CAMP MURMUR II
Gallivanting through the campground with my prized Christmas ice skates slung around my neck seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do. We four kids were allowed to bring only one treasure apiece to the camp ground.
“Dette, come help me lift the water back to our camp,” my mother called out as I passed by her standing at the communal spigot where everyone got their daily water.
She was always calling me Dette, even though she was the one who had named me Bernadette after her own maternal Grandmother she had adored. I never used to mind it at all, mostly her pet names made me feel special but these days I was hating pretty much everything equally. I ignored her for a few more strides.
“Bernadette! Are you ignoring me?”
Never could get one past our mother. I went and grabbed the second handle on the big collapsible water jug. Mom had filled it at the tap and stood there, her laceless canvas sneakers all soaked and ready to retire.
“Why don’t you put those skates away and go play with the other kids once we get this water back?” Mom asked.
“Somebody might steal them,” I said, carrying them with my free hand so the blades wouldn’t hit the ground because I didn’t have any skate guards. My navy blue canvas sneakers didn’t show the wear mom’s white ones did but my laces were getting quite dingy looking.
“Love a duck, Dette, who in God’s green earth would want to steal a pair of ice skates in the dead of summer.”
It wasn’t a real question. It was the way Mom said a lot of things that put a lid on the situation as smartly as if she’d thought it all out. Still, I wouldn’t leave the skates in the car like her and Dad told me to every time they saw me. Mom was sweating and puffing as though she’d run a marathon. But then, that’s how I mostly remember her from that summer.
Fitting all six of us into the station wagon with all our camping gear was a challenge alright. Us in our sandy wet shoes, bedding down nightly in grass fragranced sleeping bags, savouring fire-charred wieners and daylily friendships that bloom in morning light only to wither by sundown.
Every night Dad strummed us to the stars his idol, Hank Snow, reached not long before him, with my twin older brothers’ breaking voices harmonizing along whenever their moods were lighter. We kids grew up on country music and some rock but the truth is when you grow up on music, it doesn’t matter what kind it is. You develop an ear for good song as though it was a natural part of you and really, it is.
Every second day my Mom, my little sister and me trudged together down the hill with our towels, shampoo and Jergens soap in hand to the mildewed shower house. Mom would lead the song and Sissy joined in, “You ain’t woman enough to take my man… no, you ain’t woman enough to take my man…” or “Our D I V O R C E becomes final today… “No matter what country song they sang, they laughed so hard at the end as though they’d just performed onstage together.
Silent through-out, I just wanted to get it over with, get into my pyjamas and go back to our camp to sleep, hoping we’d wake up with a real bathroom again.
That first day in the showers was something with my sister who was spouting pure as the clear water about the row of cubicles as if we’d won a lottery: “Hey! This is fun! We can talk to each other while we shower!”
Behind that, bewildered quiet was all I heard from my little sister’s stall when we stood there side by side that first night soaping ourselves and washing our hair, separated only by grotty painted plywood, the yellow layer peeling off to reveal old, wet wood. I had hollered her shut: who cares, just shutup, wouldja, shutup, shutup, shutup!
I never said it again. I never said anything about the showers or their singing again. Letting them sing their hearts out and letting her six-year-old baby babble course over me along with the warm water every time we needed a shower again, somehow, made everything feel better.
Our parents claim that some kids hadn’t a crust of bread between them fast lost ground. We stopped complaining of missing our friends and Sunday pot roast in the few short weeks it took my father’s whiskers to become a beard.
I watched my brothers arms curl around their plates of beans, the aroma of grilling steak tormenting us, their spoons shoveling like prisoners in the movies. They swam in the lake and re-read faded comic books and even helped us stage plays or talent shows in the sheltered picnic platform by the lake. Mostly, they were sullen, quiet as their Beatles albums and record player, the treasures they each chose to bring.
My penchant for studying was never quelled. I missed being in my grade five class and wondered what school would be like for me in grade six. I studied the lake often, equally dreading and dreaming of the surface icing over.
Morrison Lake was considered the best place to go camping, one of the biggest lakes up in the Muskoka region of Ontario. All I could think about was getting away from it and all the people keeping me fastened to the shores.
Envious of the cabin people, I wanted us to have one of those, we could live there year-round just fine but it wasn’t to be. The sun burned my skin, the shore lapping water taunted me and the moments between fretting forward were so pronounced, I did not yet know the startling clarity with which I would recall it all when I grew older, even the transparent lake waterbugs my brothers both said were actually larvae waiting to become dragonflies.
Newcomers revived us all, some joining our father to play guitar around the campfire while we all sang loud and playful, our Mom carefree on summer vacation like all the other mothers laughing boisterously about the challenges of running “make-do households.”
Some of my time was spent befriending girls with bikes who made me believe myself when I said I, too, loved camping so much, I could camp forever and never go home. My brothers teamed up with new pals to play volleyball or lounged on the dock to drool over bikinied girls or shiny boats.
What changed everything for all of us was seeing those same friendly faces alter when they took another look at us. And our campsite, erected since May with school soon starting again. The awkwardness suspended every single one of us in the unfair breath of life; even those free to return home to a life they no longer wished to share with us.
This collective breath-holding always happened just as though God ordered it up for us all, a long held breath where I felt sick to my stomach. Mostly I feared the new people clamming up, taking away all the hope they’d given us, right along with them back to their safe, cozy houses with soft beds, lemon-scented polish and frilly white curtains.
Then, like every time before, we would all suddenly be frozen in place save for the breath we finally knew we were safe to take upon hearing the solitary voice of an angel.
The angelic voice staved off every murmur in the stiff, uncertain air. My little sisters face was solemn and steady against the flickering firelight, her one doll safely in hand while she piped up, showing the way, uniting us all in laughter night after night by announcing with a genuine pride no one dared argue: “this is our real house.”
© Aurora Morealist