Dear Old Golden Rule Days
Summer Series (Final story in the series)
By Kristy Gherlone
*If you would like to read the entire series, begin with The Long Dirt Road
**some names have been changed to protect privacy
My mother huffed a puff of air from the corner of her mouth as she fished a week’s worth of mail out our box in town. A few strands of overgrown hair scattered up and away from her eyes. “Thank God! The catalogs are in,” she sang with relief, as she sifted through the pile. She tossed two thick, glossy books onto the table, where they landed with a thud. She set the rest of the stack on the counter for my dad. “You guys can bring them up to camp and pick out your clothes for the year,” she stated with satisfaction.
I felt like throwing up. My entire body filled with dread as I dared a glance. The Sears and JC Penny’s catalogs lay there, taunting me. Any excitement I felt about the prospect of new clothes was squashed by the reason I needed them… School!
“Only two weeks left! I want your list no later than Friday,” she added, as she descended into the basement to finish the laundry before it was time to head back up to camp for our last weeks of summer.
My lip curled in disappointment and disgust. Only two weeks of summer left! It couldn’t be over already! No more fishing, or swimming, or frog catching! We’d be closing camp for the season and moving back to town! That thought pained me in ways I can’t describe. My life was over!
I sat heavily in one of the kitchen chairs and shoved the catalogs away. I didn’t want them in my sight.
“Mom, can I have Andrea up?” I asked, brightening a little with hope. I was grasping for anything that would take my mind off from the impending doom.
“Absolutely not! We have a lot of stuff to do at camp to get it ready for winter, and we’re not coming back into town next week. I want you girls to clean up that wood and all those nails out at the colony. Then, I want you to go through those games on the porch and put the pieces back where they belong and then…”
“Oh geez, that’s right! I gotta hurry up and get stuff done.” My dad breezed in and took the laundry basket from my mother. “I gotta get that wood chopped and stacked. I’m gonna need some help.” He gave my sister and I a meaningful look.
Just shoot me…
That week, most of my friends would be driving an hour to the mall in Bangor. They’d go in groups with their parents, shop in cool stores, eat lunch in neat restaurants, and maybe even go to the movies after, but the fact that they were having fun and I wouldn’t be, wasn’t what was bothered me.
In our family, we always shopped by mail order. My mother hated driving and hated department stores even more. We’d learned to accept that long ago. I didn’t really mind because it meant I got to stay at camp longer.
No, the problem was that my sister and one of the boys that lived next to us at camp had been telling me a thing or two about seventh grade all summer, and I didn’t like what I’d heard. I’d been getting more nervous about it as time wore on.
“Who’d you get for home room?” my sister had asked that last day of sixth grade, when I’d come home with the packet from the office. She jumped up and down over my shoulder as I read, so she could see too.
I flipped it over and held it to my chest. “None of your business, Miss Nosey,” I said.
She ran over to the back door and stuck her head out. “Mom! Kristy won’t let me see who she got next year! Make her tell me!” she wailed. My mother was busy packing the truck, so my sister came back in and tried to snatch the notice away from me.
“Oh for heaven’s sake. What’s the big deal?” my mother said, hustling back in for more boxes. “Just tell her.”
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes. “I got Mrs. McDermott. Who’d you get?”
“Ha!” A wicked grin spread over my sister’s freckled face. “Mrs. McDermott?! Ha ha! She’s mean! She hits kids and everything. You’re going to hate her. Everyone does.”
“Oh stop that!” my mother protested. “She’s a very nice lady.”
“You wouldn’t know,” my sister sassed. “Last year she threw a chair at a kid for talking in class.”
“That’s not true, and you know it! You’d better stop that! You’re going to scare your sister to death!”
“It is too true. Rebecca told me.” She stuck her tongue out and sneered when my mother turned away.
A nervous feeling pitted in my gut. I’d heard the rumors too, but I didn’t pay much attention because it didn’t have anything to do with me at the time. Now, it seemed it would. However, seventh grade was months away. I tried to forget about it as I soldiered forth into the long summer ahead. Unfortunately, my sister had other plans.
“Hey guess what?” she laughed, running over to the greet the boys next door as soon as we got to camp. “Kristy got Mrs. McDermott for home room next year. And she has her for History too. She’s going to hate her, isn’t she?” She raised her eyebrows knowingly.
Shane whistled through his teeth. “Geez. Good luck.” He shook his head. “She’s tough! I heard no one passes her class. She yells at kids and last year she made someone cry.”
She turned to me and smirked. “See? I told you.”
It was like that all summer. Not just with Mrs. McDermott, but the other teachers on my list were picked apart and analyzed for their worst qualities.
Now, there I sat with just two weeks left. I was a mess!
“Shake it up in there! Let’s get a move on!” My dad bellowed impatiently from the truck outside.
I sighed and started for the door.
“Don’t forget the catalogs!” my mother called.
My sister rushed ahead of me and scooped them off the table. “I’m looking first.”
“Good.” I pouted.
We climbed into our truck and started on our final journey to camp that year.
Time is something that can either be a friend or a foe, and as I arrived back at camp for my last two weeks of summer vacation, I felt it snaking around my neck and tightening into a noose. It was my enemy, and I cursed it as much as a kid my age dared.
At the beginning of the summer, there was so much time, I had plenty to waste. It stretched further than I could see, and held months of mysteries and possibilities. School and Mrs. McDermott had been far into my future, but now it was almost here.
I stomped down to the lake, found the biggest and clunkiest rock I could find, and hurled it into the water.
“Stupid school,” I said, scowling into the ripples I’d made.
My dad saw and heard me. “What in the name of jeeslum is the matter with you?”
I didn’t turn around.
“She’s being a big baby cause summer’s almost over and she’s gotta go to school soon.” My sneered.
My dad shook his head. “Are you going to pout the whole rest of the GD summer?”
“Maybe,” I glowered.
“Well, it seems to me like that’ll be an awful waste. Why don’t you go fishing? Who knows? There might just be a trout out there on a day like this.” He winked.
I started up the pine dock, slowly, with my head down. I didn’t want to let on that his suggestion had brightened my mood in the slightest.
My mother cut in, “Oh no she doesn’t. She’s going to get in here and help with some of this stuff.” She heaved a plastic tote off the ground and started up the stairs.
I sighed heavily and started back down.
“Let the kid fish, Jo.” It wasn’t a question. My dad had spoken and I loved him for it. He knew what I needed.
“Fine,” she huffed. “One hour and then I want you in here.” She let the screened door slam behind her.
I ran the rest of the way up the dock and sat down in my special place on the big gray rock.
You can work out a lot of problems in your head while holding a fishing pole, and after a few minutes, I’d thought of a couple of things that made me feel a little better…sick days, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas vacation… If I planned it right, I might not have to spend that much time in school after all!
I smiled and cast out again. My bobber landed with a plop on the wavy surface, dipped out of sight for just a second, then popped back up.
I looked out over the landscape. The trees on the far shore were changing. Yellows and reds were a contrast to the dark green pines. My heart squeezed. Time really was growing late. I would miss camp over the months ahead. It was my place. I was safe there, but brave. I was a woodsman and a builder. I was a trail blazer and a fisherman. I was a hiker and a frog hunter. I was anything I wanted to be.
I would miss the sound of the loons calling at night and the waves crashing against the shore. I would miss the pine soft ground under my bare feet and the smell of the boggy water.
The breeze blowing off the lake was chilly and persistent. I zipped up my sweatshirt and shivered slightly. From then forward, the cool wind would be a daily reminder of the changes to come and wouldn’t let up much.
That time of year my dad called them ‘the winds of change.’
“You know why it’s so damn cold dontcha?” he’d ask. “Cause that wind is coming straight down from Canada. Yup, they’re sending us winter, that’s for sure.”
I didn’t much care for Canada after I’d heard that, but as I sat there, the wind ruffled my hair, tickled my cheek, and helped to dry the tears I didn’t want my dad to see.
My sister stuck her head out of the front door. “Mom says you have to get in here and now,” she smirked.
I rolled my eyes, set my pole down, and got up. A flock of geese flew overhead, honking and flapping, bound for someplace warmer. To a place where they could extend their summer by weeks. I wanted to go with them.
I went inside and washed my hands.
My sister thrust the catalogs my way as I was drying off. “Mom said you should pick out your school clothes. I already did mine.” She grinned proudly and added, “If I were you, I’d pick something besides jeans and T-shirts. I heard Mrs. McDermott always makes favorites out of the kids who dress nice.”
Really, just kill me…
Those two weeks went fast, just like I thought they would. I visited all my favorite places at least a dozen times and said goodbye to the frogs and chipmunks. I walked the length of our cove’s shoreline with the kids next door and lost a shoe in the mud. I helped stack wood, and clean up the colony.
I managed to pick out my clothes, too. All nice things. No T-shirts or anything. I was going to need all the help I could get.
The last day at camp, my chest felt tight as we gathered up our things and packed them into the truck. My nerves were jangled as I thought of the coming week and Mrs. McDermott and school.
I slumped down to the shore and gazed out at my lake and mountain one last time. It was quiet and still for the first time in a while. I wanted to capture that moment and those sights and hold onto them for as long as I could. Maybe it would help sustain me through the rough times ahead. Nine months was a long time to miss something I loved so much.
Tears stung my eyes as I whispered my goodbyes. “I’ll be back,” I said. My heart was heavy as I turned my back and walked away.
“Let’s shake a leg!” my dad bellowed. He shut the door, secured the padlock, and hustled into the truck. “I wanna get home! I’ve gotta go and I might as well do it where I can flush.”
On a side note:
Mrs. McDermott turned out to be tough, but fair. She was not half as bad as my sister and Shane told me, so I worried all that time for nothing! In the end, I think I may have been her favorite. Perhaps it was because of my purple velvet jacket and ruffled white shirt?
I think back to those years at camp as some of the best in my life.
The camp was sold a few years back, and it broke my heart. I never had the chance to say goodbye, but at least I will always have the experiences and moments I shared there, if only in my memories.