Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Lake

When i was a kid my family started spending many of our summer weekends at a place called Barton Lake in Indiana. When we first started going there i was pretty young, maybe 9 or 10, and we shared a place that my grandpa bought. I basically learned how to swim there, and spent many of my weekends at the Barton Lake beach (there used to be a diving board when i was young).

For the first couple of years, trips to the lake were mostly about fishing and swimming and eating (i was physically incapable of putting on weight when i was young, and i would routinely start my day with 3 or 4 donuts). But after a few summers, my family got our own place at the lake, and my sister and i had become part of the local group of summer youth. By the beginning of high school, we spent a lot of our time not only swimming, but going to movies, hanging out a various local spots, and sitting around fire rings at night.

My sister dated one of the guys in the group, and several other relationships formed and failed. For my part i had a desperate crush on a young lady named Chris for a few summers, but i was too shy to do much about it. This circle of friends included some of the year-round inhabitants, but most of us were there on summer weekends only (including my first cousins, my father's sisters kids). It's amazing to me on reflection how, in that pre-Internet, pre-cell phone era, we managed to stay friends for several summers, and we'd all manage to gather up and hang out, weekend after weekend, summer after summer.

I was on the younger end of the group, and by the time my older sister's class had graduated from high school, my family had basically stopped going. Several years ago, my parents bought a new place and started going back. I've been back a couple of times with my kids, including this last couple of weeks. Of course, my kids aren't there enough to become part of the community. Being there is a strange, slightly melancholy experience for me now. It has changed so little, there really isn't much of the joy that i found in the place decades ago. I don't think that's just because i'm old, but rather it's because it was the people who made the place special to me.

I learned to drive a stick-shift at the the lake. I recall celebrating my father's 40th birthday there, which makes me feel even older than i am. I remember good times with my grandpa and my uncle Don, both of whom passed away long ago. I still repeat the jokes that our friend Carol would tell (whenever she saw a "Stop Ahead" sign, she'd reach over and grab the head of the nearest passenger). We once hid out in the basement of the lake's proprietors during a particularly threatening tornado warning. I had a small sail boat for a while, fished from a canoe, and "cured" the case of poison oak i got in the 8th grade by swimming from our dock (that's my hypothesis anyway). Actually, i recall this aspect of my life far better than i remember high school though they were roughly coincident.

Despite the lingering memories, my lake years didn't have much real effect on my life. Except for my own family, i haven't seen any of my lake friends in almost 30 years. I didn't develop any life-long affection for swimming, fishing, or boating; and i don't have any similar weekend place that my family visits. Maybe memories are the best we can expect from our past.

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