Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student
"I began to wonder what it would be like. I wondered how time would have marred this unique, this holy spot--the coves and streams, the hills that the sun set behind, the camps and the paths behind the camps." E.B. White in "Once More to the Lake"
In my prepubescent years, one week every summer, my mother took my brothers and me to our family cabin in Twain Harte, California. I still recall the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of that cabin. I longed for these familiar sensations, and so when I learned that my mother intended to sell the cabin, I returned last summer for one last vacation. Perhaps I was not really prepared for such a trip.
E.B. White tells of a similar longing for his youthful summer vacations. He writes, "We returned summer after summer--always on August 1 for one month. I have since become a salt-water man, but sometimes in summer there are days when the incessant wind that blows across the afternoon and into the evening makes me wish for the placidity of a lake in the woods."
White notes that "It is strange how much you can remember about places like that once you allow your mind to return into the grooves that lead back. You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing."
The birds are singing cheerfully. We gather together, as usual, at sunrise to peer though our cabin's windows to spy any deer bold enough to approach for food. This morning Ricky and Kenny and I arose especially early to catch a glimpse of deer drawn to their expected treat. Last night, after dinner, we tore dinner bread, as usual, into tiny morsels and parceled it out around the rim of our fountain in front of our cabin to entice the wild deer for breakfast. Inevitably, we view two or three deer tiptoeing, tentatively, without a sound, from out of the safety of the woods into the openness of our driveway and down to the fountain.
On my most recent trip, waking early to await the deer seemed futile, as much had changed. Many cabins now stood where there once was thick forest, and constant noise came from a lot nearby as another cabin's foundation was poured and the surrounding trees were chopped down. No deer approached, and I surmised that the deer had evacuated the mountain in search of a less-developed area.
As a child, early morning deer sightings revved up all of our appetites. The excitement brought on by our anticipation made each mouthful glorious.
"The hot cocoa and toast and jam are just the beginning," I know. "Thanks for the bacon, mom. I sure love the feeling of maple syrup gliding down my throat after each mouthful of pancake."
After my first night at the cabin, I arose, made breakfast, and began to eat. The smells of yesteryear's pancakes, maple syrup, and the bacon took me back, but nothing was the same. The flavor of the bacon was not as full, the syrup not as sweet. Meals can be recreated, but ambiance cannot. Missing are my youth and my family.
Is it now, or is it then?
Some moments I wish I could step back into and relive. I miss my youth.
E.B. White fishes with his son at his vacation spot. He states, "There had been no years between the ducking of this dragonfly and the other one--the one that was part of memory. I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching. I felt dizzy and didn't know which rod I was at the end of."
The threads of my childhood wove in and out of each vacation day. Walking the road to the lake, I closed my eyes. I am ten years old. I smell the pine trees. I've been swimming in Lake Twain Harte all day and now my mother is calling for me from across the lake, waving her arms.
My brothers, who long ago migrated to Los Angeles, are missing from the cabin now, and their absence jars me out of my reverie.
Where are the commotion and confusion now? Ricky, my older brother, frequently lost lizards inside the cabin which inevitably roused my mother from her afternoon siesta. Kenny, my younger brother, was always outside; too many small, furry animals to see; not enough vacation time.
I smell the coconut suntan lotion on my arms and feel the weight of the sun's burning rays on my back. Tonight, mom will wash me down in the cool ointment she always uses for my nasty sun burns. She'll have to layer it over the chalky calamine lotion she used this morning for my itchy mosquito bites. Where is my mother? She is fixing lunch. Good. I'm hungry, but I'm too busy exploring the woods to be bothered.
Today I have to fix my own lunch. Peanut butter and jelly used to be the special of the day. Today it's lean turkey breast, a slice of tomato and lettuce, on rye.
Then there are the repairs. I noticed last night that the feet on the bathtub groaned when I slipped in to cool my sunburn; they must have come loose over time. The door separating the bar and the kitchen squeaked when I went to have my evening glass of wine. I'm prepared this time; when packing for this visit, I considered the time that had passed since my last visit and filled a small tool box. As I look down the driveway to the fountain, I wonder if my mother perceived this view of the cabin the way I do now: stepping stones leading down to the fountain are missing. There's more: shingles need replacing, the drain pipe needs patching and adjusting.
"Your uncle Lloyd brought in this floor from the foyer of Bank America in San Francisco. He worked for A. P. Gianini when he was young, and A. P. tried to match him up with his daughter." Mom referred us to the floor in our kitchen as we finished another of our family dinners. "And these mounted deer heads are the trophies of your great-uncles, Elmo and Harry."
"Here we go again," Ricky said, nudging me under the table with his elbow.
"Pay attention and stop nudging your sister! Some day you kids will want to know about your family, and you will be calling me up with all sorts of questions, and I'll remind you of these conversations we have every evening. So be quiet and listen!"
At the end of my last evening supper at the table in the kitchen, I reflected and reminisced. Mom was right. The stories she shared with us year after year have taken on a new importance. "Who made these old drapes? They must be sixty years old. This kitchen table is the most massive picnic table ever built; who built it and how did it ever pass through these small log doorways? Who designed this cabin? Who took all the photographs?"
Looking down at the floor in the kitchen now conjures up a million other questions about my Uncle Lloyd and the romances of his youth. I also wonder if my mother, as a young girl, enjoyed her vacations here as much as I did. Did she feel the same heat of the afternoon sun? Did she squirm as her mother bathed her in calamine lotion at the close of each evening too? Did she notice the end of her youth as I, oh God . . . Am I my mother?