Lily Dipping

It was the third week of our summer canoe trip.

Eva and I were making our way with eight 13-year-olds and two counselors, aged 16 and 17. We were living among the loons and Canadian lakes with a paper map and tents and red canoes, eating from the cans we carried on our backs during portages from lake to lake. There was no connection with an adult. Some kids didn’t change their clothes. Eva and I cleaned our Jordache jeans with Ivory against a large rock and were mocked for our diligence but our difference from the wilderness gang was never more apparent than when in the canoes.

“EEE-VAH, you’re lily-dipping!” shouted the girl with curly hair, from her canoe up ahead. The wilderness gang paddled on.

(Later that evening at bedtime, in our tent, Eva would call out into the dark night: “EEE-VAH, you’re lily-dipping!” Making us giggle and repeat it back and forth to each other. The campsite would remain silent until someone finally would shout, “Put a lid on it!”)

But right now, we were falling behind again. We were tired. Our sugar rush from the lunch chocolate was gone. The sun was round and strong and we had seen the map over the girl counselor’s shoulder that morning. We had a long ways to go before we found camp (and dinner) in the evening.

My cousin and I were quiet in our canoe, having already played “What would you eat if you were home?”

“C’mon, Eva!” I said, digging in harder.

Eva dug in.

In unison we moved us forward. Swoosh. Swoosh. Catching up was always hard.

I kept my eyes on the wilderness gang as I paddled, steering with my J-stroke so that the canoe was aiming directly at them. I watched their muscular paddling and wondered what they were laughing about. I admired their faded bandanas tied around their foreheads. My bandana was tied around my forehead, too, but the material was bright and crisp and uncomfortable, new. A costume next to their reality.

I stopped paddling and scooped lake water to drink. For a second, my drinking arm caught the edge of the shade coming from where pines leaned over the lake’s edge. I paused like a picture, keeping the cool on me, but Eva was trying hard in the front of the canoe – swoosh – so I had to keep moving, too.

The girl counselor looked over her shoulder at us and made a comment to the boy counselor in his canoe. He shrugged. They kept going.

Then we heard a motor – now that was a surprise! Eva and I shaded our eyes with our hands.

Lo and behold, it was the flannelled camp director! Now this was news!

Like Santa on retirement, with grey beard and stomach, he steered his motorboat over to our dispirited canoe. He said nothing and threw us a pile of rope.

As his twin-engine grumbled, he tied an elaborate knot onto the front of our canoe. Eva and I looked at each other gleefully.

He tested the knot with a tug, dragged his stomach back and shifted up, his engines whirling the quiet black lake. As he went forward, we watched the pile of rope disappear.

When we lurched forward in delight, we screamed a little and grabbed onto the sides, my bandana falling over my eyebrows but I held on. We came upon the wilderness gang quickly.

Now had this been a movie set, my cousin and I might’ve used this moment as an opportunity, shouting in unison: “LILY—DIP—THIS!” while shaking our oars in the air, in triumph.

But we just smiled as we passed them, the breeze blowing our hair and the tips of our machine-washed bandanas, oars comfortably on our laps.

Lake Temagami

Shake Your Booty

I knew I was forgetting something. I sat with my sisters in the back of Great Aunt Mary’s white Grenada and I was forgetting something important. I chewed on my thumb nail.

“Girls,” said Great Aunt Mary, pulling in to a spot. “I want to teach you something today.”

We got out of the car and looked up at Lyndhurst, beautiful and gray in the blue sky.

Since Great Aunt Mary was wearing her fur coat from John Charles, we knew to be serious, so we followed her in a line: Amy, Laurette, Rene, Jennifer. We each wore white Communion shoes. Mine were tight.

“We’re going in the front door,” she said, lifting the rope for us to go under. “Pay no attention to the sign.”

She breathed up the steps in her fur coat and pushed open the tall front door of the stone mansion once owned by people who made the railroad. The Hudson River twinkled white through giant windows.

“Now girls,” she said, holding the door open for us. “I want you to walk in like you own the place.”

We silently decided this room in front of us was a vestibule because our mother and father used that word at home, at 56 Lincoln. But this vestibule had no ceiling. I looked in. Oh there it is, I thought.

“Go on,” she said. “Shoulders back.”

We stepped into the tall vestibule and walked across the floor, our shoes silent against the rug. For three steps, I knew Lyndhurst was mine.

“MA’AM?”

“Keep going, girls,” she said behind us. “Do not stop.”

I wasn’t sure where I should go but I walked straight and discovered a group with a tour guide in the next room. We stopped in back of that group and took the tour with the MA’AM man following us.

When we were on the third floor, I realized what I had forgotten. I tapped Great Aunt Mary’s fur. She leaned down. The tour guide was talking about style and long skirts.

“We forgot to the make the pork chops,” I whispered.

Great Aunt Mary took in a long backward breath. “What time is it?” she asked.

I looked outside at the sun. “I think around 4 o’clock,” I said. “Maybe.”

“Let’s go,” said Great Aunt Mary.

Back in the car, Great Aunt Mary drove pressing her body into the steering wheel. When we walked in the front door, Great Aunt Mary threw her fur onto the couch and stamped into the kitchen.

“Girls, I need your help,” she said. “We have people coming over tonight.”

“The railroad people?” asked Laurette.

“No, the play people,” said Great Aunt Mary, looking worried. “The people from your parents’ play. We gotta get-a move-on so where does your mother keep the baggies now?”

We pointed to the cabinet.

Great Aunt Mary created an assembly line.

“Girls,” she said, holding up the box, “you need to get the Shake and Bake onto the pork chops and put each pork chop onto these cookie sheets while I peel the potatoes. Do you know that song Shake Your Booty?”

I helped my sisters open their boxes and we each poured the sandy mix into a baggie, some getting on the kitchen floor.

“Should we wash our hands?” I asked from the table assembly line.

“Today you don’t have to wash your hands,” she said, looking for the potato peeler through the drawer, “the oven kills the germs.”

We sang:

The Hugging Pipe

My eyes flew open to the blue wallpaper. I could hear the heat kick on, two floors down. The loud clanging sounds meant one thing, getting louder and faster, sounding as if a lumberjack was locked inside the furnace and swinging his axe.

For three days, our house had no heat. My sisters and I wore hats and complained about the oil man as we played Sandwich between the couch cushions and kept looking out the window for his blue van. When he didn’t show, we trudged outside and our nostril hairs froze. We entertained ourselves by sleigh-riding down the side yard hill.

At the top of the hill, we positioned the long red sled between the rocks and the Mountain Laurel tree that we were not to touch because it was planted by the hunchback. We always sat in the same order: Laurette went first, and Rene was in the middle. Rene, being the baby, was not allowed to push the sled off the rocks using her hands. We didn’t want her fingers to be crushed. So Laurette pushed from the front and I pushed from behind and jumped on.

We started to pick up speed and leaned together to steer the sled into the giant maple tree root, which stopped us from flying onto the road. We went up and down a few times. On our last run we rolled off the sled and sucked the icicles on our scarf fringe. Since it was cold inside, we stayed longer on our stomachs in the snow and talked about when the hugging pipe would be back.

There were rules about the hugging pipe. Whoever got to it first did not have to share. We would wrap legs and arms around the heat pipe and wait for the warmth that rose from the furnace in the basement. We hugged the hugging pipe when we were tired, or cold, or upset, or bored. Or waiting for dinner. Sometimes I would let my little sister Rene hug the bottom if I had the top, which was nice of me.

But now it was morning and I sat in bed listening to the clanging. The oil man had performed a miracle. I ran down the steps to the thermostat in the dining room and pushed the dial to 80 so we would warm up quickly. Then I stood at the hugging pipe near the dark kitchen and waited.

My sisters walked downstairs in their nightgowns and there was no fighting over hugging pipe rights. We improvised and pressed our cheeks against its cold.

“Can you feel it?” said Laurette, worried.
“I can hear it,” said Rene.
“It’s by our toes!” I said.

Furnace pic

Author’s note: A warm welcome to the new readers! If you enjoyed the content of this little post, please consider following my blog! xo

Go Back to the Park

Author’s Note: This story has been hidden under a dull title! I’m reposting it today.

I walked inside the rhododendron bush that was two stories high, planted years ago by the hunchback, the first person to live in our blue Ardsley house.

We could walk in to this rhododendron bush as if it were a room. I sat on the “horse,” the long branch with a saddle seat curve that we hopped up and down on to make the tall bush shake.

But today I sat without jumping up and down. I was tired of this horse. I wanted a real horse, and I knew I would not be getting a horse.

Then I heard a Saturday mower.

The noise met me in the shade of the rhododendron. I lifted my chin to it.

Somewhere in the neighborhood, sounding its presence like a cavalry horn, was the first mower of spring. It ignited the sullen kernels of adventure in my ears and I got off the horse.

I knocked on front doors and said, “Let’s go to the stream.”

We were in walking distance to the “new park” and the stream along its far edge. New houses lined the stream on the other side, and people lived in them, but the stream was ours because we loved it.

Its bottom was soft and cushiony. We loved to lift rocks and peek for crayfish, scoop minnows and longed for its elusive frogs. We laughed and fought in the stream, threw buckets at each other and bounced on the wooden slats and shouted things like “I got one!” When we were hunting, we were careful to lift rocks slowly so we wouldn’t disturb the silt, which might allow an escape route for the living treasures underneath. We didn’t wear water shoes because they didn’t exist. Nor did we bring water bottles. We drank the stream. Sunscreen was for getting a tan at the beach and we actually called it suntan lotion. This was a playground, a safe extension of home that opened its world for us, every time.

I stood barefoot, the water pushing my shins, one with the stream. Then I was alerted by the scrape of a window opening. Its slow slide was infected but I still didn’t expect the rush of arsenic from her voice.

“GO BACK TO THE PARK!”

I registered the scream inside my body. We all did. We became statues, carrying her heavy poison.

We looked up at her in the little window, squinting.

Then we looked at each other, and back at her. She was in the house. Her face was violent. But the stream didn’t belong to her. We noted this quietly to each other.

“It’s not her stream,” we said. “This is our stream.”

We continued our searching, but there was hesitance to our play.

“GO BACK TO THE PARK! THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY!”

Without speaking to each other we left our sneakers on the grass and knew to walk a little further downstream. We stopped in front of her neighbor’s house. She couldn’t say anything to us here.

I thought we were home-free but then somebody in our search party mimicked her and that’s when I felt afraid.

“I’M GOING TO TELL YOUR MOTHERS!”

We didn’t think she knew our mothers but I knew she went to our church. Even coming back from Communion her face was sometimes contorted with a soundless rage, perhaps her skull was hot, and I think she may have been a candidate for a pill of today but back then, we gathered our buckets and began a march downstream to get away from her.

As the arsenic cloud lifted from our march, someone suggested going to Africa.

We looked ahead of us. The houses would soon stop but the hills cupping our stream continued on. We could see the thickening. Together, we knew it was there.

“Yes! Let’s go to Africa!”

We kept going until the stream had long thin branches that draped over us, sheltering our march that had slowed from the water’s cool depth. I looked over to my little sister and the stream was up past her stomach, her elbows crooked in the air but she was smiling, so I smiled, too. Here, it was quiet, the breeze above us. We were nature’s guests.

When we saw a large green frog on the bank, we knew we had made it.

“We’re here,” I whispered.

Epilogue: At a donut gathering in the church basement, the woman from the window approached my mother. I watched her talk. She was animated in an angry manner, using pointy facial angles and expressions. When my mother raised her eyebrows, a sign for her to cool it lady, I turned on my heels and took another bite of my donut.
Frog

The Surprise

I was the girl who could climb trees and outrun boys. Dusk made me invincible, as if I were running faster than I actually was, so I loved to play games like Manhunt when the light was fading and I could tear across a stranger’s lawn or an empty golf course. So, in Canada, when we were presented with a long ladder up an old-time fire tower that was taller than the treeline, I thought, Great!

I waited on line to jump onto the ladder. The people in front of me were so slow. I just wanted to get up there! To see. I always wanted to see, to look. Finally I got on and as we climbed the three-story ladder, I looked down. Nothing but grassy dirt and our nervous counselor. The higher I climbed, the more the tower swayed like a skinny pine tree in the wind, gently, but moving back and forth. There was no backing on the ladder to catch us if somebody missed a rung. On the top was a small cabin. Some of the rungs were either rusted or broken off.

When I got to the cabin and stood looking out over the trees, I sensed how the wind felt different up high, making me step a few feet away from the railing. As I blinked into the start of dusk, this difference held me rapt as I finally noticed how vulnerable I was. Up here, nothing impeded the wind, and it seemed to reign as it pushed around the tops of the pine trees. As if a mask had been peeled off, this was the true wind. I peeked over the railing with new eyes. The extreme height dictated good behavior in the small cabin, but two boys started to joke in a pushing manner so I left and climbed back down, holding on tight, aware that I would never be here again.

As we waited for the others, Eva and I went for a paddle by ourselves. We got into the canoe and paddled slowly because we didn’t have to keep up with the group. It was nice to just hang out, and Eva and I enjoyed being in the canoe talking and relaxing, the sound of our dipping oars in the lake. I looked up and examined bright pink clouds, surprised at their perfect fluffy shapes. I pressed my “mind camera” to remember this, knowing it was something special. Then Eva wanted to go across the lake so we paddled toward the tall reeds on the opposite bank, but when we turned the corner of those tall reeds, we got a huge surprise.

Eva reached for her camera, her oar clambering against the canoe. I stopped paddling, mouth dropping open, in awe of the enormous brown animal before us with horns as big as you can imagine. Not ten feet away was a giant moose.

I think with Eva’s camera snapping and the two of us exclaiming whatever we exclaimed, the moose ran. We stood in the canoe, balancing and grabbing onto the useless reeds as we watched the animal run into the woods. All we wanted during this trip, Eva and I, was to see a moose. Not realizing how rare that sighting would actually be, we decided this is what we wanted. Everywhere we paddled, we looked for our moose. That we actually saw a moose and didn’t get trampled by it is still a mystery. But it brought me back to how I felt at the beginning of the trip, to the notion that wishes can come true, and to expect that.

Moose in Velvet feeding in the wilderness