By Carole Shukle
Word Count: 1016
My kinfolks were from Arkansas, and my family only traveled to visit every three years. I remember how I treasured these visits. Most of us were religious in our own way, but the hard-shell Baptists in our family were another story. Those were the folks who thought dancing, make-up, drinking, and movies would send you straight to Hell. My maternal grandmother fell into these ranks, and I had always heard stories about her from various relatives. I remember my grandmother was never affectionate. She could be like a vulture circling overhead waiting for someone to break her rules, so she could attack and clean their sinful soul right down to the pure white bone.
We had a traditional household. My mom was a stay-at-home mom who relied on my father for most things. The fact that our whole household routine changed with the impending arrival of grandmother struck me as odd. The beer from our refrigerator disappeared; our liquor cabinet became a magazine holder overnight.
“Dad, where did the beer and liquor go?” I remember asking.
“Well, Honey, Grandma is coming,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “You know your mother and I don’t like to upset her,” my dad answered, running his hands through his hair and not making eye contact.
“Dad, this is your home, not hers,” I answered, shoving out my bottom lip and placing my hands on my hips.
“I know, Honey. But no sense in being disrespectful, now is there?”
“Guess not.” I turned on my heel and walked out.
When I think back to my childhood, the lake, for me, was a backdrop for family reunions --a kind of growing-up place--a place of family fun, family bonding, and wonderful memories.
Once everyone arrived at my aunt and uncle’s in Arkansas, we packed the pick-up trucks with groceries, leaving room for the kids in the back. A train of four trucks pulling boats filled with floats, skis, knee-boards, and all sorts of fishing tackle, headed out of town. When we stopped for gas, all of us kids hopped out and ran for the candy, junk food, and bottled pop topped off with straws. Piling back in the trucks, we joked, told stories, and ate during the two-hour trip to the lake.
I remember we arrived at the lake that day with plenty of time for a full day of sun and frolicking. Most of us scattered to the cabin and staked out our bunks by throwing our belongings on the beds, marking it like territorial cats. We all grabbed our swimsuits. All the girls squeezed into one bathroom, and the boys grabbed the other.
We tripped over each other trying to be the first in the water. We ran through the bunk area, out the door, and down the rocky path which sloped toward the lake, to the floating dock and dove in--ice cold mountain water yanked screams from our mouths.
I turned to look around, gasping for breath--hugging myself to conserve body heat. I saw blue lips, gaping jaws, and surprised eyes. Soon the splashing started. The boys were behind us by a few seconds and started doing cannon balls. Nothing they could do, though, could take away the pride we felt beating the boys to the water.
Our group at the cabin still knew how to have fun. We all loved adventure, playing around, playing jokes, and the adults enjoyed an ice-cold beer or two or three. We could hear the adults on the front porch of the cabin talking up old times, playing cards, and occasionally, an off colored word or two would slip. Sound traveled over water to the eager ears of us kids. It was hard to keep secrets at the lake.
I decided to get out the water and try my hand at fishing. My favorite way to fish was to take a scrap of fresh bread, ball it up into a hard mass about the size of a pea, and slip it on the hook. I’d drop my line and watch the sunfish under the dock swarm around my hook nibbling at the bread. Soon enough I’d haul one out. I would unhook it, throw it back in, and start all over again.
The boys by now had taken a small rowboat without a motor and turned it upside down in the water creating a bubble of air. They dove under and appeared to be underwater for much longer than their lungs would allow. They came up underneath the rowboat to breathe and laugh about fooling the girls. I dove off the dock and swam to the boat just a few feet away and came up underneath it.
“What’s a’ matter?” I said smiling wide as I stared at two of my cousins. “Did you think you were gonna’ scare us girls?”
The laughter immediately stopped. “Get out of here, you little tomboy. This is for guys.” They glared at me in open hostility.
I decided I’d better leave before they drowned me. Something started to bombard the capsized boat. It sounded like hail, except it had a tinny ring to it. All three of us looked at each other.
“What’s that?” I asked, feeling the hair on my neck starting to prickle.
My cousin shot me a look. “Be quiet!”
We listened again to the sounds of something hitting us. Our eyes were glued to one another and suddenly we flipped the boat over. Floating around us were crushed beer cans. They bobbed around like lost ducklings.
The other kids treaded water with their arms over their heads trying to avoid being hit. We looked to the adults and saw they were the culprits. They stood at the top of the hill dumping beer and throwing cans.
“Push them under,” the adults shouted, gesturing by pushing their arms in a downward motion. “Make sure they sink!”
We started grabbing the cans and forcing them underwater.
“What in the world is going on?” My cousin asked me.
“Don’t you know?” I said proudly. I knew the answer to the mystery. “Grandma is on her way!”