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January 23, 2023

Transitions 67

By Sand Pilarski

Sixty-seven: The Lure of Water

Aunt Sully proposed that we fly to New York at the end of June, and stay on the East coast until our family arrived from Italy, then travel back home with them. John vetoed her immediately.

"Do you know how hot it is back there?" he sputtered. "And how humid? Come on, you lived back there until you were sixteen -- you forget all that? You stay in the city, you stay inside where it's air conditioned. You stay out in the parks in the mountains, you get carried off by mosquitoes. I'm still holding it against you for not marrying me when I met you, you know -- I could have been living out here all that time instead of suffering."

Ignoring the jibe much as she had ignored him for years, she went on. "I just don't think these kids should be hanging around doing nothing all this time, waiting for family to come home."

It was my turn to sputter. "I've still got fencing lessons, and practice. I ride with you when you go out, which is almost every day. I have a list of books to read, and a journal that I try to write in every day. I've got my father's journals to read, and think about, too. In the evenings, I'm on line with Mom and the twins -- and you, when it's a big group chat."

"Yeah, it's not like we're doing nothing here -- I run every morning before it gets hot, and now that I can drive, when you let me, I like to go down town and see real human beings. Hey, can I take surfing lessons? Seriously, Rachel and I were down by the pier watching the surfers and I could almost feel the rush they get when they hit the wave just right!" Marca's face lit up as though illuminated from inside her head.

Our aunt looked surprised. "Do you swim well enough? I know you all have taken lessons, but do you swim well enough to go out in the waves?"

"I guess I won't know until I try, but I think I can. Can I?"

"'May I,' and I'll ask your mother when I talk to her tonight." She looked very deeply thoughtful for a moment. "I wonder why no one ever thought of putting a pool in here? It's hardly ever warm enough to swim outside, but surely we could manage an indoor pool building ..."

"That would be cool!" I interjected. "I can't go out in the sun at the municipal pool or I fry like a beached squid, but I could swim indoors..."

"Same here, Owen," John said enthusiastically. "Heated, I hope, and then we could swim in the winter -- what about if there was a big old fireplace at one end -- wouldn't that be great?"

"And a hot tub," Marca added dreamily.

"We might even feel like we were rich people," Aunt Sully muttered drily.

"Do we have the funds available for something like that? I mean, when the power was out, we talked about making plans for some kind of Power Outage Cooking Area, or redoing the kitchens so that the stoves and refrigerators could run off propane instead of electric, but we haven't made any moves in that direction, so I thought that perhaps the third floor renovation took up all the money for improvements ... " I hoped I sounded responsible, and not like a dopey kid.

"I'd forgotten about that, to tell the truth," she answered. "Just let me talk to your mother about it before we start getting wild with the property."

"Ask her about some waterslides and a wave pool while you're at it," Marca put in. "And a home theater."

Dinner was then served, and we lost the train of thought in the onslaught of scallops drizzled with a white wine cream sauce, and asparagus, attended by a delicate pasta sprinkled with gorgonzola cheese.

I think that Aunt Sully was projecting onto us her own nervousness about the family's return, specifically the babies. She was tickled by the prospect of the four infants, but found the waiting for their residence nerve-wracking.

There was no doubt that this summer so far was very different from others -- after all, we did not have all Five of us to pester and plot and play; other years we often all went down to the creek and sat in it and made dams or threw mud at each other. Knowing Marca could easily best me physically, and had, and would, made the prospect of puttering in the creek with her less than attractive.

But I found myself busy enough. A mathematics text from my father's shelves occupied really dull moments; geometry was the next trap public education had in store for me, and I wanted a jump on the subject. It seemed fairly straight forward, in theory.

I was thrilled by my father's journal, even though it was very prosaic at the time I was reading.

Father says that the whole house can be heated with ten cords of wood over an average winter. That's because the downstairs fireplaces send much of the heat upstairs, so the oil furnaces don't even need to be used.

He is of the opinion that cooler rooms are more healthful, and doesn't like us to use the oil radiators to heat our rooms. He may have a point, as I have not had a cold since I quit the accursed prep school with its overweening slathered heat.

Or this one:

Father says that three piece suits are the best winter wear, because the layers of fabric keep a man warmer, but can be shed down as necessary if there is an unexpected warm day. Mother decries the shorter skirts that are the fashion, saying that the longer skirts kept her legs warmer. He told her she could borrow a pair of his trousers -- she was furious at the suggestion, and swore that she would never be seen in trousers, and that no decent woman ever would.

That one made me laugh, for the woman was, of course, Grandmother Claire. I couldn't wait to ask her when she had stopped being "decent."

There came a hot morning when Aunt Sully ditched me for riding because she wanted to be in the saddle at first light, and I didn't set my alarm. After breakfast and some sweaty fencing practice, I asked Marca if she wanted to go down to the creek to muck about. The previous summer, with all Five of us around, I would have used the word "play," but now, the word seemed foolish. She told me no with vehemence, as she had already showered, and was thinking about asking to drive one of the kitchen girls to the supermarket for groceries.

As I walked along, I wondered if, by the time the new round of kids was old enough to visit the creek, would I still like messing about with stones and rivulets, or would I be wearing three-piece suits like my grandfather, and have no time for such nonsense?

When I got to the creek, I waded into its cold water. From its source, an Artesian well, (Aunt Sully had told us this years ago,) the water heated a little where it ran between the apple orchard and the cherry orchard in the sunlight, but it was still a little colder than 'refreshing.' I followed the creek downstream, relishing the deeper parts that cooled my knees. Where the creek entered forest again, I sat on a large rock at its side for a while and wondered how I would feel about holding a new baby brother or sister. Would they seem cute to me, or hideous?

We had sat in back of a small family at church the previous Sunday; the husband and wife had a fidgety toddler who kept trying to escape from the pew to run down the main aisle towards the altar, and a baby too small to put down on the seat. They took turns chasing the toddler and holding the baby, who raised her head and stared raptly at the faces around her, until we stood for the Creed, at which point she plopped her face down on her mother's shoulder and went to sleep for the rest of the service, in spite of the continued fussing and tumbling of her brother. I could not say that my heart softened at seeing the little kids; but I wasn't repulsed, either. The toddler made me feel a little like grabbing him by a leg as he tried to run, and making him scream with annoyance, calling to mind the same emotion I felt pelting Michel with grapes while we sat in the gazebo in the back yard. So the toddler, I could deal with. But a new baby?

I moved farther down stream, then left the water to walk around the rock shelf that made a little waterfall. As I got to the edge of the shelf, the breeze brought to me a strong scent of horse. I stopped in my tracks. A horse was tied between a pair of trees, dozing in the heat, and by the pool below the falls, a girl in cutoff jeans sat alone on the gritty shore, her legs in the water. It was Christine.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-10-11
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