The crickets were so loud, I was certain, the boogie man could be right upon me before I’d know it. Still, the warmth and brightness of the campfire and my brother close by, made it hard to worry. I couldn’t camp out with all the other kids by the lake unless one of my older brother’s was with me. Mark and Eric were too much older and Chad’s friends too different, my brother Adam, too young, so usually it was my brother Cort. My mother never cut the grass, much to our neighbor’s dismay, so our lawn was the best on the lake to camp on. A rural vibe and more cushion for our beds. Even as I write this, I can smell the tallgrass, hyssop and selfheal that grew there. If I focus but a little, the head of a buttercup can be felt at the tip of my finger.
By nightfall, though, it was all warm glow and the smell of roasting marshmallows. I hardly remember what we spoke about all those summer nights. Yes, some ghost stories, but mostly we just goofed off. We had an old transister radio and in the early 70’s Three Dog Night’s, Shambala was hugely popular. I’m pretty sure I didn’t sing any better then, than now, but I certainly sang with heart. You could see the Milky Way then, as the world hadn’t turned on all its lights. I remember the first time I saw a satellite crossing the midnight sky. I didn’t know what it was and for hours we talked about space aliens and invasions. Someone kept singing the theme song to the Jetsons.
Our house was up on a hill and a wood separated it from the lake. My mother would hoot down to us to check in on how we were doing. Again, much to the chagrin of our neighbors who preferred well-manicured lawns and quiet, cordial discussion, sans hooting. She grew up on a farm. It was as natural to her as breathing and we could be a half mile off and know that sound. It was a comforting sound that brought a smile to your face. She never hooted like that out of anger. She only called this way when she was looking for you out of love.
I was often the only girl by the fire, thus the reason for my brother’s chaperone. The boys were honorable though. When I had to go to the bathroom they all kept their distance. They knew I was afraid of the dark and wouldn’t wonder far at all into the wood. I don’t remember wearing bug repellent, and yet, even by the lake I don’t remember being bit to death by mosquitos. Or it’s a testament to how easily we actually do forget momentary pain. Or maybe it was all the bats that flew throughout the night above our heads or the big sunnies, leaping into the air to catch them from the lake. I’m sure the frogs that sang to each other played their part.
When I feel empty or alone I need only travel a short distance in my mind to realize I am neither. I am so full of life and bounty it is a wonder I have any more room for anything new. Life inside me teems with children catching fireflies, boys wrestling down the side of a hill, the smell of fresh lake fish roasting in a pit, or a comic book shared by firelight. A billion lights could be turned on across the planet and still the iridescent beauty of a starry night lives on in me. I have lost nothing. I am a hoarder of beauty and innocence.
Dedicated to my friend, John Wilder, whose photograph of his east Texas cabin triggered a thousand memories of life within me. Thank you, my friend, for the unintended sojourn.
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