When I was eight years old my brother Mark taught me how to smoke. He preferred Du Maurier which, at the time, were 75 cents a pack. He even gave me the confidence to buy them. I was to tell the store owner that they were for my Uncle. Things being the way they were then, this actually worked. Never mind that I was a little girl and that I was apparently sent to buy cigarettes by a loved uncle.
The other day, forty-four years later, I was biting into scorched popcorn and there it was. The forgotten taste of Du Maurier and all the memories of my ‘bad little girl’ summer when I tried my best to keep up with two of my older brothers and all of their mischievous adventures. That was the summer I learned how to lie to Mom and Dad and to be devious. I was normally a very well behaved child, so this new-found deviousness was a somewhat bitter pill of guilt and subsequent worry.
We would run through the field of long blond hay and go up to the abandoned barn next to our lake-side property where we spent every summer. There was an ancient hemp rope tied way up in the loft of the barn rafters. We would swing on that rope and then let go with abandon and tumble into the very dry hay below, our woops mostly held in due to the danger of being found out and sound carrying so well anywhere near the lake. Going into the barn was trespassing. We were forbidden by Dad to go there, but, we went there almost every day anyway. It was fabulously fun and exciting.
Later that summer, a large family arrived to rent #2 cabin for three weeks and we all became friends. Mark thought Maureen was quite something. She was very friendly and kind to me even though she was a teenager. When I told her that Mark liked her, she blushed and lowered her dark lashes and head of shiny hair. We were swimming at the time and so carried on with our game of back flips in the water. After that though, suddenly our simple swinging on the hemp rope turned into heated games of ‘spin the bottle’ and ‘strip poker’.
Maureen’s Dad had a pick-up truck and he would take scores of us into town to get ice-cream. We would all stand in the back of the pick-up, the little ones holding tight to the teens while he would bounce over the camp roads and then onto the highway to Maggie River, two miles away. Racing down the pretty country road, over the Trouble River bridge, bugs hitting us full tilt, eyes squinted while our hair parted crazily in the whistling wind. No shoes, no shirt, no hat, no sunglasses, no sunscreen, no cellphone. It was a carefree time.
At night we would have huge campfires with s’mores (graham crackers, chocolate and browned marshmallows) or we would boil corn and roast wieners on sticks or pop some popcorn, drinking spring water (fetched from the artesian spring down the road) directly from a huge thermos on the picnic table, bending and turning our heads to allow the cool water to splash right into our mouths. No bottled water. It wasn’t invented yet. We would sing all the old songs and there would always be a couple of guitars. The children would sit on blankets near the fire and the adults would be on the chairs or a stump of wood with a stubby of Molsen Golden. Many times I fell asleep by the campfire and one of my older brothers or sisters would wake me when it was time to go.
We would look up at the night sky to see a gazillion stars twinkling and then a lonesome loon would call on the lake. In the field the fireflies would flash, lighting our way to our beds. The copious crickets singing us to sleep. It was magical.
On rainy days we would play card games in one of the cabins or, sometimes we would play large games of Monopoly for hours or Rummoli and Euchre. No screens. Not a single one there in cottage country, not in 1974.
Other nights we would go around and gather all the kids, a couple of dozen all hailing from different cabins of large families. Then we would start a game of ‘sardines’. One kid would run and hide somewhere in the forest of the 20 lake-side acres. Then we would run around and try to find the hiding person. We would squish in with him or her, thus: sardines. Often I would play this game in bare-feet. My feet were very tough from the weeks of running shoe-less.
Behind all of the fun, that summer, was my guilt at now being a ‘smoker’ with a two-smoke per week habit. I felt sick about it and just wanted to quit. Thankfully I found quitting a pretty easy task. I just stopped. My brother Mark however went on to smoke cigarettes for several decades. Thankfully he has now joined the ranks of non-smokers. I am very proud of him for that.
I don’t blame my brothers for dragging me into their mischief back then. Again, all this stuff had to happen to get me where I am today, in a happy life with a wonderful, albeit, small, family. It’s just that sometimes I think back on these things and can barely believe we lived that way. I haven’t exaggerated it either. Today we live so differently. Our controlled, safety-concerned, washed and dried lives of today where we now have to teach our children how to play outside.
Will the pendulum swing back to that easier way of life?