Thursday, June 29, 2017

Early summer, early life.

It’s very early summer, just a few days into the season. The humidity is up where I live now, and so is the temperature. Perhaps it is a harbinger of the coming hot August days, but today my mind wanders to this time of year, this kind of summer when I was a child.

Like now, school would be just out or almost out for the summer and endless days of play were in the offing. I’ll keep these thoughts to my 12th year. I had just completed the 6th grade. Summer would be spent camping with the Boy Scouts, playing ball in vacant lots, catching fireflies at dusk, staying up late, sleeping in and playing numerous outdoor games with neighborhood friends and playmates.

In July, were two weeks of my Dad’s vacation. We spent it in a sparse housekeeping cabin on a lake in the Adirondacks. It was a one-bedroom cabin, and I’d sleep on a porch cot in my sleeping bag piled with several blankets. It gets cold in the mountains even in summer.

I loved the sounds of night listening from the screened porch feeling safe, but I especially loved the waking light and sounds and smells of morning; fresh cold air from out under the covers, chirping birds, scampering chipmunks and squirrels leaving trails in the lawn dew.

I learned a number of things during those summers’ weeks especially a profound appreciation of nature. My folks took the same cabin around the same time for a few years. The man and woman who owned the cabin lived in a main house on the premises. I became friends with the man. He was older than my parents, and his kids had moved away. He was a strong, rugged and kindly man with a perennial smile that didn’t show teeth, just his heart. He knew how to do everything: plumbing, electrical, carpentry, painting, fix a car, repair a canoe, or fix a boat motor.

I’d watch him in his workshop, and he’d ask me to help. Sometimes he’d have to run an errand or two into town, and I’d go with him in his old pick-up truck; somehow we’d always stopped for ice cream. Occasionally we’d head out to some dirt back road to cut fresh fir branches to weave into a wire mesh lean-to ceiling. Guests would sit in the lean-to at night, smell the balsam and watch logs crackling in the fireplace and listen to loons calling to each other in the lake distance.

I learned all the old camp songs sitting around that lean-to. There were old Irish melodies, college songs, and a few bawdy rhymes that my Mother probably wished I hadn’t heard at that age.

But back to my older friend. One day he handed me a single shot 22 caliber. rifle and taught me how to safely handle it. Handing me a box of 22 shorts he said to take the trail and go to a small pond about a half-mile away and do some plinking. He gave me a couple of soda cans to take with me. He must have asked my parents permission before he handed me the rifle because they said it was OK and to be careful.

My Dad didn’t have a gun in the house, so this was my first experience with a real firearm except that I had a BB gun and the same rules applied.

I didn’t learn responsibility that day. My parents always talked about its importance. I learned trust and what a powerful gift it is. I will never forget that man and what he taught me by being my friend.

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