Finding a childhood gem in the basement is like an palentogist unearthing treasure from centuries before. Victorious in the realization that such an item has history, memory, a connection to another life. I found such a treasure–this enormous black inner tube in our basement playroom back in Arlington Heights a couple months back. Dad had said that he’d given it to a former boss who had little kids and I was so sad! How could he give away such a staple from our childhood? Now, chuckling to myself as I wrangled this huge rubber tube into submission, placing it next to Mom’s tired, sun-worn bathing suits hanging from a wooden pole. I buried my face in them, faintly smelling of chlorine and the lake. My tears the only moisture these suits had felt in years.
The inner tube. Our swimsuits–these things were all the very first things we located and packed into the peacock blue fiberglass boat every summer as kids. Dad would’ve spent days prior making meticulous lists detailing what to pack. The night before, looking at his Timex he’d assert, “Ok, kids we are going to push out of the driveway at 5 a.m.”
Nodding, “Ok, dad. We’ll be ready.”
“Son-of-a-Biscuit-Goddamn-it-Joe!!!!” he’d bellow in the driveway, his right hand slapping his head as he’d hurry to meet that 5 a.m. deadline that was passing. He didn’t need his watch to tell him, the sun was his indication that his plan for departure was flawed. His 5’11 frame worked the length of the boat to organize all of our stuff in the most precise order. Loading up the boat with our fishing poles, tackle boxes, inner tubes, random tools he’d ponder needing, and then to reorganize it all again. Matt, Meghan, Holly, Mom, Dad, and myself piling into our wood-paneled station wagon down I-90W into Wisconsin.
“Who’s ready for a swim? I know I am!” Mom would squeal, as we sat on the picnic tables to eat our bologna and cheese sandwiches at a reststop just inside WI. Mom so loved the water.
In seven or so hours we’d be in Land O’ Lakes. Dad getting the keys from Phil or Elise, while Mom and the kids ran down to the water. We’d run out of our flip flops, kick off our gym shoes and put our feet in Lac Vieux Desert. It was a ritual we cherished.
Mom would always say, “Lacccc Vieuuuxxx Desssseerrttt,” like stretching out the words and holding each syllable would make her sound more French.
“Mommmmm!!!! You don’t say it like that!” we’d say in unison embarrassed.
“It’s more fun to say it like that. Who has time to be boring?” she’d retort hugging one or two of us.
That week, we’d spend most of it in the water. Sing-songing, holding hands, bouncing back and forth in the inner tube. Mom would practice her stroke, swimming out as far as she could dodging fishing lines. Her hair stuffed into her swim cap, she’d wave to us standing on the shore as she walked into the water, arms outstretched, flipping onto her back, eyes on upward. Her legs fluttering, she’d oscillate between freestyle and this serene, peaceful dot in the water, the reeds sometimes obscuring our view.
We’d want to reach her, to swim out as far as she did, but she was a stronger swimmer than the rest of us. Plus, the water was her church, her religion, her meditation. It was her soul. We knew to leave her be at times.
Years passed, Sunrise Lodge in the rearview mirror…
It’s 2001, and this little known movie comes out, Iris. I knew little about the movie, but mom wouldn’t stop talking about it. The woman was experiencing something Mom feared most, losing her mind.
“I swear to God if that happens to me.. If I loose my mind like Iris does, I’ll throw my swimsuit on and walk into the water. And just keep walking,” she’d offer defiant.
“Mom, don’t say that! Number one, if you loose your mind, you won’t know how to do that-how to even find the damn lake. Number two, remember to put on your suit, and number three know how to swim, Cmon! ” I sat perplexed, half-laughing at the kitchen table, not realizing at the time, the irony of it all.
Her swimsuits of worn out lycra, almost translucent from sun, water, are the reminder of those moments Mom was at peace, at one. She wouldn’t know where to find them now. Today, we try to reach her, not across the lake, sitting in the shore of our family room–our arms outstretched–trying to pull her in. Her mind no longer possessing the memory of walking into the water.