Towels from a DUZ laundry soap box. The nap was so worn they were threadbare in spots. They smelled like the sun, but were scratchy and stiff as sandpaper from drying on the clothes line. The interior of the pine plank cottage had the warm scent of linseed oil and baking pies.
“When you see the bandstand, you are almost there!” Three kids popping out of their seats, trying to pick out the headstone where the man’s leg was buried as we passed the ancient cemetery. Then the long slow drive up the bumpy dirt road. If it was late in the summer, the trees and brush on the sides of the road would be blanketed in brown dust. If it had been rainy, the road would be narrow from wash-outs on either side. Around the corner by the YMCA camp; your first glimpse of the azure blue water. The smell of pine needles and vegetation wafted in the open windows.
Nana and Grampa always rose early to do their lessons. They were Christian Scientists. We would lie upstairs in the cottage with its thin floor separating us from the quiet mumblings as they read their bibles together. The unspoken rule was not to disturb them, not to descend the narrow stairs, until you smelled the bacon frying. Grampa worked his entire life for the Public Service Company of New Hampshire, (PSNH). He would leave after breakfast each weekday in his army-green van for Peterborough, about an hour away. They lived in Peterborough the rest of the year, but the cottage was their retreat from the heat of the town. That left the rest of the day to spend picking berries, chasing frogs and salamanders, baking pies with Nana or just exploring. If it was rainy we would haul out all the children’s books, jig-saw puzzles or tangled knitting projects.
At the end of the day, Grampa’s van would bounce down the road. I always thought he was so handsome in his PSNH khaki uniform. He would bring the mail from town and news of friends and neighbors. As Nana prepared dinner, he would slip upstairs to his bedroom to change. He emerged carrying a thin towel, wearing a pair of gray, wool bathing trunks. My entire childhood, I never saw him wear anything different to swim. Nana was overweight and favored loud, print suits with matching rubber swim caps to protect her violet-hued hair.
Grampa was a strong swimmer as was my mother. He had taught her to swim across the lake at an early age and she still gave it a try once in a while. When he finished his strokes out and back, he picked up a bar of ivory soap and begin lathering his arm pits. His short gray crew-cut glistened with drops as he bathed. A final dip to rinse the suds and he was out on the dock, towel in hand. The wool trunks sported a built-in belt that, even as a child, I thought was a rather strange fashion statement.
Dinner was served on the screened porch overlooking the lake, or if the bugs weren’t too bad, on the lumpy picnic table. My grandmother had glued a whimsical shelf paper to the top. I suppose this made it easier to clean the pine pitch that dripped from above. My Grandfather had painted it yellow and green, all the furniture was yellow and green, painted many, many times so the surfaces were soft and rubbery.
After dinner, when all the dishes were washed and dried by hand, Nana would read us a story in the warm, upstairs loft. The loons called and the crickets hummed. Some nights, neighbors would stop by for a card game after we kids were tucked into wind-dried sheets made more itchy by our sunburns.
Simple summers at the Lake.