Travel is wonderful. I get to see other cultures, other climates, meet people. What a revelation to discover that the sun shines in winter and the air is warm.....in other places outside my home town in the snowbelt. To excape the cold and damp, just hop a plane.
My travel memories from childhood are two-fold: The ones that include my mother and the ones that were exclusively with my father.
Before He was married, my father had a cottage south of Buffalo New York . He married my mother and had two daughters. We would spend the summer at the lake. This was heaven to two little girls who lived in their bathing suits all summer. I asked my aunt,"How old was I when I learned to swim?" She said I about three. As soon as the sun came up, I would put on my bathing suit and head for the water. It was shallow at the shore. I could go into the water, or just explore the shore. We had a shale beach. It was my Dad who showed me that the shale contained fossils...little shells from pre-history. I turned over rocks, like I turned over coal in the coal bin, looking for fossils. Some of the fossils came free from their matrix. I saved them in a Box. I could also make marks with the shale, scratching one piece with another piece. The beach was my drawing board.
My mother never swam. I never saw her in a bathing suit, ever. It was my father that took me to the shore, showed me how to hold my breath, told me my lungs were like a balloon. As long as I held air in my lungs, I would always come to the surface. My first swimming lesson was learning to float and to hold air in my lungs. I would take a big breath and hold it. I relaxed in the water, sometimes closing my eyes. My legs would drift downward, but my head was always above water. The sun was warm on my face. I could turn over, float face down and still stay at the top of the water. Any time I needed air, I just turned over. It was like flying...no effort at all. Water never held fear for me. Later I learn to flail away with arms and legs and make myself move through the water. I would lie at water's edge, let the waves come in and move me back and forth. If too much sand got into my suit, I would rinse off in deeper water. If I had to pee....... who needs to go home to go to the bathroom?
There was a farmer who came through the vacation colony with produce on his truck. We bought corn that was fresh picked that morning. If my Dad was working at the Police Department, Mom and her daughters would make a feast of corn. She would spread newspapers over the kitchen table. In the center, sat a one pound bar of butter and the salt shaker.
When the corn was done, it was placed on the newspaper. (Mom had shucked the corn before cooking). Sometimes, there would be a worm at the top of the ear...a sure sign the corn was grown organic. We just cut the worm off. We would pick up an ear and roll it over the bar of butter, then salt it. We had corn, butter and salt all over our faces and between our teeth. It was the best tasting corn I've ever eaten. That experience has never been repeated. I am now too inhibited to make a messy face and get the spaces between my teeth filled with corn.. When We were done, Mom would roll up the corn cobs and drippings into the newspaper and throw it all away...no dishes to wash. Just children's faces to wash. I've tried buying corn at the grocery store or at a farmer's market. It's not the same. I can't tell if the corn has changed (it has) or if my taste buds have changed (they have.) As an adult, I've developed an allergy to corn. Bummer.
About the fourth of July, We would buy a whole watermelen. The two of us would be given slices of watermelen and told to go outside. We ate watermelen and spit the seeds out anywhere. We walked around with pink dribbles on our stomachs. The teenagers next door had another trick with watermelen. They would cut a small circle out of the top of the melen...or several curcles. I watched as they poured gin or rum into the circles, then replace the plugs. They would keep doing that until they run out of rum . Then they sliced their watermelen and ate it. I never got any.
Dad's cottage was in a colony that ran between the water's edge and the colony road. It was almost like being fenced in. I could wander everywhere. They let me. I wandered in my neighbor's houses. They tolerated this. I can draw you the floor plans of my neighbor's cottages. You can learn a lot about how other people live by being a tot wandering in. Today, nobody visits without an arranged appointment.
One day, I wandered the farthest. There were tiger lilies at the side of the road...orange with dots of black at their throats. Across the road, I saw people picking strawberries. It was a beautiful day in June. To my four year old mind, these people had the best job in the world..out in the sun, picking strawberries warm from the sun. I suddenly knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. (I must have been asked that question by a kind grown up.) I ran home shouting to Mom and Dad," Momma, I know what I want to be when I grow up." What is that? "I want to be a berry picker." ( A Migrant Worker)
I don't think my mother enjoyed summer at the beach. She complained a lot about the work. She canned tomatoes and peaches, I remember. She had a long time friend who ran a bar with her husband. Mom and Dad would visit. My sister and I would get a big mug of root beer and a wonderful sandwich: roast beef on kimmelwick. The salt was strong enough to cauterize the roof of my mouth. I loved them. To this day, they're the best sandwhich.
When I was smaller before the root beer experience, my mother canned peaches and visited her girlfriend at the bar. My sister wasn't born yet, so I had to be under two years of age. Mom left me in the back seat. On the floor , was those golden canned peaches....looking at me through their glass jar. I wanted some of those peaches. I picked and picked, trying to open a jar. I don't know how it happened, but the jars broke. When my mother returned, she found her 2 year old eating peaches on the car's back seat, picking out peaches between shards of broken glass.
I remember things from before I could talk. I remember my diaper was uncomfortable. I squirmed and could not get comfortable. My mother was trying to feed me. I just cried. My father came to see what was the matter. My mother said, "I don't know what's the matter with her." He suggested that perhaps my diaper needed to be changed. He was right. I understood everything about my parent's conversation, but could not talk to them. I got my diaper changed and rewarded my parents with a smile and a much better disposition.
On another day, I woke from a nap in my carriage. My mother saw the carriage jiggle with the baby's movements and came to pick me up. All is right with the world.
Mom and Dad loved the fourth of July. We would go to where the fireworks were. My sister and I would sit on the hood of the car and watch the fireworks. We ate the traditional hot dogs, soda , potato salad and ice cream on a stick. The fireworks were so loud, that I was temporarily deaf, I thought. I couldn't hear very well . I learned in elementary school, that nature has a protective device for our ears, protecting them from damage from loud noises. Two bones disengage, dampening the sound. That's why I couldn't hear well during the fireworks. When the loud noises are gone, the bones in the middle ear make contact again. Hearing restored.
I was put to bed before the sun went down. I had a crib. My sister was born. She had her own crib. My crib was against the window. I wasn't sleepy. I could play in my crib, watching the sun go down, listening to the lap, lap, lap of the waves. It was a quiet colony....no loud lawnmowers or boom boxes in those days. What a wonderful memory of going to sleep with those sensory experiences: the sound of waves, the fire in the sky, dipping to the horizon. There was an even better sensory experience: Across the bay was the end of a rail line, associated with the steel smelting industry. I would watch from my crib as a coal car would reach the end of the line across the bay. The car would tip out hot cinders left from steel smelting. They would pour into the bay. It was a river of flame dumped into the water. .hot cinders....my own private volcano experience...just like you see on TV. Years later, as a Safety Engineer, I discussed this experience with my college professor. I felt the steel industry was polluting the water...was it? The answer was no. All the metal was smelted out. Only the tailings were discarded...just cinders. No harm done.
Most of my experiences at the lake are centered around my mother, for my father was working back in the city. Such wonderful memories because it was always summer. I remember sitting on a blanket as a baby. I had on a baby bonnet. For some reason, I became attached to it, like children do sometimes. I became attached to the bonnet, to a pacifier made from mother of pearl. I fell in love with a tree in our front yard....figure that one out. I outgrew the bonnet and pacifier, but never forgot my attachment to them. The tree is still there.
We had a furious summer rainstorm with lightning. Sometimes it hailed. My mother bid me come to the front door, which was opened. The screen door was between me and the rain. Mom said how exciting to see the nature display. All that thunder ment the angels were bowling. The lightning ment a strike. When ever it rains hard, I go to the door or window to enjoy the show, remember the bowling league in the sky. I was never afraid of thunder or lightning. Later Dad told me about electrical charges and how to judge how far away the lightning was. After the storm, I would go outside and look at the worms that came out of the ground to not drown. Sometimes, I went outside in the rain in my bathing suit.
Dad loved boats. We always had a boat. Not a big boat, just an outboard motor attached to a boat less than 20 feet in length. Dad would take the two daughters out on the boat. Mom never went. I watched him maintain the boat, learned about the Devil Line, hemp, Kapoc. I mostly remember the smell of oil and gasoline and the mildew smell of the life preservers.
One time, Dad has a canoe. He put his daughters in the canoe but He did not get in himself. We were in water no deeper than waist height. Dad watched to see what We would do in a canoe by ourselves. We started to drift away from our father. We were scared the situation was getting out of control. Where did We think We would go, with out father less than 10 feet from us? Probably down the river and over the falls. Crying brought a conclusion to the canoe experience.
One summer night, in my crib again, I felt the center of my mattress slump. I tried to avoid the low spot, moving to the side or to the top of the mattress. It was no use. the center of my bed slumped lower and lower. It broke out in the middle. I could not find a comfortable spot to sleep in. I was found in this predicament the following morning. Apparently, I wasn't the first baby to use this crib and mattress. It got peed on so many times, it rotted out, fell apart. That day, my parents went shopping and I was moved to my first real bed...a twin bed of my own.
Those were wonderful summers, filled with falling asleep in a hamock in our front yard, climbing the neighbor's cherry tree, picking blackberries and eating them right away (no washing ) spying a wood pecker, enjoying the endless parade of visitors that came to the cottage, as my parent's friends had no cottage of their own. (We were city people.) I was a dirty child in a bathing suit, sunburned nose, no shoes on, spending a dime at the hot dog stand for a creamcycle or bottle of pop. How glorious.