Lake Nacimento, Ca
The first time she brought me I was 14. In 8th grade and as awkward as the age allows. In awe of the lush wall of wheat colored landscape that rolled by my window on the long snaking dirt road up, peppered by old oak trees strung with gaping moss, scattered horses roaming in the sun, and run down wood barns rotted with neglect scattered all along the hillsides. "God's Country" he grand father called it. Just as Steinbeck before him had already poetically defined in all those novels decades before.
For us it was an escape. From the slight lull down south just as summer starts to loose some of it's luster and the pains of real boredom started to set in. There were new people up north. Possibilities. A cabin that smelt as musty and water logged as the 1970's gold linoleum kitchen hinted. A place we were free to unhinge ourselves from the normal pressures of our age. Not stuck on impressing other friends, making plans or saving face. Doubting every move we made, or didn't make, or wanted to make. A place we could hang tight to the fading fringes of childhood passing. Unguarded and aloof in the sweltering hours of our all day dock hangs. We played ping pong in the garage, smoked cigarettes at the west ramp, made up songs, kissed unfamiliar boys, walked barefoot to the pool, stole beers from the community fridge, washed dishes, swung golf clubs, dived naked into the pitch black waters of the lake at midnight, and eventually grew home sick in the slow, glorious days away from home.
Going back I'm always reminded of how much time has passed even though so much still feels the same. The wall of framed family photos lining the dinning room now sun drained to the point of housing nearly blank squares. The old honda motorcycles we road so horribly on attempt too many times to count, traded. The wooden dock replaced by plastic. Her aunts, who's infamous blue eyes still shine like that of the ocean waters, grown gray and fragile. The grit of their defining character edged a little sharper too. The same. But older. We are too.
At the White Party, where we celebrate Jess and Rachel's marriage with family, there is a deck filled with people. A few faces I haven't seen in years. And others I keep up with on Facebook and other random run ins. Her cousin, the handsome, albeit reckless boy I use to steal away to make out with every summer until Mike, now a distinguished head chef at the swanky restaurant on the bay front. Her uncle with the life long affinity for Bruce Springsteen, her Nana, 93 - the one who scolded me for finding strands of my impossibly long hair I kept all through my teenage years, on the bathroom floor. Who showed us how to wash dishes in scolding hot water, played scrabble with us in the shade on deck in the afternoons, made polenta stew for a full table every visit and laughed heartily at her own jokes, now cursed with the seeds of senility making her softer, friendly, like a stranger in her own head from time to time. A light that goes in and out. Which I am reminded of whenever she leads me along the wall to show and tell me all about people I've known half my life. She tells me their name, where they are from, who they are related to. I let her. Every time, with every visit, because her brain is fogged but her Swiss pride, unwavering.
Jess's father, the one who drove us up all those years in that big white Expedition along the dull stretch of the 5 highway, pointing out landmarks and indulging in a rare McDonalds drive through along the way, now passed. His absence sitting heavy on our hearts throughout the celebration. Even if silently so. His name is said in a toast, his presence in everything we see and touch. His favorite destination, so long as I ever knew him, still thriving with food and wine family and conversation after he's gone. As he would indefinitely prefer.
Visiting now we arrive with the same excitement we kept at teens on escape. Except we are in charge of so much more. Marveled by the same oak trees on the drive up, carting bags full of groceries like a circus barreling out of that white van wielding balls, and boys and buckets and floats. A road trip that takes all eight of us to the same point to soak up the long weekend in mid July. Just as we've done so many years now.
Four days where my boys get a taste of what we loved so dearly growing up. Beds on deck beneath a scatter of stars, all day in the cool relief of those recently rising lake waters, on the dock, in the pool, out on deck. Trying new food, meeting new friends, playing "house' half naked with old dish ware and wooden cup cakes, popsicles bleeding blue streaks down their tummies, new crushes blooming in the hours they spend together. Footnotes of summer writing themselves in memory as the days unroll.
Where we eat, drink, laugh, and complain. Same as always. Gossip and nap. Snack, swim and wander. Same as always. Cram the van full of as many people as it will hold on a Sunday and drive to the pool late night just before closing with a game of Truth or Dare unfolds quietly in the pool hall corners while we entertained the younger ones. Music blaring, windows down the way there and back, songs from the soundtrack defined by this occasion. Creedence, Dylan, Waits, now Bieber.
The kind of experience they will remember down the line as one of their own. But tied to the ones we made before them. And ours, to those who forged plenty of their own long before we came along too.