I had recently turned 15 & discovered the four letter word: ‘BOYS’. I was spending the summer at the cottage with my oldest sister, Alice and her ‘Fabulous Five’, my younger nieces and nephews. I admit I sure didn’t think of them as fabulous kids then, but they’ve earned that name ever since the day I am writing about. Iris, the oldest daughter & I were close in age and her and I were more like sisters. As the youngest of four daughters, I never had to deal with siblings & sharing ‘EVERYTHING’. Staying with my sister & family, venturing out of my sheltered life, broadened my outlook and helped mold me into the independent person I am. The day started badly. We were up and dressed, ready to head for the beach when my sis lowered the boom! “You girls aren’t going anywhere! Can’t you see it’s pouring out?” We tried to argue that it was just a little bit of rain while we watched it streaming down the windows. “I don’t believe this,” I complained. “A whole day ruined. We’re stuck here in our room! Do you think it’ll rain for long?” Iris shrugged. “How should I know, Lane! But you do owe the bank $75.00 for taxes.” We were on the bottom bunk playing Monopoly for the umpteenth time. My brother-in-law, George, had gotten us our 1st jobs at the concession on the main beach. Every morning we hiked the zig-zag trail along the lake to our new jobs. It was a ‘fun in the sun’ place to be. Families were relaxed and generous with tips. Lifeguards were awesome & we could have all the food & shakes we wanted. Of course we only worked during peak periods & when weather permitted. So on this miserable day, we did what teenage girls do when things don’t go their way. We pouted, called her Mom mean names, (I know, I know. Me of all people–name calling) and we plotted a no fail plan of escape. It wasn’t going to be easy with six extra snoopy eyes waiting to tattle on us. Alice had no worries that morning. She was singing along through a cloud of steam, to her country music, & had every pot on the stove full of something. Potatoes for salad, some kind of vegetable soup and the most humongous pot of stew I’d ever seen! Who does this at the beach? Iris was terrified our friends would drop over and see the production but I told her not to fret. Our friends came over BECAUSE of her Mom’s cooking. Besides, I told her, if they clean up we won’t have to. Fergie would be over for sure. He was the one ‘geeky’ guy in the crowd that hung around us like a puppy. He reminded us of the puppet, Finnigan from the old Mr. Dressup show. He’d willingly do chores for my sister’s cooking & I don’t think he ever got fed at home! Alice liked him because he was so helpful and happy to do it, unlike the rest of us. My sister loved the rain. She loved being out there cooking on a gigantic wood stove. We all had to share the job of carrying wood into the cottage and placing it in a big bin. Honestly, just when I thought I’d gotten away from chores. It made Iris furious because it seemed every time we were showered and dressed to go out, her Mom needed more wood! While the world of shakes, fries, and the coolest guys in the local band hung around practising their songs before their next show, I was waving a $100.00 Monopoly bill in front of my opponent. “Wanna sell Atlantic Avenue?” I had no conscience and cheated without mercy. Iris didn’t seem to notice anyways. I had just placed hotels on Park Place and she landed there & began grumbling. I don’t know why we were torturing ourselves with this game again but it was an excuse to stay in our room away from the little rodents as I called them. (at 15, I was the WORST aunt…ever, I know!) “Pay up, or shut up,” I said holding out my hand. “And stop grumbling! You sound like a….?” Louder came the grumbles & it wasn’t Iris! It was right outside our window! We stared and froze in that order. Then the window rattled, in fact the wall shuddered! I couldn’t tell if the drumming sounds I heard were from the rain or my heartbeat! “Let’s get out of here!” In a scratchy voice, Iris reminded me how we had barricaded ourselves in. Right she was. It had taken a lot of pushing to get a monstrosity of an old oak dresser in front of the door, our only way to keep Robbie, Weezer & little Shann out. They would have jumped on the bed, touched everything, ate our candy stash & wanted to play our game with us. My sister would have made us do it. They had sticky hands & nothing of ours was sacred & I kept asking them to go away because they didn’t smell very good, either. OUCH! Even as I write this now, I wish I could sugar coat it a little but this is my story and they knew me then. LOL! “No chance to move anything now,” I whispered. Instead, we scrambled up to the top bunk just as a dark form blocked the window A black bear peered in at us! “HIDE!” Iris screamed and dove under her quilt. I grabbed the other end. I wanted to be a writer/journalist since I learned how to print but I figured it would never happen because I lived such a safe, boring life on the farm. Iris was going to be Florence Nightingale in some third world country. I knew she was gutsy enough to do it and she had the temper to make sure what she said…got accomplished. I, on the other hand, would fly in with a crew & drop food supplies for her cause & write amazing stories to get her the publicity she’d need and so on. We were always planning together and our goals weren’t as different as we may have thought. Looking back, I realize our common ground was simply to love people, where they’re at and accept them without judgement. That is a learning process for our entire road of life. “What a story I can write after this is over!” I said all pumped with adrenalin. “Oh yeah, take pictures too! Of our bodies!” Iris snarled. Well…I learned: RULE #1: in journalism. Have a pen and paper handy, along with a camera & plenty of film! Remember, we didn’t have cell phones, or even digital cameras. Life WAS rough in those ‘good ole’ days’! We could have sent this to You Tube! But I had zilch! Nadda! My film had all been used, taking pictures of the boys in the band, the lifeguards teaching beginner swimming, Iris and I posing for each other. My youngest nephew, Robbie had used all my paper for his drawings. So, I heard myself say: “It’s raining. Maybe he just wants to play Monopoly with us.” We started laughing hysterically until he slapped his paws on the window pane. I sensed the power in that thrust. He sniffed and snorted noisily leaving smudgy drool on the glass. By now my sister’s favorite (according to Iris) stinky dog, Tonka, was at the door barking and frantically scratching to get in. Tonka was a great shepherd, we just added him to our list of complaints. To us, everything either smelled awful, we disliked it, or it involved some sort of work & interfered with our plans, hair-do’s, clothes or make up. Iris was still under the blanket but I couldn’t take my eyes off that bear. I brushed away tears. I wanted my Dad & I wished I was safe at home. I came to appreciate my home, safe, home, a lot more after that day. Dad would have known exactly what to do. So would my brother-in-law, but he was working in the city. I told Iris if we got out of this alive, she was going to need lots of therapy! Imagine! Wasn’t I just ready for the Little Miss Compassionate Award! But that brought her out swingin’! “Shut up, Lane! Just SHUT UP!” She smacked me a few good ones! She was a hitter. I let her. I deserved that! Mentioning that was my way of getting her back for calling me Skinny Bones. She threatened to tell the guys at the beach my nickname but I would never have won a fight with her. Her brothers didn’t challenge her & one of them is older than her. My sister was banging on the door, wanting to know why we were upsetting the dog! REALLY? Iris was still for some unknown reason, pounding me with her pillow! Three more voices joined in the pandemonium: “Let us in! We wanna see, too!” As the glass shattered, my sister went to call for help. I said some prayers while watching those hairy arms flailing impatiently. First, I told God how sorry I was for cheating in Monopoly. I begged Him not to let the bear get us because I was mean to my nieces & nephews, telling them I didn’t like them. Because I did. I loved them and secretly envied Iris. I always wanted younger brothers & sisters. I didn’t want to grow up alone on the farm. That’s why I stayed with them as much as I could. The good part in this was the small window. The bear was definitely bottom heavy. He was unlike any animal I had seen up close. Not at all like the cute, fuzzy ones on National Geographic. This one was huge and wild, and not scared about being at our cottage! I shook myself. What would my parents want me to do? Our life wasn’t finishing here. I needed to grow up, write better stories and outlive the awful name of Skinny Bones. “We’re not gonna die, you Dummy!” I yelled. “This is an adventure like in my Nancy Drew books! She wouldn’t sit here crying! We gotta get a grip!” I pulled out my bag of candy from under the mattress and tossed a handful at the bear. He tried catching them as they bounced off his head. So much for that idea. Not being able to catch them REALLY ticked him off! He let out a roar that still chills me today. Then, something phenomenal happened. Bear started sniffing around. With pieces of glass stuck in his fur, he wiggled back out of the window. It was my sister’s voice! Calm & clear. I leaned over and there she was. It hit me! Someone should have been saying: “Kids, don’t try this at home!” I grabbed Iris. Tonka was still going nuts in another room. “LOOK!” We watched her Mom set the pot of stew on a flat rock a short distance away from the cottage. Slowly she backed away. Mr. Hungry headed right for it. What a Kodak moment…head down in the pot…butt ugly lookin’ our way. Charming! “Your Mom’s awesome!” I screeched.
Alice always had a way with animals. She had named a deer Charlie & got him to eat crackers from her hand. We thought that was cute but this was out of her league…or not? “But Lane, there’s a bear in our stew.” For once I got to smack her with her own pillow. “I know! I told you someone would want all that food!” Next the Park Rangers were on the scene, aimed & fired a tranquilizer into the big butt facing our way. A few more seconds over went our guest and that lunch was all in his dreams. BINGO! We were off the bed laughing like lunatics and with super strength, moved the dresser aside. “Glass,” I warned the little guys. “Don’t go in there till it gets cleaned up, okay” Little heads nodded in agreement. I grabbed Robbie and gave him a squishy hug, then danced around in a circle with him. He didn’t smell icky at all, just like the rain, but he sure looked at me like I’d lost it. And yes, I had lost something…my selfish attitude. This time I remembered to thank God for helping us. Now what my Mom always said made sense: “Pray without ceasing in times of trouble.” It worked! I couldn’t wait to tell her that. I decided to write her a letter. Awesome! The ranger said he would send someone out to fix our window my sister told us. She sounded a little shaky as she sipped her coffee & told us to make some peanut butter sandwiches. I couldn’t resist. “What? No stew left? Such a loss!” Okay, so I still had some attitude left… This was all in the span of an hour or so…geez. Anyways I glanced outside. “The sun’s coming out!” In all the commotion we hadn’t noticed it had stopped raining! “Still want that shake & fries?” Iris’s huge brown eyes sparkled. She dug out her lip gloss. “Race you there!” I shrugged. She was fine. She didn’t need therapy at all. Her siblings? I saw them differently. They were these little people…in my family…who meant everything to me. They loved me too and wanted to hang around me. I was older & I helped take care of them and they looked up to me. In their eyes I was ‘cool’. I wanted to start living up to that image. I shivered. What if they’d been playing outside? Then I did the math. They weren’t. Because God had sent the rain and made sure we were ALL inside. For the rest of the summer, I decided we were going to keep them closer a lot more. Later, I would figure out how my heart got changed through that experience. Dad and I would do it together. I poked my head into the kitchen. “Hey guys, we’ll be back soon and bring you something good, okay?” Wow! Their faces lit up like little neons! I felt great as I ran to catch up with Iris. “Can you imagine when this story gets around? By the way, let me tell it, okay?” “Not a chance, Skinny Bones!” Iris laughed and pushed me off the trail. “You know I can outrun you!” I followed the sound of her laughter down the path. Iris has the greatest laugh of anyone. Yeah, she could outrun me & I was a darn good runner. I let her go because I now had different priorities because of the four letter word…. I could run like the wind but my hair would be ruined or snagged on a tree branch…not worth it…I had to look good! From all the memories we made together, this one topped the chart for me. Anytime we get talking and need a laugh…reminiscing over the summers at the lake always comes up. I gave Iris a copy of the 1st draft & asked her to critique it. Later when she called me, she couldn’t talk because she was laughing so hard. Finally, she told me I did a great job but didn’t think she was the hero I made her out to be. I told her she was…then…and always will be. She still has that same great laugh. How wonderful for me to have found this story amongst many. Not a single photo from that adventure but the ones that were in the camera came out fine. Iris, with her teased hair, perfect makeup, looked fabulous burying Neil in the sand. She got a picture of me too. Yes, she did! Fergie and I sitting side by side in the bleachers. He had to sit beside me. The look on my face said it all!
Thanks, Iris, part of my Fabulous Five, for being such an important part of my life’s story. Love ‘Skinny Bones’
This story is also a tribute to my sister Alice. I remember her laughter over this story that took us back to simpler times. She loved it & it led to many other happy time events & long talks about us all being at the lake together. She left us suddenly just over a year ago. We miss her so. What I miss most is the sound of her voice & her smile. Like her daughter, she had a great laugh but there was something about her smile that spoke for all her emotions. The one I liked most was her mischievous one that left us wondering what she was really thinking about. That is what I see every time I think about my sister.
To my brother-in-law, George, who made all those wonderful summers at the lake possible for me. I spent so much time at their place in the city, he was almost a 2nd Dad to me during my early teens. He was my 1st employer. He bought my art work and stories and continually encouraged me on. I have kept all of these memories in a treasure box close to my heart. This is Memory Lane sharing just one of the memories…out of the pages of my summers spent at the lake with people I love. Thanks for reading. I’ll be back soon with a few more pages @www.pagesofmymindblog.com