*Some of the stories shared on this page will probably never be seen in the literary magazines. However, I feel that they have some value and I’m glad to share them with you. “The Long Dirt Road” is the beginning of a series that appeared on my Facebook last year. These stories are about growing up in the Maine woods in a cabin at the lake without electricity or running water in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Writing them brought me back to that time and I was able to re-capture some of the thrills and the challenges faced. I hope you find some thrills in reading them.
The Best Kind of Company
For Andrea. My very best friend
“Can I have a friend up?”
It was a question I asked often over the course of a summer when I was a kid growing up at camp.
I learned never to ask that particular question when my mother would accidentally pound her thumb with a hammer instead of hitting the nail, or when the polyurethane on the furniture she’d painted hadn’t set right, or when the dog had run off to the neighbors…again!
When I did manage to get the timing right however, her answer was most often, “We’ll see.”
Now, ‘we’ll see’ can end up meaning a couple of things: yes, or absolutely not, depending on the variables, with the most important variable being who the friend actually was.
If it was my best friend, then ‘we’ll see’ usually turned into a ‘yes.’
Wednesday’s were town days for us. Every week we’d have go in and replenish our supplies, wash clothes, and run errands. Exchanges of people and goods could only be done on that day, and I was fidgety and restless all week just waiting for Wednesday to roll around so we could collect Andrea.
Early in the morning my mother would start loading up our truck for town. “For heaven sake, don’t forget your laundry!” she’d call out.
My sister and I would shove and trip each other as we bolted up the spiral staircase to our room in the loft. Grimacing, we’d paw through our piles of clothes, hoping to find anything that could wait until next time. Somehow it always looked like my stuff had been the dragged through a bed of pine needles and worm dirt as I sat stuffing my half damp clothes into black plastic bags.
Windows needed to be closed and pets had to be rounded up and shut in before we could leave.
My sister would skid ahead of me on the canvas driveway, trying to get to the truck first. I had to hold my tongue and try not to fight with her for the window seat or anything else. A yes could turn quickly into a no if there were any shenanigans on the way back down the long dirt road to home.
Our town house always smelled musty and strange after being shut up for so long. I stumbled in with my arms full of bags and dumped them on the orangey brown linoleum and bolted back out again.
Andrea lived in the blue house right across the street, and I raced over without even checking for cars. Oh, the suffering if she wasn’t home! A whole week down the tubes until we came back the next time! If she was home, however, and got permission, my life was made!
We’d sit on the fluffy pink carpet in her room and talk about all the things we were going to do, while she packed.
“Should I bring my Barbies?” she’d ask, whipping the hair back and forth on the blonde -haired beauty in question.
“Hey! Yeah! We can bring the Barbie camper too, and set it up by the lake!”
Fully packed and smiling like fools, we’d drag her duffle bag and pillows back across the street.
“Get in,” my mother, looking frazzled and worn out, would utter as she pointed into the truck. “We need to do some shopping.”
Andrea and I would exchange wicked grins. Cookies and candy! Snack cakes and chips! We were going to need a lot of junk food to keep us going for a week!
My mother would pull into the parking lot of the Shop N Save. We’d hop out and run in ahead.
Brach’s candies were first in the aisle, and we’d choose about 5 pounds of caramels and chocolate chews before my mother would come and empty most of it back out. “This stuff isn’t cheap, you know. Go find something else.”
Little Debbie’s and Andes candies were good alternatives, and several boxes of each were tossed into the cart alongside of the toilet paper and soap.
Finally, in the stifling heat of the mid- afternoon sun, it would be time to head out of town.
Truck full of food and clean shorts, we’d climb in, singing and giggling the whole way out of town, annoying my sister immensely.
Our heads hit the gold metal ceiling of the Custom Deluxe as we bounced around every time my mother hit a pot hole. “Are you kids buckled?” She’d ask.
I’d fish around and pull out the buckle we had. I’d stretch it wide over the two of us and click it into place.
It took forever to get to camp! When we did, we’d tumble over each other getting out, and run up the rickety pine dock that led to the big gray rock that sat high above the water.
The change in temperature and the cool breeze coming off the lake was refreshing.
“Wanna fish?” I’d ask, thrusting a pole in her direction hopefully.
“If you put the worm on and take off the fish,” she’d always answer, wrinkling her nose.
“You kids get in here and help put this stuff away!” my mother would holler from the kitchen window.
“Where should I put my stuff?” Andrea had asked the first year she’d been allowed to spend a whole week with me at camp.
She clutched the handle of her duffle and stepped into our boxy, brown camp.
I peered at my sister with begging eyes. She and I shared the loft in the upstairs in our cabin. It was a spacious loft, but there were only two small beds. They hung by chains from the rafters. Andrea loved hearing about our swinging beds and was dying to try them out.
“No way! Not my bed. You guys can just sleep somewhere else,” my sister wailed, shaking her head vehemently. “Mom! Tell them they have to sleep somewhere else! I won’t be able to sleep if they’re up all night talking!” she cried.
“You guys work it out,” my mother gave in answer, trying to be diplomatic in the eyes of “company.”
“Hmm. What should we do?” I ruminated, looking around for another spot we could use.
Our camp was open and airy. There were no actual bedrooms to speak of. My mother slept on the pull out couch in the living room, while my dad occupied the back room. Neither of them would appreciate the giggling or the crinkling of candy papers that was sure to go on half the night. The only other place would be the screened in porch…
“Nope. The paint’s still wet on the floor out there,” my mother said. “Besides, it’s gonna be too chilly tonight. You’ll catch pneumonia.”
“What should we do?” Andrea whispered meekly. She gave my sister a pitiful stare.
“Fine,” my sister huffed, rolling her eyes. “You can sleep in the loft. But not in my bed and only if you share some of your candy.” She started up the stairs with her clean laundry, smug in her generosity. “And you guys better not wake me up early!”
So it was settled. I rolled the foldaway mattress out onto the red, slated floor. I would sleep there and Andrea would have her chance at the swinging bed. She loved it! The chains that hung from the ceiling and attached to the bed creaked and squeaked as she rocked back and forth smiling.
We were young that first summer. We didn’t venture very far from the main camp, but we didn’t need to. We set up the Barbie camper down on the shore, just like we planned. There, the breeze was cool and kept the black flies away. We spent hours in make believe. Our Barbies never had such a summer!
We caught sunfish and made rocky cages to trap them in the shallows. They found ways to get out, so we built the walls up higher and stuffed pebbles in the cracks.
We found tiny frogs and tossed them from the big gray rock. Gulping perch jumped after them, snatching them quickly from the surface, leaving giant rings in their wake. It probably wasn’t very nice, but it was entertaining!
We talked and talked, skipping up and down the road each day. We had the kind of conversations that would only make sense to the two of us.
“Would you still hang around with me if I walked like this?” I asked, bowing out my legs and shuffling along all catawampus.
“Probably,” she answered, unconvincingly. “Would you still hang out with me if I looked like this?” She used her finger to push up her nose to resemble a pig.
“Maybe,” I answered, trying not to laugh. “But I don’t know.”
We snapped leafy branches from the trees to swat the deer flies away as we walked along.
The loneliness I felt when she had to go back home at the end of the week was painful. Though we always begged for more time, it was usually rejected.
“Geesh! One week is enough!” my mother declared. “There will be other times.”
And there were. Every year, for a week or so, Andrea traded her house in town with electricity and plumbing for the gas lights and the outhouse we had at camp. She never complained. Well maybe about the outhouse…
Our conversations shifted over the years from Barbies to boys. Our interests changed. We spent less time at the camp and more time walking the road and exploring.
Our sleeping arrangements changed too. We required more privacy. We could never talk about all the things we wanted to with nosey ears listening. A couple of times we set up a tent in the yard, but it wasn’t much good in the rain, even with the waterproofing. Plus, there might have been bears! A thin layer of tent material was no match for the towering bears we imagined!
“Why don’t you jokers sleep in the barn?” my dad suggested one year. His voice was gruff, but kind. “It’s not half bad now that it’s painted on the inside. You guys could fix it up.”
Years before, my dad had bought me a horse for Christmas. When summer came along and he bought the camp, we couldn’t leave the horse in town. We spent all one summer building a barn together up the hill past camp. The horse didn’t last long, but the barn still stood. It was sturdy and private.
“Yeah! We could make it into a guest house!”
We hauled in posters and quilts, snacks and lanterns. We spent an entire day fixing it up and both of us had to admit how nice it was. By the light of the day it was pretty neat. After dark, however, the squeaking started. Low chirps at first that turned in to vicious squeals. We turned on the flashlight and pointed the beam in the direction of the noise.
Bats! We couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
“What in jeeslum is going on?” my dad bellowed, sticking his head out the door, awakened by our screams.
“Bats! The barn is full of bats!” we cried, running and tripping over roots as we fled the barn with blankets covering our heads.
“Oh heck! They don’t eat much! Pipe down and get to sleep!” He shook his head and slammed the door.
By that time, I had a license and a car and we ended up sleeping in it for the rest of the night. It was uncomfortable and stifling, but safe.
We evicted the bats over time and plugged the holes in the barn so they couldn’t get back in.
While we never fully recovered from the trauma of that night, and never stopped checking for bats, we did spend many nights there. My favorite nights were when the air would turn cool and the wind would kick up, causing whitecaps on the silvery moonlit lake.
We’d sneak out, running in our bare feet down the road to the neighbors’ beach. If no one was home, we’d jump off the wharf there wearing nothing but grins.
The water was warmer than the air and we would stay in a long time, just laughing and talking well into the night.
It’s been twenty- eight years since the last sleepover I had at camp with Andrea.
We both grew up and had kids of our own. We’re busy, she and I, but we still make time to talk.
I believe the experiences we shared and the memories we made at camp all those years ago cemented us together for a lifetime. She will always be a part of me.
I pluck snippets of those times from my mind when I need a lift, and they always make me smile.
Andrea wasn’t just the best kind of company, she was and always will be my best friend.