Prior to moving to California, vacations meant visiting family. Once a year we’d drive to Galipolis to see my mother’s relatives, many of whom lived in small houses without running water and indoor plumbing.
Sometimes we’d visit my Aunt Lucy who lived, all alone, in a large house with backyard gardens with lush, green grass and more varieties of flowers than I’d ever seen before. There was Aunt Rachel whose home sat at the top of a hill, a wonderful, perfect slope for rolling downhill.
My Aunt Ginny led the life of a traveler, moving from place to place. The most interesting home was up near Lake Michigan, nestled in the woods. It had no-anything. If I had to pee during the night, it meant walking into the woods to the outhouse where I imagined all kinds of creepy-crawlers. But…the lake!
They relocated to Tennessee, a large white house with a wraparound porch. They had chickens that laid eggs! I was excited to go to the coup and gather them every morning. It was hot and humid and they didn’t own a single fan. Instead my cousins and I spent time in the shade of the porch. Until I discovered some type of insect sticking halfway into my arm! Boy, did I make a fuss, which caused all the adults to come running.
Once it was removed, I wanted to leave. Now.
One time we drove all the way to Kansas to see someone my mother befriended when she was in the Army. I don’t recall the woman’s name, but I will never forget the altars dedicated to Mary all over her house.
My dad’s parents moved often. I loved the farm where they had a donkey, a gaggle of clucking chickens and a horse that loved to roll around in dirt. But, there were also wasps, and when one stung my finger and I had trouble breathing, I never wanted to go back there.
Shortly afterward, they sold the farm and moved to Cincinnati. It was a modern house, with air, a bar in the basement stocked with all kinds of sodas, and a pool. The summer before we moved, my grandma invited me to spend a week with her. I had a marvelous time! Until I spent too much time in the pool and got so badly sunburnt that my mom wouldn’t let me return.
While we had family in Ohio, my dad dreamt of moving to California, and when my mother’s doctor said we should move somewhere less damp due to her severe asthma, my parents wasted no time selling everything, packing up the car and heading west.
Once we settled in a tiny rental house in South San Francisco, we began Sunday explorations. Using a map from the car insurance company, we drove all over, from up north to the Russian River, to east out to Lake Pinecrest, and south, well past San Jose. My mom would pack a picnic lunch, and off we’d go.
I had become a temperamental teen. I’d always been sulky, primarily due to what I perceived as my low status in the family.
My mother doted on my older brother, feeling she had to protect him from our father’s ire. While Dad was an athlete, able to confidently play almost any sport, my brother was not. My dad was good with his hands, able to tear apart car engines, fix issues with the house, and build any type of shelving my mother wanted. My brother had not aptitude or interest in those things. To put it mildly, my brother was not the son my dad wanted.
Just as I was not the daughter. I disliked girly things, preferring pants and sports. I loved being outside, no matter the weather. I didn’t read fashion magazines and paid no attention to what the cool kids wore.
My sister was completely opposite. She was emotional and moody, just like my mom. She cared little about school, preferring the dangerous kids, the ones who sold and did drugs. My mother came to her rescue many times, including getting her out of juvenile hall after she’d been caught passing drugs through the fence of her elementary school.
Moving to California, I hoped, would change my life. I’d make friends. I’d go to movies and school dances. I’d play on sports teams and have a boyfriend. I’d make money, somehow, and buy myself a radio. And, I’d go to college. Anywhere away from home.
Back to vacations.
Sometimes our Sunday trips were short drives down to Woodside Park. We’d find a semi-isolated table, unload our gear, and spend hours lounging about.
My dad heard about Clear Lake, and so one day we drove up there to check it out. I don’t recall how long it took to get there, but by the time we arrived, things were tense in the car.
My parents were fighting, once again. About how long it was taking, about wanting to turn around, about anything and everything. My brother was poking and pinching me and on the other side, my sister was kicking my legs.
When we arrived, we had to find a place to park. It was tough because the folks who knew, had staked out every table and flat piece of ground.
Eventually my dad parked and said get out.
There was a beach, shade, and someone was vacating a table. Perfect.
We changed into our swimsuits, then waded into the water. It was so cold it made it hard for me to breathe. I could almost swim, my strongest stroke being the elementary backstroke. However, when something brushed my legs, I freaked out.
My dad had to rescue me, talking me back to shore.
On a drive around the lake, my dad saw a sign for cabins. They were small, cheap, and right on the lake. He went inside the office and made a reservation.
I loved that cabin! Because the porch hung over the water, it was relatively cool inside. My dad and brother went out fishing in the mornings, meaning I could entertain myself gathering shells, throwing rocks, sitting and enjoying the sounds of the water lapping the small dock that jutted into the lake.
When my brother stayed behind, we were allowed to jump off the dock. The water was shallow, so there was no chance of drowning. We’d jump in, climb out, jump again and again and again until we were exhausted.
My dad caught lots of catfish. Every night we’d eat out on the porch, waving off the aggressive bees that wanted our food. Thankfully I never got stung, for at that time, no one knew how very allergic I was.
We returned the next summer. The lake was not clear. There was a thin veil of green algae covering the part of the lake near our cabin. This was before anyone knew of the dangers of algae bloom.
My parents still let us jump off the dock. Whichever one of us went first would tread water, using our hands to sweep away the algae. The other would jump, then we’d repeat.
By the end of each swimming outing, our suits were covered in green dots. My mom would rinse them in the kitchen sink, then hand them on the porch to dry. After lunch we’d go back, doing the same thing over and over.
That was the last time we vacationed anywhere. I didn’t know a lot about finances, but I understood that my dad was unable to find steady work as a printer. No longer were papers made by moving tiny letters, which was my dad’s skill. Since he didn’t know how to work presses, his talents were no longer needed.
It’s now sixty years later and I still recall the algae, the fun jumping off the dock, the endless meals of catfish, and sharing the bed with my sister who stole the sheet every night.
Clear Lake remains, in my mind, that murky, green waters that entertained me so thoroughly back when I was a teen.