This is another excerpt from the 2011 sequel to AFTER HOURS in a chapter entitled, "I'll Never Forget What's-Her-Name". |
BTW: The locals refer to the body of water in the story as "Hamilton Lake". On the other hand, my family always called the place "Lake Hamilton", which how I refer to it here.
There's a lovely, pristine lake in the Northeast corner of Indiana where my parents used to take my younger brothers and me when we were kids. The three of us were raised as "water babies" so we loved the lake. Actually, we loved any place that had something to do with being immersed in and/or riding on water. Still, Lake Hamilton was special; that is, distinct and totally differentiated from our local swimming pool and rivers. For us, being at the lake was akin to the electric thrill my children felt from being in Hawaii. I think a large portion of our extraordinary emotion came from the attitude our parents projected; how relaxed and happy, and at peace they were at Lake Hamilton. As teenagers, they frequented the beach and dance hall at Cold Springs Resort; and by casual observation, one could tell the lake held an exceptional place in their hearts. I suspect they may have fallen in love there--definitely a good break for my brothers and me. As I grew out of my tweens into puberty, I thought about the looks my parents exchanged there, and I enviously eyed young couples frolicking on the beach, which caused something to stir within me. A few years later, I sensed the lake had a personal, aluring, almost magical, romantic vibe. You could almost hear it whisper, "Surrender..."
Dad rented a cottage for two weeks every July, which was our own personal slice of paradise. We swam, fished, rode the waves in a wooden, Thompson, fourteen-foot runabout with a 30-horse Evinrude outboard motor; and we always smelled like the lake. The aroma was intoxicating, equal parts freshness and serenity. I don't believe we were ever closer as a family than when we bonded for those two wonderful weeks.
Then "it" happened--weird and wonderful at the same time. The time was the summer before my sophomore year in high school. As always, we boated over to Cold Springs for a picnic lunch and a day at the beach--our parents "wasting time" by lying in the sun for most of it, while we frolicked non-stop in the water. As a kid, I could never figure out why anyone would spend time lying on the sand. Anyway, "it" came in the form of a very presumptuous, cute, curvaceous, little vixen who took my breath away. A year younger than me chronologically, she was light years older in terms of the cause-and-effect nature of boy-girl chemistry. We were also mismatched physically. (What a build! Here one should imagine me as a cartoon character: face transformed into a grinning, slobbering wolf, eyes popping out, and heart thumping two feet out of my chest, ba-oom, ba-oom!)
I first saw her when we were both in the water as I surfaced from a dive and almost ran into her. She was talking to an older girl and caught me noticing her in spite of my sneak-a-peek nonchalant style. (Aw, who am I kidding? I probably just eye-poppingly ogled her, as described in the cartoon image above, but the self-protection and denial parts of my brain only allow me to register that I was a cool dude. HEY, IT'S MY STORY!)
Directly into my eyes she stared. "Say, you're cute," she blurted out just like that, getting a huge laugh out of my brothers. "What's your name, cutie?"
I was crimson especially in front of my brothers who I knew would razz me unmercifully, and worse, tell our parents who would also pile on. "Uh, uh...hi...uh...dooohhh, look, I gotta go!" I couldn't get out of the water fast enough. What a clumsy, inept, gauche, awkward, unsophisticated duffass--or words to that effct.
Years later as a confident male-on-the-prowl in a West Coast beachside nightclub, I made overtures to a comely young lady, which went absolutely nowhere.
"Am I that ugly?" I asked flippantly thinking in the moment about my excellent success rate on-the-scene, while at the same time wondering what was wrong with her. It seemed this particular lady wasn't taken in by my suave, charming, fast-talking banter.
"Oh, no," she said, "You're not ugly..."
As I was about to launch a counter attack...
She said, "...you're unattractive..."
Wha,,,??? went my brain. Days later it connected. It was my presumptuous, arrogant manner. Lesson learned.
"Sometimes I sleep with ugly guys," she finished thrusting in the final blow.
Back to the lake. As I was heading for the imagined safety of the sand, the water nymph loudly called out, "I'll see ya later!" with a grin and a wave. I'm pretty sure she got a kick out of my discomfort--the kind women get when they know they've set the hook, and it's only a matter of time. (You ladies out there, please comment. Have I perceived it correctly?)
I sat down on a beach blanket with my folks, and tried to look small and inconspicuous. In other words, I was trying to hide. That pert, brazen, little girl frightened and thrilled me simultaneously. Every time I would glance sideways torward that unrelenting, tormenting mermaid, she would catch me and blatantly wave, making my head quickly swivel away like I wasn't really looking. Who was I kidding? Obviously not her. "Can we go now?" I asked Mom hopefully.
"May..." A disapproving, how-often-do-I-have-to-tell-you look.
"May we go now?"
"Whatever for?" wondered Mom. "It's only two-thirty."
"Yeah, you got a dentist appointment or something?" cracked Dad.
"Two-thirty...tooth hurty...get it?" Dad thought he really got off a good one. Did you ever notice when someone laughs at his own cornball humor, especially at your expense, that it's doubly irritating?
I groaned. It was no use. We usually stayed until three-thirty or four then boarded the runabout for the across-the-lake voyage to our rented cottage.
"Why leave so early?" asked Mom again.
"'Cause he's got a girlfriend, hah-hah-hah. Woo-hoo!" gloated one of my brothers as they approached the blanket.
"No, I don't!" I yelled defensively, attracting attention and looks from everyone around us.
"Yessir, and she's right over there!" my other big-mouthed brother said and pointing at a blanket up the beach from us.
Rats! There she was! Horror of horrors, she spotted us looking and walked over. "Hi," she said brightly to my family. "I'm here with my Mom and older sister." She pointed toward their beach blanket. "The other guy over there is my sister's boyfriend. He drove us here from Rockford." Then to me, "You wanna come over and meet them?"
My brothers were choking back laughter, and Dad was also having a hard time keeping a straight face. I wanted to disappear. It was surreal. I just stared vacantly and hoped I wouldn't pee my pants.
Mom said, "Go on, be polite." I could tell she was also holding back something she thought was amusing. It seems I had unwittingly become a "mirth" generator.
I obeyed, following behind like an obedient puppy with a zombie-like walk.Under my breath I promised myself that I'd pound my brothers at first opportunity. Something else also clicked inside me. I was strangely delighted!
Two night later, she, her older sister, and her sister's boyfriend picked me up to accompany them to a drive-in movie, a place I'd never been with a girl. (OMG! I'm going to the passion pit!) The boyfriend's name was Ford, which I remember because he drove a Ford--a convertible.
When we parked, she scooted up next to me and (gasp) grabbed my hand. She smelled good like a--well, like a girl. My hormones were going nuts, and I was frightened witless. Oh, no! An involuntary erection appeared--the blue steel type, the kind you get in the morning before you take a leak. Several years before I had a wet dream, and was so confused I asked Mom about it. She sort of smiled, trying to hide her expression from me, and said something about that's what happens to boys when they get older. That night at the drive-in I was pretty sure what caused them. Oh, and I think I learned about blue balls as well.
She leaned into me. "Why don't you kiss me?" she said turning her face and initiating the contact. All I could think of was: Wow! That felt great!
So there it was--my very first kiss and make-out session. Unfortunately, they all returned to Rockford the following weekend, a full week before we went home--only five days after I met her. I neither saw nor spoke to her again, but the sensation of Lake Hamilton as a five-star romantic location was forever burned within me. Damn, I really missed that cheeky girl for the rest of that summer. The sense of loss gave me my very first experience of dwelling in that empty space left by love. As painful as it was, the pleasure I received was worth the ache.
Ford (sister's boyfriend and the car) brought the Rockford group by our cottage as they were leaving so she could say adieu; mainly, good-bye forever. As they started to back out of the driveway, her Mom said to her, "I'll bet your boyfriend at home will be glad to see you." I knew then she forgot about me as soon as they pulled away. Welcome to reality. Welcome to life. On the other hand, she cheated on her beau with--ME!
Within me yet today is the memory of her last look. I'll never forget her. I bet she broke a few hearts.
My very last trip to Lake Hamilton and Cold Springs Resort was a few years ago with Mom and Dad. Although the lake was still sparkling and pristine, the character and the nature of its surroundings changed significantly. Gone were the charming little summer cottages replaced by expensive year-round homes. Speedboats must have been banned because the only watercraft visible were those cruising slowly and quietly on pontoons or those with sails pushed by whispered breezes. The dance hall was still there, a monument to foregone, glory years as a booking for the big bands. I could visualize well-dressed, excited, young men and women smiling, laughing, and going back-and-forth from the hall to the shore perhaps sharing a kiss, and planning a future. I noticed Dad looking at the dance hall wistfully as if watching a scene out of the long-ago, still hearing the music, still holding Mom closely as they danced--a haunting shadow from the past.
A poster on the outside of the dance hall advertised some local punk-rock band would be there "this weekend only". I could see the new version of the human race attending: slovenly, smelly, sweating youths, tattooed and pierced, talking loudly and profanely; going to the shore to "hook up".
The beach and nearby hotel were still there, but in slightly rundown condition.
I thought of the hotel as a woman. She would be sitting in a dimly lit corner, not at the bar. She'd be too classy for that. She's at a table with a highball and looking proper, but a little out of place. She has a smoky, June Christy voice. Her make-up is impeccable, her dress is old, but striking, and she is still beautiful, but past her prime. May I buy you something to drink, I say. She replies, I never drink with strangers, but though I don't know your name, I remember your smile as a boy. So, please sit down. I'd enjoy something cool.
The bathhouse hadn't seen a coat of paint for a few years. For a moment, I was sorry we made the trip, which we did for the benefit of Mom. She was seven years into Alzheimer's disease, and we hoped the visit would provoke a spark of recognition and a pleasant memory or two. It didn't; or if it did, she gave no sign. If the somewhat abandoned condition of Cold Springs put a damper on my memories, it must have done so by an order of magnitude for Dad. What we hoped would transport us back to younger, happier days for just a little while instead reminded us that we were aging, cracking, and decaying; growing ever closer to lonliness and the biological reality that is the fate of all livng organisms.
As we turned to leave, a sudden, balmy, perfumed, familiar breeze came from the lake and filed our lungs. Surrender... Mom's eyes brightened, and she smiled widely looking at Dad with love. The magic was still there.
Copyright by Gene Myers author of AFTER HOURS: Adventures of an International Businessman http:/www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/AfterHours.html Also available from www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com and www.borders.com
NEW! SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE, PublishAmerica (August 2010)
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