I awoke to the frenzied rhythms of rain playing on the log cabin roof. The chilled air, unexpected for the second week in August, had not yet been warmed by the fire, but I knew by the scent of burning wood that Dad had already tended the wood stove as he had the past several days at the crack of dawn. With a loud click, the buzzing of the water pump began. Mom was finished getting washed; it was my turn to get up. My older brother, Richie, was always last.
Today was going to be a special one if the weather didn’t spoil our plans. For the first time, Richie and I were going to take the motorboat by ourselves to the far end of the lake to Gray’s Landing, for the opening of the fair. At 15 and 10 years old, permission to do this seemed like a sure sign of growing up.
I washed with ice-cold water, dressed quickly, and descended the narrow, steep wooden stairway to warm up by the stove. The fire crackled and glowed inside the vents, and its heat was starting to radiate through the small living room and into the kitchen.
Mom called upstairs to wake up Richie, reminding him and me that we were eating breakfast at Aunt Addie and Uncle George’s cabin.
“And then we’re taking the boat to Gray’s Landing — by ourselves!” In that sentence, his voice changed from being groggy to sounding passably awake. Mom and Dad exchanged glances without speaking, but I knew the meaning was “Not if it’s raining like this.” It wouldn’t change our plans! It couldn’t! We’ve waited months for this. We deserve it!
When Richie was dressed, we left the cabin, trampling down the soggy pine needles covering of the forest floor, past a few other cabins to Uncle George’s. The rain soaked through the hood of my jacket even in that short time, but I hardly noticed.
Ever since I was 6 or 7, I had looked forward to our trek from Queens to Loon Lake in the Adirondacks for vacation. Even then, I loved what I love now: the scent of the evergreens, the grain of the wood in the cabin, and the quiet of the lake punctuated by animated voices; and I was disappointed when the week ended. The small lake near Lake George had been “settled” and visited by friends and neighbors from our close-knit church community in Queens. Aunt Addie and Uncle George weren’t really relatives, but we addressed them this way because they were childhood friends of my parents. They were among the first to build a cabin on the lake, and now had the luxury of central heating.
As we entered their cabin, the steamy warmth of the kitchen hit my face. Bacon was sizzling, eggs and hash browns were frying, coffee and juice were being poured. Aunt Addie’s voice filled the rooms — melodious, resonant, a bit pinched, and always jolly. Everyone was “dear” or “honey” to her, and everyone got hugs and smiles.
As we ate on the enclosed porch with wide windows overlooking the lake — actually Richie and I devoured our food as the others ate — the conversation centered on the unusually cool and wet weather, how it was keeping Uncle George from finishing the new little cabin for his daughter, Linda, and how it might keep people from attending the opening of the fair. And, if it would keep us from the fair. Breakfast seemed to last an eternity while Richie and I waited for the others to finish, but the rain gradually let up, and Dad suggested that he might “let the boys go.” Mom breathed a sigh of relief: “Look, you can almost see the other side of the lake now!”
It was still a little foggy as we walked along the waterfront back to the pier in front of our cabin. Dad reminded us to stop at the marina to get fuel before going on to the opposite end of the lake. We jumped into the wooden boat and untied it. I had the privileged job of pulling the cord to start the motor. I mustered all my strength to do it, and after a few tries it kicked off. Its loud drone almost masked the goodbyes and final instructions from Dad. My brother took over and piloted the boat. I was just a passenger, but was proud that I had reached this milestone of independence. I guessed Richie was elated too, although he tried to act “cool,” as we would have said in 1961. Finally we were on our way!
I didn’t take long for me to become hypnotized by the rhythmic bouncing of the boat, the pervasive hum, and the fresh scent of the water with each breath. But suddenly my state of mind was jarred by a few seconds of sputtering. Then there was a sudden silence that engulfed us as the boat leveled and slowed. We tried in vain to restart the motor, but after each grumbling of the motor the silence returned. We were out of gas.
The fog had lifted. The sun poked through with the promise of a late-summer day. My ears adjusted to the absence of the hum; then as the hush receded I could hear birdsong. New adventures awaited as we drifted toward the marina.
Thomas Bohlert writes about music for The Star and was formerly on its editorial staff. He was director of music at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church from 2000 to 2016 and is now organist for the Hamptons Lutheran Parish. He lives in Springs.