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Local view: Summer's promise departs too soon

Summer would never be the same. It was our last day at the lake cabin. The week had stretched out in a languid rhythm of fishing, swimming and eating outdoors at the picnic table, barefoot and in swimsuits 'til dusk. And then we would change into...

The McGrath brothers
The McGrath brothers Pat, David, Jim, Kev, Ken and Charlie pose during a day of fishing in about August 1960. David McGrath photo

Summer would never be the same.

It was our last day at the lake cabin. The week had stretched out in a languid rhythm of fishing, swimming and eating outdoors at the picnic table, barefoot and in swimsuits 'til dusk. And then we would change into jeans and zippered sweatshirts for the campfire.

Tonight we sat in the semi-darkness, watching the moon riddle the surface of the lake, the colder, nighttime water smelling of lily pads, sand and, vaguely, of fish.

My brother Jimmy asked if I might want to come again next year. It was his campfire joke. For it was known I was crazy for fishing, even for shivering at dawn for a chance at a surprise. I was too young to know the meaning of obsession. But I had it worse than my older brothers. The feel of the rod tells you when the fish mouths the bait. Underwater, the disturbance of the metal hook sends a vibration up the nylon braided line and through the ferrules of the fiberglass rod which then pulsates like a silent guitar. My first time, I dropped the rod on the floorboards, so startling was the sensation of a live creature worrying my hands from 15 feet below.

The sensation became an addiction.

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My first trophy was a largemouth bass, which we kept on the stringer with a dozen pan fish in order to get a snapshot back at the pier. After Charlie took the picture with Dad's box camera, we gently slid the stringer back through the bass's hinged jaws and placed him in the water at the end of the dock. He swam directly to the bottom, stopping. I watched him finning, pouting, skeptical of his new freedom. Finally, I lost sight of him in the shadows and the sun.

So, seated around our last campfire, I told Jim, yes, I wanted to come again next year. But I knew it would all be different because of what happened earlier in that week.

Tommy Booth, my classmate and pal from across the alley back home, had arrived on Wednesday with his family, our parents all friends. So much there was that I needed to show him: the fish picture, my new rod, the secret island on the lake's north shore. But I stopped talking as Lynn suddenly skipped down the steps of their cabin. Lynn

DiBennardi was staying with her family in another cottage on the resort. She was in the same grade as Tom and me at St. Bernadette's school, but in Sister Philomena's class.

And she was a girl.

"Will you take me fishing?" she asked us.

"If you like worms," Tom said.

She made a face and turned to me, brown eyes, or could have been green -- so darkly flaming they were with anticipation -- and I could feel the sunburn on my neck. I smoothed my scalp with my hand, knowing my hair must be sticking up like straw.

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I went ahead of them to the dock while Tom went to get boat cushions, his fly rod and a net. Lynn brought sunglasses and a beach bag. There also may have been a hat, but I jerked my head down to undo the rope and fix the oars in the locks.

How I wanted to row! To make her feel each pull with my aching arms. I remained quiet, not daring to say or even think that it was not unpleasant, propelling a pretty girl in a straw hat to the other side. For it felt oddly like betrayal. Of fishing? Of the lake? Of something I did not yet understand.

Stopping at the deep end of a weed bed, I heaved the anchor, a Hills Brothers can of concrete, over the side and watched the yellow rope go slack. Tom already was standing, stripping line, rocking the boat.

"Would you show me how to fish, David?" Lynn asked.

She ducked her head to see me under Tom's whips and back casts. Her prim knees drawn up, her arms wrapped around her legs. One hand clutching an elbow -- pink nails and a golden ring.

Her earnest, impossibly beautiful smile and the midday sun like a hammer, I pivoted my left foot on the gunnel and had to dive into the water.

The rush of cold and the comforting aquamarine silence greeted me.

I recalled the bass hunkering safely in the depths. I tried to stay and hold my breath as long as I could.

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I don't well remember what was said when I emerged. But all these years later, I think of the lake and of summer as a time when it all begins: dreams, possibility, love, longing.

And how terribly fast it rushes by.

David McGrath of Hayward is a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page and is the author of "The Territory." Contact him at profmcgrath2004@yahoo.com .

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