of Monopoly for hours or Rummoli and Euchre.  No screens.  Not a single one there in cottage country, not in 1974.

Other nights we would go around and gather all the kids, a couple of dozen all hailing from different cabins of large families.  Then we would start a game of ‘sardines’.  One kid would run and hide somewhere in the forest of the 20 lake-side acres.  Then we would run around and try to find the hiding person.  We would squish in with him or her, thus: sardines.  Often I would play this game in bare-feet.  My feet were very tough from the weeks of running shoe-less.

Behind all of the fun, that summer, was my guilt at now being a ‘smoker’ with a two-smoke per week habit.  I felt sick about it and just wanted to quit. Thankfully I found quitting a pretty easy task.  I just stopped.  My brother Mark however went on to smoke cigarettes for several decades.  Thankfully he has now joined the ranks of non-smokers.

I don’t blame my brothers for dragging me into their mischief back then.  Again, all this stuff had to happen to get me where I am today, in a happy life with a wonderful, albeit, small, family.  It’s just that sometimes I think back on these things and can barely believe we lived that way.  I haven’t exaggerated it either.  Today we live so differently.  Our controlled, safety-concerned, washed and dried lives of today where we now have to teach our children how to play outside.

Campfire-and-Lake

Fun and Foibles at the Camp 🎣

Oh when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever, And if I had the choice, Yeah, I’d always want to be there
Those were the best days of my life
~Bryan Adams
Summer of ’69

The summer I was 19 was the first summer that my eldest sister Eva owned the camp. I had just graduated from high school and would be attending University in the fall.  My best friend Kelly was already studying Nursing.  Both of us needed a full-time job and had asked at June’s Diner if we could work there.  With a yes from June, we promptly began to plan.

We moved to the camp with my little brother Luke and with Eva’s middle child Jake, who was a tender four years of age.  We promptly started the opening clean up, just as Mom had taught me.  Start systematically at cabin number one and spend a whole day on each cabin.  In past years with Mom, we would work until noon then Mom would have Jobe build a small fire in the outdoor fire-pit of the cabin we were working on.  Jobe was good at that.  Mom would make soup and fried bologna or wieners over the fire.  After eating and much to our enjoyment, she would pop popcorn in lard over the fire.  We would just love those days with Mom…

popcorn

I digress.

It was hard, dirty work and there was a lot to do: clean, dust, paint, move things, wipe down cupboards, count dishes and cutlery, ensure pots and pans were there, affix curtains, paint and tidy…it was endless.  One time, Kel reached up into a corner shelf and pulled out a stiff dead mouse by the tail, holding it horizontally while I squealed, having been startled by the oddity of it, so stiff and straight.  Kel just chuckled at my antics.  At the end of each full day, we all went out to June’s for a feed of fish and chips or something akin.  Little Jake was an angel who was constantly helpful and pleasant and a joy to have with us.

cabin

Early the following week, working on number nine, we decided it needed a lick of paint. It was a bright, warm sunny day. Perfect for working on our tans at the same time and Luke had taken little Jake out fishing for the afternoon.  We had the boom box playing full tilt: BORN in the USA and SUMMER OF SIXTY NINE and JOURNEY tapes.  I should mention here that Kelly was a tireless worker.  She would never stop and it was a pleasure and a joy to have her by my side for the summer, and she is still my oldest best friend today.  So, we got up on the long ladder and once up there, feeling the sun on our backs, decided it would be perfect for topless painting.  All was fine and good and we were working and singing, tanning and laughing.

Suddenly, between songs we heard the rumble of an approaching tractor. ANGUS BRECKNER!!!! Oh my god.  The very cute farm-boy of similar age to us, was coming to cut the hay today.  You never saw us scramble so fast down those ladders to find our t-shirts, screaming all the way.man on tractor

The season began and we slipped into a routine. A johnny cake breakfast with Eva and the three boys who would kneel on their chairs, their blond heads forming steps on one side of the table. Next, chores which usually consisted of garbage pick up plus other light maintenance or cleaning jobs. After chores there was time for swimming and a bit of sun-bathing and then it was time for work at the diner in town.  Sometimes we would bike to town but often we would get a ride from a friend, Angus or his buddy, or we would walk the two miles along the side of the highway.highway

Come the weekend there would often be various camp-fires or pit parties to attend.  We also had friends of the male persuasion who would sometimes accompany us to Deer Hurst in Huntsville where we would dance and enjoy the house band being silly and celebrating our youthfulness.  The best song came out that year: N-N-N-N-Nineteen, Nineteen.  It was like it was written for us.

Another time we went out with our red-head friend Marvin.  There were a few of us in his little jeep.  We were driving pell mell along yet another dark, dirt, hilly, twisty turny country road for the sheer joy of the drive.  Kel and I were squealing and ooohing with each directional change.  Suddenly, Marvin slowed the jeep and driving close to the right side of the road, started to accelerate while turning sharply to the left.  The jeep leaned over on two tires, EEEEEEK!  It hesitated, as if deciding what to do, then over it went into the ditch, landing on its right side. There were a few expletives uttered at that point then Marvin said rather calmly and clearly in his deep voice: get out before she blows.  Oh Jesus did we scramble to get out.  The last person climbed out and let the door slam.  It slammed on my right thumb.  Marvin ran back and opened the door so I could escape. Whew.  That was a close one.  The jeep did not blow.

During other summers, from time to time a high school friend would come up and stay at the camp. When Sue (a boy named Sue, just like in the Johnny Cash song), arrived with his family, I was quite happy to see him. I enjoyed his company and we had had many good times together.  As my sister Amy would say: he was a good head. (That’s a compliment).

One night we had heard about a campfire out off the Cane Road.  Amy was at the camp with her car and, always generous, allowed us to use it.  In we piled.  There was Sue, Karrie from across the lake, a friend named Faye from the narrows, and myself. However, after a bit, I was a tad worried about Sue who was drinking large amounts of rye, thanks to Doug, the host, and he was getting quite drunk.  We finally got him into the car after pulling him out of the ditch and started down the gravel, country road toward the camp.  Suddenly, without much warning, except to ask that the window be rolled down, which it wasn’t, Sue got sick all over Faye.  He had projectile vomited such that there was vomit on the car wall and window with a silhouette of Faye where her head and body had received it rather than the wall.  We should have seen it coming.  I pulled over and quickly asked Karrie to open the rear door.  Sue tumbled out head first and landed in the ditch for the second time.  He was moaning, groaning and puking.  He waved at us saying just leave me here, just leave me here. Ya, no.  I would not be leaving Sue there in some ditch on some god-forsaken, dark, forest-edged road. I yelled at him to get sick once more then to climb into the car.

The next morning I was cleaning number one cabin when I heard some commotion by the men’s outhouse.  There was Sue.  His large teenage male body was standing, slightly stooped, in the open door of the outhouse, his back to me.  He was holding a Pocket Fisherman (for a split second my mind reeled back to the time, years prior, when I had wanted so badly to use Eva’s husband Peter’s Pocket Fisherman and he so generously indulged me.  Next, I promptly raised my right arm to cast the line and then somehow dropped it into an unfamiliar dark lake and just watched it sink.  Frozen in horror at what I had just done.  Peter had very graciously just waved it away, neither one of us wanting to go in after it.)

Anyway, Sue was holding the Pocket Fisherman the line of which was down the hole.  He appeared to be fishing something out of the shitter.  This was going to be interesting.  I asked him what he was up to. Sue turned and his face was green.  His front teeth were missing.  He hesitated and seemed to argue with himself for a split second but, finally admitted that he was fishing his partial denture out of the shitter.  It had fallen out when he was sick…..

outhouse

Later, Amy and I saw him with his teeth in place.  He told us he had boiled his denture for three hours. Poor Sue. That was a rough turn of events because after fishing his denture out of the poop, and then sterilizing it, he then had to go clean up Amy’s car which we had closed the night before and left in the sun. Not pretty.

The summer went on with canoeing, swimming, jumping off the rocks into the lake, exploring, campfires, chores and fun. Then we met Len, the son of a hockey great who had a cottage near the camp and to call it a cottage was a vast understatement. It was massive with double doors leading into a great room with a double staircase heading up to a landing then splitting in two, heading in opposite directions around a upper story landing with several bedroom doors visible from below.  There was no electricity and the whole place was made of weathered wood, but was new and in perfect repair.  I could not stop looking at everything.  Up at the top of the wall there were a few posters of the hockey legend, taken in his day.

Len had all the toys and a boathouse and a boat, skis and all the gear.  The top of the boathouse was a games room with pool table, table tennis, shuffle board, darts and a cooler full of pop.  The boathouse had a balcony from which we would jump or dive into the lake below.  It was teenager heaven.  He would invite us over sometimes to water ski. We would have a ball! Mysteriously, whenever I told Dad I was going to hang out with Len, he would jump up off the couch and offer me a ride.  I think he would have been quite happy if I had gotten serious with the son of a hockey legend.  Imagine.

dock