Jack opened the huge box and I stuck my head in for a peek, but rather than see bunk beds I smelled life jackets. Opening this box was like popping open the cargo space on the front of the boat, the one where we kept ropes and anchors, life preservers and assorted, and rarely used, flotation devices. Mine was multi colored where all the others were orange, and mine was worn all the time, my mother being terrified of water. Why she chose to spend every weekend bobbing around on a boat in a state of panic I still do not understand.
The musty boat smell was the same, and it lingers still, days after the new beds have been assembled and occupied by two very happy five year old sleepers. Opening the door to their room is like stepping onto the boat, the big yellow beast that was my summer home for years. The stretch from the dock was always a bit scary, just longer than my five year old legs could reach, but with a quick push from my dad I was on board, racing away to a weekend of wet lake fun.
Why these beds arrived full of musty boat smell is a mystery, but I'm happy they did. I've been away from that lake for a very long time, the old yellow boat sold years ago. Still, the smells take me back there from time to time: breakfast sausage and cinnamon rolls in a tube, circa 1974 Coppertone, Fritos, dead fish, lighter fluid, damp towels and always the cigar. Landmarks along the way let me know we were getting close, the market in Laurie meant we were minutes from the boat. Windy roads that now would leave me reeling were all that stretched between our car and water, the last 10 minutes by far the longest part of the four hour trip.
Buried somewhere in the family photo archives there is a picture of Mimi and me bobbing along in a huge blow up life boat, me in the multi colored life preserver and pink sunglasses and Mimi with a scarf around her head, cateye sunglasses and a cocktail in her hand dangling over the water. We were tied to a dock, I'm certain, serenaded by Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel, and Neil Diamond. The same sounds that woke me every morning, my father singing "I Walk the Line" as he flipped the sausage patties on the tiny stove.
Our nautical years came to a screeching halt when my grandparents decided
they'd rather spend their summer on the golf course and Dad headed for the mountains; my mother was greatly relieved. Years later, after they divorced, my mother put her sailor suit back on when she married my stepfather, a wonderful man who would have been quite happy living full time at the lake. They built a wonderful cottage with a beautiful view and a deck that hung out over the water. The trip was the same, a different turn at the end to arrive just across from where we used to be, and the smell when you opened the door, much like opening the door to Mary and Kate's room, the intoxicating musty reminder of childhood, living now, for a short time, in my children's room.