a good childhood

We are at our family cabin, deep in the northern Shuswap.

It’s a tiny place, built by my grandfather on a chunk of leased land.  No electricity.  No plumbing.  Two tiny cubby-hole bedrooms; one of which can barely hold a single set of bunk beds, that my sisters claim.

Being the youngest, smallest, I sleep on the lumpy, delectible chesterfield in the main room, only a few feet away from the monstrous wood-burning cook stove that my father stokes in the wee hours of the morning.  I open my eyes to see him padding across the curling linoleum, then poking at the remnants of the fire that still sings, softly, under cast iron circles.

We are warm.  We are safe, together.

* * * * *

I am on the lake, alone, in a sailboat made of styrofoam.  I am eight years old.  I wear a lifejacket.  I’ve told my parents that I want to sail around the little island, and they are happy to let me go.  I will be gone for most of the afternoon.

The wind is calm, but steady.  I find the right tack and take on speed, the boat shifting and leaning as it cuts through the black cool water.  I’ve never seen the other side of the island, and for a moment I am afraid.  I have ventured too far.  I don’t know what lies ahead.

A shift in the wind.  Bringing the boat around, turning the corner.  And finally the outline of the cabins, far down the shore.  I am coming home.  I don’t need anybody, and I am no longer afraid.  I am victorious.

* * * * *

Dusk, we light kerosene or white gas lanterns and do puzzles at the big table (which probably isn’t big really, except in dreams or memories).  We play cards, we read the books that have been left by visitors over the course of years.  Dickens, Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew.  Archie comics.  Before nine, we throw a jacket around our shoulders and find the flashlight for one last trip to the outhouse before we go to sleep.  We don’t mind the outhouse; it is clean and an adventure for children who have never learned to judge life for its conveniences.

The night is black.  A loon sings somewhere on the lake.  We are alone in the world and all is well.

* * * *

Another day on the lake, my sister and I in a rowboat (where is my middle sister?  What have we done to her that she is not here?).

We row to the deepest water, and jump from the boat, diving and dipping under the surface.  The water is calm, always so calm and clear.

We are laughing and talking and gliding like mermaids through the silky blackness when other sisters come.  They warn us about the leeches in the water and we thank them, then laugh.  We know there are leeches, but not here.  Only near the shore, where the grass grows and the bottom is muddy.  Here, where we are, is glorious.  These girls don’t know.

They don’t know what they are missing.

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