“You know, this time next year you’re going to have to fence all this off.” Or so my Mom said to my grandfather around the 4th of July, 1980 from her lawn chair at my family’s camp in the middle of Maine. This is the story I’ve heard so many times as I’ve grown up anyway. My Mom said she felt ‘off’ at a summer BBQ and had to go home just before she went into labour with me. I was born on July 6, a few weeks early. A summer baby I began and always have been.
Pe (My grandfather. I couldn’t say Grampy – ‘Pe’ was all that came out and it stuck!) was a swim instructor at Boy Scout camp and had me in the water from the get go. Before we had a YMCA or local pool, swim lessons were held at the local public beach. Mom and I would pile into our little aluminum boat (I grew up calling it the tin boat) and the 9.9 horsepower motor would carry us up the lake in the wee hours of the morning. Mom would beach the boat and I’d run off to swim lessons, diving for plastic roses and rings while she read on the sand. Rinse and repeat for most of the summer.
I distinctly remember Pe teaching me how to do the side stroke, tread water and how to jellyfish float. I still don’t really understand what the purpose of the jellyfish float was, but it was fun to learn. I don’t remember a fear of water and every picture I have from when I was little, was me in a swimsuit at the lake. Pe was always in the water with me, raking the rocks out of the shore so I wouldn’t hurt my little feet and he would have to drag me out of the water just to have lunch. I always hated getting out. I even remember my Mom talking about how I’d ‘brown up like a berry’ because I was in the sun so much, all the time.
Nana’s lunches (and breakfasts) were always the best. A quarter of a cantaloupe with yogurt, honey and sunflower seeds. Cold cuts & condiments for a sandwich spread. Seltzer water with a bit of sugar and lemon. Yogurt and honey smoothies. Blueberry bran muffins with honey butter. Bagels with cream cheese and guava jelly. Sometimes, they’d pull out the portable picnic table and we’d eat on the front lawn rather than the screened in porch. I loved those times. Pe always had to find the right spot on the lawn where the table wouldn’t shift and would sit evenly in the grass he had just cut with his push mower.
Pe took such amazingly great care with the grounds. He didn’t use a gas mower because apparently it didn’t cut as nicely as the good old push mowers did. He’d pick up flat rocks from an island in the lake, bring them back and create terraces for my Nan to sit and doing her crossword puzzles on. He always had a trowel and a cardboard box in the trunk with a pair of garden gloves in case he saw a wildflower he liked on the side of the road and just had to have it for the lake. He took great care weeding and planting, setting stones and tidying his lawn. Looking back, it was such a beautiful, lush green space that I can hardly believe it.
I recently found out that the pansies that I grew up picking at our camp, were planted just for me so that I’d have something to pick. They were always on the right hand side of the walkway to the point, where the hammock always was. Purple johnny jump ups with flashes of yellow. Yellow pansies with swatches of orange and purple. There’s a glass pansy bowl in my family, with a glass grate over the top to hold the buds that I really love and hope I’ll keep for generations.
Summer with my grandparents meant digging in the clay and covering myself with it like I was some crazy lake monster until they made me wash it off. Sleeping on the fold out bed between theirs and bouncing back and forth until I got tired, sleeping in Pe’s old v-neck undershirts. It was waking up and washing my hair in the lake with Nana and swimming in the rain because the water was warmer then. It was truly getting to just be a kid and be loevd.
As I got older, my grandparents were kind enough to let me have end of the school year parties at the lake, birthday parties and end of summer parties. We’d BBQ, swim, knee board and tube behind the boat, lay around and drink sparkly drinks from plastic cups and just enjoy the sunshine and freedom.
It seemed I always had friends out at the lake. I was even lucky enough to bring my charges here when I babysat. I’d get them all packed up, drive them out to camp and we’d just…play. Splash. Eat. I took the kids kayaking once and they both learned to call my grandparents “Nan & Pe” just like I did. I don’t think they quite picked up on the fact my grandparents called me ‘Baby Sa-Sa’ though, which is probably a good thing.
(omg guys, that HAIR!?)
I wish I could outline more memories for you, but I think you get the picture here. From Memorial Day to Labor Day. Camp was my home. While we don’t own the camp anymore, I feel so blessed to have the summers I did. I just cannot even begin to think about what summer means to me without the memories of my Nana and Pe.