Monday, March 23, 2009


When we remember our childhoods, do we tend to remember the happy moments, the joyful good times, forgetting those moments when we were sad or unhappy? Do memories of the bad times fade over time and leave you with a rosy past, sprinkled with rosebuds and lit by sparkling stars?

I can remember that, when my feelings were hurt, I would go to the sunny side of the old, weathered farmhouse, lean back against the scratchy, yellowed planks, bury my head in my lap and sob. This always attracted the dogs, who would gather around me, offering sympathy. Puppy would put his nose in my face and snuffle as though he were afflicted with asthma, undoubtedly telling me to cheer up and get over it. Even Jake, that inveterate grouch and miserable thief, would sit by my side and lean his old grizzled hound head against my shoulder.

The only ones that ever gave me any sympathy were the dogs. Mom was always busy in the kitchen and was always unaware that I was unhappy. Pop would walk out into the field, because he had absolutely, positively no patience with anyone nursing hurt feelings. He thought the antidote for every pain, every ill, every argument was a walk in the fields. Somehow, his fields gave him a comfort that shielded him from human problems. They spoke to him and reached up to him as he walked. He always wore that floppy, stained brown fedora on his balding head, a fringe of white hair gleaming beneath its folds, his leathered, weathered skin belying a lifetime of sunlight and furrowed earth.

I was alone with my pain and anger. I could not even get sympathy from the crowd of brothers and sisters around me. Bud would tell me to straighten up and forget it. Hubert would tease me. Deed would harass me. My sisters would tell me it was my own fault, that if I hadn't acted like a brat, I would not feel like such an injured party.

These were the times I resented the mob of adults around me, bossy as they were. I dreamed of being an only child, the spoiled, adored and pampered daughter of two doting parents....maybe even royalty, raising me to take my rightful place on the throne.

At other times, I was filled with delight over the antics of my sisters and sisters-in-law, who would include me on excursions and trips, berry-picking, or venturing into town. One time, my sisters-in-law even included me on an overnight trip to a Northern Michigan cabin, which would include a much-heralded fishing trip in Jewell's pontoon boat.

The pontoon belonged to Jewell, who wore a special Captain's hat when she boarded it, instead of the old, ragged fisherman's hat that she usually wore. Along with us were Connie and Gerry and we had spent the night in Jewell's northern cabin and had gotten up early to climb aboard the huge pontoon, which Jewell claimed she could expertly drive.

Sure enough, the motor started at the first pull of the rope wrapped around it. It was placed on the back of the boat, extending down toward the water. The steering wheel was mounted on a stand just a few feet away from the boat's rear. Jewell, her Captain's hat in place, steered us out into the waters of a huge lake, so big one could hardly see the distant shore. The lake was lined by palatial homes and a flotilla of huge boats were tethered along the shore.

As we reached the middle of the lake, Jewell discovered we were out of gas. Our pontoon started drifting along, bobbing with the waves. Then it became clear to us that, not too far away and looming at us like a glimpse of Niagara, was a tumbling, bubbling, frothing falls, filled with rocks that stuck up out of the water like prophets of doom!

We were helpless. All we could do is slap at the water with a couple of oars we found located in a corner. Connie and I were the ones manning the oars, as Geraldine sat below the rail, worried about her hairdo, and shaking her head in despair.

Paddling frantically, we miraculously got the boat near shore, where there were several rocks sticking up out of the water.

"You're the youngest and most agile," said Jewell. "Herma, run to that gas station and get some gas!"

What? I couldn't swim, associated water with man-eating snakes, and would have to dance across rocks like a ballet dancer to reach shore! However, I took the gas can in hand and, somehow, jumped from rock to rock and, with one giant leap, touched shore. In the meantime, the boat kept drifting perilously toward a huge yacht anchored nearby. A man stood on the balcony of a home watching as our pontoon lumbered its way into the yacht, pounding on its side with every passing wave.

"What the hell are you doing?" the old man called to the women clustered in the pontoon.

As I ran toward the gas station, I heard Jewell release a string of cusswords guaranteed to fry the oil man's liver and scorch his heart. "What the hell do you think we're doing?" she queried, following this up with a few, well-chosen phrases.

I don't know to this day how I did it, but I bought gas for the can I carried and hopped back across the rocks to the pontoon, where Jewell emptied the gas into the tank. We were saved, and I felt like a hero! I had saved the day, jumped from rock to rock without encountering a single snake, and I had carried my precious cargo of gas across the same rocks to leap aboard the pontoon.

By this time, the old man was laughing derisively, as Connie held her oar against the side of the yacht, trying her best to keep the pontoon away from it, her reddish curls gleaming in the sun. Gerry, still holding her dark, carefully coiffed hair out of the wind, still sat on the deck, viewing the scene with despair.

"Grab an oar! Help!" Connie yelled to me. I joined her and, together, we managed to keep the pontoon from damaging the yacht any more than it already had.

We chugged back out onto the lake and decided to give up fishing for that day. Connie was steering the boat and, suddenly, the entire foundation of the box that held the steering wheel lifted off the deck of the boat and Connie was waving it in the air. At the same time, the outboard motor flew up from its proper place reaching down into the water and stayed in midair, sputtering to a halt. It was as though a heavy wind had propelled everything upward, leaving us once again drifting toward that vicious, frothing falls.

"We're going to die here!" predicted Gerry. She emphasized this by concluding, "I hate boats. I hate wind. And I hate water!"

At this moment, a huge wave splashed overboard, driven by the wind, and Gerry's hair was left in sodden strings around her face. It was as though the elements wanted revenge for her words. Gerry shivered, pulled her wet clothing around her body. and glared at us for subjecting her to this indignation.

"Stop laughing! Row!" Connie shouted at me, to no avail. We both collapsed with laughter at the sight of Gerry sitting in a puddle of water, cursing the fates and the companions who had talked her into a fishing trip.

Once again, we were headed toward the falls. We solved this problem by finally getting the motor to kick into life. Then Jewell sat on it to hold it down as Connie steered the pontoon and I leaned against the cabinet top, holding the entire apparatus, steering wheel and the cabinet it was mounted upon down onto the floor of the deck, where it wobbled and teetered and threatened to fly into the wind, taking me with it.

We finally made it back to our pier, tired and worn, our clothing and hair drenched, filled with joy at being alive instead of a group of battered corpses floating at the bottom of those falls. We drove back to Jewell's cabin and spent the evening rehashing these events. Jewell put her Captain's hat away and donned her Fishing Cap.

"Herma," she said. "Get into the trunk of the car and get that baitbox."

I did, and was sent into a screaming panic as I opened the trunk and a huge flopping monster came leaping up toward my face as I bent down to get the box. It was a fish Jewell had caught the night before and had kept on ice in her trunk until this moment. It was, she said, our dinner.

The last things I remember about that trip are Jewell's talented hand with fried fish, the steamingly hot taste of freshly made coffee and Gerry, sitting beside me, informing me that she "hated fish, hated fishing, and would never ride on a pontoon again!"

So, memories are really a mixture, the good and the bad. Sometimes, the old hurts and nursed grudges come back and you recall when this person did that or that person did this, but at other times, you remember the happy moments, the silly adventures, the highlights of growing up and a warmth enters the depth of your being. You remember these people as they were, glowing, vibrant human beings, now either old or gone, but still very much alive in your memories and in your heart.