This is the first appearance of Amy Bloom in the BASS anthology. We’ll catch up with her again in 1992 and 2000.
I really enjoyed this story. It’s one of those that takes you someplace comfortable – not necessarily through the story itself – the characters or plot – but Amy paints a few scenes that are very familiar to me and by doing so creates a special relationship between the created “environment” and me.
I’ll warn you now – this post is not at all about the story – or Amy – so if you’d like to hit that X and make this all disappear…DO IT NOW.
I believe that I am part of a fortunate group of people that grew up being able to spend summers away from home along or next to a body of water.
In this story, a majority of the action takes place during summer vacations at a cabin next to a lake.
I spent many weeks of my summer with my father, sister on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River in Maryland. Here’s a Bing maps picture of it.
From what I recall, we made our first trip there in the summer of 1982.
It was a warm extra-dark damp evening and we went to the island for a graduation party thrown by a student of my father’s. The hosts of the party owned the island and the wife of the couple was the new holder of a master’s degree in art therapy.
A flat bottom rowboat piloted by the daughter in the family came to pick us up on the mainland. My dad was pretty excited – ready to get his drink on.
It was already dark and right around the time for us to get to bed once we made it to the other side and prepared our bunks. I remember falling asleep and waking up a short time later pretty disoriented and asking for my father. Apparently, he had gone over to a liquor store on the mainland to buy some booze.
I remember crying and being consoled by strangers. Eventually, he returned and we hugged it out and I calmed down.
The cabin was built around 1901 as a hunting and fishing lodge. It survived floods and hurricanes. There was another bunkhouse on the island but it washed away after the Conowingo Dam opened its floodgates during hurricane Camille
The cabin was furnished with old sofas, weird easy chairs and makeshift bunks. It was damp, moldy and musty. If you had to pee during the night, you could go off the side porch – or walk around the exterior porch to the bathroom. For a 10-year-old kid – it was spooky and you were better off risking a burst bladder than walking out there with the snakes and other wildlife that would surely kill you.
The insects were roared at night and the birds made sure you woke with the sun.
That visit in 1982 was the first of many – spanning through my school years, through college, after college, my return from Europe and later enjoyed – for a period of time - by my new wife.
The mornings were cool under the shade of the tall trees but by noon, the mid-Atlantic humidity settled in and relief could be found in the river. The river was freshwater and had plenty of bass, catfish and sunfish to be caught.
Extended stays during summer vacations found us spending up to 2 weeks on the island with my father leaving my sister and me alone there when he had to drive up to Philadelphia to teach a class.
She and I would fight over control of the cassette player as I’d be tortured by WHAM! and the New Kids on the Block only to gain revenge with The Cure and The Doors.
I learned to snorkel and spearfish there and my sister learned how to swim.
We both learned how to shoot a .22 and then moved up to an M-1, .45, 9mm and an AR-15.
We would visit auctions in nearby towns and my father would buy box-lots of toys that we’d take back to the island spending hours throwing lead downrange at teddy bears and Hot Wheels.
We’d watch old “Leave it to Beaver” and “Gilligan’s Island” episodes on a tiny black and white TV. We learned how to appreciate the humor of late Night with David Letterman as we fought off sleep.
The original crew of the host family was soon joined by my step mother and then a half-sister.
The years passed.
I turned 21 in Russia and upon returning back to the States, on my first weekend back we headed to the island.
Dad offered to buy me my first bottle of booze for my birthday and even though I had been drinking up at school for a year and just pickled my liver in Russia – I really didn’t know what to buy…a bottle of George Dickel was cracked open and a few shots were chased down with a couple of Coors Light…that I remember saying tasted like flowers.
A few years passed.
My sister married and her husband and later children were able to join us on the island.
Then I left that refuge again for what seemed to be too long.
A couple years passed.
I received pictures of good times on the island during my time away and I couldn’t wait to take M there when we returned home.
We introduced M to the finer points of drinking on the river as well as the atmosphere that made conversations easier about the difficulties life that we all seem to encounter.
A beer cooler filled with ice, Stroh’s beer, Diet Coke for Dad, Woodchuck Cider for Sis and snacks would be rounded out by the prized possession of the trip – a bottle of Rebel Yell Bourbon. We’d stash it down at the bottom of the cooler and usually crack into it about an hour after floating. Time then progressed at a crawl. We’d bake on the hot river rocks passing the bottle around, drinking the Stroh’s like water and barely keeping our heads above the water. The tube trip from the Conowingo Hydroelectric Dam down to the island could take anywhere from three to six hours.
Summers from 2000 through 2007 were spent on the island with the whole clan but tensions began to surface in relationships as time started to beat the old cabin and island down.
Problems with providing electricity to the island (we had to run wires across the river) became more frequent and this, of course, prohibited us from pumping water to the cabin to flush the toilet, run the refrigerators and wash dishes --- health issues.
The humid air started to get into the wood and areas of the porch could no longer support a person walking around to the bathroom in the middle of the night (bad times).
And finally, my father started to show early signs of Alzheimer’s which caused quite a bit of concern as he would set off on early morning walks (as was a ritual in the past) but not return for hours causing us to send out search parties.
And then Nor’easters hit the mid-Atlantic. Along with Super-Storms. And Hurricanes.
And the clan got smaller as old age claimed a good friend.
And then the Alzheimer’s set in HARD.
And the trips to that special place stopped.
And now all I have are pictures and…
Memories stirred by special stories found in these anthologies.
This is why I love these short stories and authors like Amy Bloom.