Clippings by Trent Campbell: Searching for a slice of summer

The aluminum skin of our little boat is leeching the coolness of the lake water into my back and into the soles of my feet. It feels good. I look up and can make out, at the edge of my vision, my mom, my sister and my brother. But mostly I see sky. End-of-the-day sky. Not much blue remains. It holds no clouds. No early evening stars. No moon. It is full of nothing, nothing to hold my gaze, yet hold it does. My eight-year-old mind doesn’t wonder how or why. I just stare.
I sit up and peer over the boat’s gunwale. We are floating 50 yards off shore, straight out from our cabin. I can barely make out the logs, the stone chimney and the screen porch through the cloud that hangs like a dream around the cabin. But it is not a dream. It’s poison. For mosquitos. My dad is the only one on shore, spray gun in his hand, bandana tied around his mouth and nose. Will that really protect him, I wonder. I see the same wonder in my mom’s eyes. And how long will that cloud work? Will it kill the mosquitos for the week? A month? The cloud is so thick that I think maybe forever.
I wonder too how long I have to stay out in the boat, waiting. I look again at my mom. Is she worried, or mad? I think about how my brother and I tricked her earlier in the day. She was cleaning in the kitchen but had her soap opera on in the other room. Todd and I changed the channel to watch “Dark Shadows,” a show we tried to catch even on beautiful days at the cabin. My mom barked at us to turn the channel back.
“You aren’t even watching,” Todd and I said.
“I’m listening.”
We turned it back to “Days of Our Lives,” but then after a minute we slowly began to turn the volume all the way down. She didn’t notice. Minutes went by and Todd and I held our mouths and bellies.
“You aren’t listening either,” we finally spit out.
My mom sent us outside where we belonged.
I smile at my mom and then I lie back down on the bottom of the boat. I stretch my legs up and hook my heels over the gunwale. My legs are tired. As an eight-year-old I don’t know from tired legs, but they do ache a little. That morning we rode our bikes down the windy, dirt road from our cabin to the three-mile paved straightaway that connects to highway 53. I didn’t want to make the trek. Three miles? Always looked like infinity to me. An old barn on the left marked the halfway point. Days seemed to pass until finally we saw the rush of highway traffic up ahead. On the left was the Three Lakes Inn.
The Inn wasn’t really an inn. It was the home of Ole and Agee Roberg. They had gas pumps out front and a little lunch/coffee counter inside. Also penny candy in a glass case. Ole would patiently get for you what you pointed to. Bazooka Joe. Bit ’O Honey. Sugar Daddy. “Good choice,” he would say no matter what you asked for.
My gaze turns back to the sky. It is as still as can be. I think about the chipmunks that come around the cabin looking for peanuts and I hope they avoid the cloud. I think about how many hours each day I can spend in my bathing suit. I think about the promise my mom made about making a blueberry/raspberry pie as long as my brother and sister and I find that spot in the woods where the wild berries grow. I think about bike rides in the woods and walks on the beach. I think about smoke from the grill and screen doors slamming and dragonflies. And I think about that big, old sky. It is everything and nothing. It is summer.
Forty-odd years later it gets harder and harder to glimpse that particular early evening summer sky. If I was still eight I could see it every day but now summers seem just as busy as the other seasons. Always over-scheduled. Too rushed. We sat down at my house recently with a calendar and after we finished filling it in with camps and trips and preseason sports and obligations I announced that summer was already over. Cancelled. But I know that sky is out there. I saw it last summer. I was floating on my back in Lake Dunmore. It was there, the same one. Filled with promise.

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