Childish things

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, July 04, 2007 |

Days later you still find single grains of sand in your hair, even more inside a piece of paper that had been folded in your shorts pocket now unfolded, not so unlike the smell of a campfire in a coat you go to wear days after returning from the woods. I love the smell of old sunblock on Juniper's belly, the cold discomfort of water milfoil and clay at the shallow bottom of an inland lake, the sight of discovered mollusks drying on a dock. I love the inefficient plodding of paddle-boats, and the more slippery social coordination of propelling a canoe. I love the sunburned patterns of sandals on feet. I even love the mosquitoes I smack dead on my daughter, and the screens on our windows that keep them at bay, the itchy bites earned at the lake nearly gone now and the swimsuits pulled from plastic bags hanging dry on the railing downstairs near the dirty laundry.

Every weekend we seem to head to the water; last Friday we visited some rather-distant relatives of my wife who own a cottage on a large lake a few miles down the road from where my mother grew up, leading me to wonder if people who own cottages on lovely lakes are more likely to get to know their distant relatives on summer days than those who don't, in the same way the guy in college who owned a pickup truck seemed to discover so many good friends around moving day. When we arrived, I nodded hellos and shook hands and headed straight for the water. The kid and the dog followed after showing even poorer manners, leaving it to Wood to figure out who was Aunt Edna that was once married to what cousin of her dad, etc. These were lovely people, but the water felt warmer than the air, and if you threw a stick off the end of the dock, Wendell would jump off like a canine Carl Lewis to swim after it. I figured the relatives would derive some satisfaction from seeing us have so much fun. Wood said our hosts had married into the Fords and were as rich as Croesus, which I don't think is true, though they did have a jet ski and a vintage Chris-Craft and a sailboat and a pontoon boat. Despite that fleet moored to their dock, their simple cottage was not so different from the one where I used to visit my grandparents in the summer.

I catch myself trying to give her the same experiences I had as a kid, as if molding her that way will somehow allow me to outlive myself. This is both absurd and unfair to her, I know, but I still catch myself doing it every once and awhile. It is part of the false conviction I had about moving back to Michigan, certain that allowing her to grow up in San Francisco would have distanced her too much from us, her parents, provincial hicks, as if the inevitable distancing could ever be thwarted by a return to the Midwest, as if I hadn't pulled and pulled against my own parents until I broke free. But as far as I ran, this was always home. Far away, I found myself longing for the things that no one who didn't grow up here would miss: the squishiness of lakebottom in your toes; fireflies in summer; U-pick blueberries; the snugness of a lifejacket on a slow pontoon boat. Through Juniper's joy in experiencing it, all that stuff that seemed so old is new again. Like sparklers. I haven't lit a sparkler in twenty years; tonight we will light fistfuls and chase fireflies.

I try to tell myself this is all for her, but really it is just as much for me. And yet if I do this right, someday it might have a pull that will always bring her back to us.