When we lived in Ohio, summer vacation meant a week at Indian Lake. In the early morning hours, my brother and father snuck out of the cabin, fishing gear in hand. After a stop at the bait shop, they got into a rented boat and took off.
While they were participating in a male-bonding ritual, I stayed behind with my mother and younger sister. Times were different then, so I was allowed to roam the fields around our cabin. I went out early each morning, so as to listen to the songbirds talking about the weather. I picked the tops off thigh-high grass, and with God-like hands, scattered the seeds.
One tree had several low-slung branches that I could easily climb. Granted I only went up a few feet, but I was high enough to feel like a princess in a castle tower. When the winds blew, I imagined a retinue of admirers bowing in unison.
When my dad and brother returned, there was the cleaning of fish and gear. I loved carrying the rods and tackle boxes. Somehow it made me feel part of their exclusive club. Only once did I venture toward the fish-cleaning station. I never returned because the stench was nauseating.
In the afternoons my brother and I played outside. Whiffle ball was a favorite activity, as was badminton. My dad set up the net behind our cabin, and left it up for the week. We played several games every day, most of which I lost.
After dinner the family got in the rented boat for a ride around the lake. I loved the smell of the fuel, the roar of the motor, and the feeling of flying across the surface of the water. Sometimes we rode past the expensive houses lining the shore, and when we did, I created stories about the families that lived there, always including myself as one of the children.
Other nights we went near to the town. If we were lucky, there was a carnival going on. We never docked the boat and walked among the celebrants, but we did drift with engine silent and listened to the music and the laughter.
On the weekend we drove around the lake and picnicked at the state park on the west side. From our chosen spot we watched boats going by. I loved the water skiers, even though I would never have been brave enough to don a jacket just to be yanked out of the lake.
Those were easy times in which my parents relaxed in each other’s presence. Each day offered some new adventure that became the source of storytelling at the evening meal. Even sitting in the large swing on the porch was a joy. It creaked one note going back and a different one going forward.
Nirvana, it was not. My parents did have occasional spats, and I was terribly jealous of my brother’s one-on-one time with my dad. My sister, seven years younger, did not join in my imaginary games, which didn’t bother me as I preferred a solitary life.
One day my father woke me up early to go with them to the bait shop. He bought me a Nehi orange soda, even though it was morning. Holding my hand, he took me across the road over to the dock. As he primed the motor, I handed the gear to my brother, all the while hoping that my dad would invite me to go along.
It was not to be. He put the motor into gear and off they went. My shoulders slumped and tears welled in my eyes. The further away they went, the more I cried.
When I realized that my dad would not change his mind, I turned around. Without looking, my right foot reached for the step that should have been there. Nothing but air greeted me, and so I toppled, comic-book fashion, into the water.
Down I went, into the shocking coolness. The air was stolen from my lungs, to be replaced by the fishy tasting water. I flailed my arms and kicked my feet to no avail, as I had never been interested in learning to swim.
It seemed as if a large fish pulled me down, down, to what felt like the bottom of the lake. No amount of struggle released its grip.
Just as I thought I was lost forever, I flew from the water. Blessed air greeted me with the song of life. My father’s arms pulled me to his chest, where he held me in a tight embrace.
He drove the boat next to the dock and grabbed it with one hand. “Get out,” he said.
“Go to the cabin and stay inside. Tell your mother what you did.”
As I took the first step, my father revved the motor. I didn’t need to turn around to know what was happening. My father, my hero, left.
For that one all-too-brief moment I felt a father’s love. How sad to think that an eight year old had never experienced that love before and never felt it after.
Indian Lake remained my favorite vacation spot for many years. Too bad that we moved to California and those wonderful, lazy days ended.