I am revisiting this entry because I am in rehearsals right now for “On Golden Pond.” In the play, my character, Chelsea, visits her parents’ lake house, where she begins the excruciating work of mending her relationship with her father. Chelsea says “Hello” to the lake, it’s “always [her] first order of business” when she arrives at Golden Pond. I always hugged family, then headed to the dock to say hello to the water. When leaving, I always loaded the car, went to the dock for a quiet goodbye, then kissed the family before getting in the car. Chelsea and Golden Pond are renewing my longing for the lake.
I have a very favorite place in the world: my grandparents’ lake house in Brownwood, Texas, a cedar shake cabin surrounded by live oaks and marked by a mailbox set in an antique milk can. My love affair with this place began when I visited it for the first time as an awkward twelve year old, lost in the morass of junior high hell, losing bids for cheerleader and having my bra strap popped by idiot boys. Mornings began on the porch swing, my grandmother June drinking coffee while I had orange juice. She loved to watch for birds. My brothers and I caught tiny frogs and kept them in plastic margarine bowls provided by my grandmother and spent the afternoons taking running leaps off the top of the boat dock. One time, my brother Lance grabbed my hand for a pellmell vault into the brown water, and my foot caught on a nail. The nail embedded itself in the fleshy ball of my foot and I just sort of rooted myself to the spot. Lance kept pulling me, exhorting me not to be a chicken, until he realized my silent misery. Seeing my wound, he helped me to the house for first aid and loved on me the rest of the day. He had a sweet heart. I slept on bunk beds, a marvelous invention, covered by quilts that my ancestors had stitched. When my grandfather came home, my grandmother greeted him at the door, face uplifted for an open mouthed kiss often followed by a fox trot in the kitchen.
As I matured, I began to see the paneled walls, blue kitchen cabinets, colored striped carpets and brightly hued quilts and glass as the very safest and most love filled place on earth. After my grandmother died of breast cancer in 1982, this cabin became the living embodiment of her compassion and joy, and of the love she and my grandfather shared. My grandparents spent the first months of their marriage living in a tent near the dam on lake Brownwood, while my Pop recuperated from TB. That lake was a place of love and romance for them. To honor that, I wanted to get married there, but the logistics of planning a wedding somewhere far away from where I was in school were so daunting, I changed my mind. I have always regretted that. I believe now that we must acknowledge and pursue the deepest desires of our hearts, no matter how seemingly impossible.
I took my kids there every summer. We have many, many pictures of them jumping on the trampoline or riding the innertubes. Their childhoods can be traced at the lake, like growth marks on a doorway. We had Hilary’s seventh birthday there, and Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations that revolved not around the water, but around the card table. Brownwood is where I spent time with my dear cousins, aunts, and uncles.
I dream of the house often. Always surrounded by water, sometimes Pop is there, sometimes my uncles, sometimes Rebecca. I scattered my brother Lance’s ashes right there in the water where he and I jumped so often as children, teens, and even young adults. The new owners have replaced the old dock and blue kitchen cabinets, much to my dismay, but the spirit of my grandparents lives on.
Today, my home is filled with little lake touches. My grandmother’s glass collection is on a shelf in my kitchen, the quilt that was on my grandparents’ bed hangs on a rod in my living room, and I painted my kitchen cabinets blue. I keep geraniums because my Pop did, though much to my dismay I can’t seem to get house plants to flourish like Grandma did (nor can I seem to cook like her).
But the spirit of the lake, of family and constancy amid change, that I cherish. I hope that if Heaven exists, there is a slate blue boat dock with a swing and an eight foot roof from which I can take endless joyful flights into the refreshing water.