My family had this amazing situation: the seven of us (my brothers and sisters and I) plus our parents. We would leave the city behind for the two months of the summer and move two hours car ride north to the lake. At the lake, we would shed our footwear and mostly run around bare foot. It was incredible. We were fleet of foot. We would run through the tender green hay in the early summer which would be blond and tall by the late summer.
When I ponder that aspect of my childhood, I remember the immense sense of fortune at having this place as a retreat every summer and, when not doing morning chores, the sense of freedom and connection with nature that we all shared.
Most days, I would live in my bathing suit…no sunscreen (we didn’t even know what that was). No hat, no sunglasses, no shirt, and as stated, no shoes.
Our lakeside acres had patches of earth that I knew to always be damp and mossy. Patches that were warm and dry. Tough prickly grass in the big fields. Slimy slippery rocks like the ones on the path by cabin #1. Annoyingly painful gravel of the camp roads which would get an ‘ouch!’ and a hobble out of me every time. The thick green moist grass outside of Grampa’s kitchen window where the sink water drained. The wet grainy sand of the beach as I would wade in for a swim, digging my toes in and enjoying the sensation. The soft tufts of maiden grass that grew in the yard up by the porch of #2. The baked planks of the redwood-painted docks. The bottom of the canoe as we would catch frogs in the cove and the sensation of gliding over water that I felt through the fiberglass.
I knew these things because I detected them with the soles of my feet time and again as I would nimbly move over our twenty lakeside acres all summer. Once, riding on the shoulders of a family friend he remarked that I had leather-bottom feet. I shrugged. It was my normal.
I was betrayed by them a few times, my bare feet: I knew the agony of a piercing by a three inch hawthorn, stepped on absentmindedly, chubby arms crossed across my round belly, shivering from swimming for hours, as I made my small way past the tool shed we called “the shop”. I cried and bawled unabashedly with the pain, like little children do, and neighbours took me to have it removed by a doctor, such was my carrying on with it. (Mom and Dad were in town so the Pattersons came to my rescue – read a funny account of my brother Mark and the Pattersons in this story: The Camp).
Another betrayal of my barefoot days is in this story: Barefoot Heathens in which my Father forbids the ‘going to town’ barefoot. We had been discouraged from ruining our school shoes which would be passed down from older siblings until they were worn and gone.
My brother Jobe and I would race through the tall hay in the lower field arriving at the frog pond slowly, lest we scare the frogs away. We would creep the edges and wade carefully to grab an unsuspecting frog by its tiny waist just above its powerful legs. Now and then, our bare feet would betray us and one of us would slip down the slick clay bank of the frog pond and into its stagnant waters, the stink and slime on our skin. Once, we found ourselves a baby snapping turtle in that pond. Just the once. We held it like an Oreo cookie while it stretched its neck, beak and clawed feet doing its best to injure us while we ooohed and ahhed at how tiny and cute it was. Then carefully letting it dive back into its swampy home, as we did with all the little pond frogs we caught. (This wasn’t what we would do with the big, meaty bullfrogs we would catch in the cove though. Those guys became breakfast and a crisp dollar bill from the Pattersons for helping to quiet the cove where their tent trailer sat. The dozens of bullfrogs would ‘ribbit’ their love songs loudly all night long.)
These days, decades later, I find myself in my fifties and marvel at how we were back then. Mostly carefree. Mostly enjoying the simple things in life. We wouldn’t use a telephone all summer. Now we can’t be without one for a minute, carrying it on our person like it is a lifeline.
We would actually write letters on paper, stuffed into carefully addressed and licked 8 cent stamps on the envelopes, to friends in the city. S.W.A.K. loudly printed on the back flap: ‘Sealed With A Kiss’. If we were lucky, we would receive a hand-written letter from them a couple of weeks later, delivered by the mail truck guy into the big old aluminum mail box at the top of the gravel road. Its red flag up and encouraging us to come. Scurrying barefoot to check the mailbox each day until finally it was there: a letter for me! Savouring its every word and studying, turning and even sniffing the envelope for clues as to when it was mailed from the city. The impossibility of receiving news from two hundred miles away.
Times sure have changed as I am about to post this story and knowing that it can be read world wide, in the blink of an eye. I am ever so glad to have made those simple but priceless memories at the lake, and through the soles of my leather-bottom feet.