Tuesday, May 31, 2011

i'll sing you songs

do you ever find yourself hungrily inhaling familiar air, gulping down great whiffs of it? and when you do, the smell you draw into your nostrils hits you hard, provokes a memory? does a scent fill you up and lead you back across the years to a spot which had a hold on you, perhaps still does, unleashing images and feelings forever imbedded in your psyche?

when my sense of smell is awakened by anything resembling a pineneedley-mountainy-woodsydirt mixture i am transported to where i spent summer after childhood summer. i sniff. i slowly drag the scent deep inside my nasal passages.

i am at the river. i remember this.

down by the rocky swift river in the white mountains of new hampshire during one of the hottest julys on record—according to my mother—my cousins and i wiled away the hours in that happy summertime land of childhood where our only responsibility, our only steadfast endeavor, was to play, to play hard.

so we did.

our daily attire for the hard work of river play consisted of rapidly fading and fraying bathing suits. there certainly wasn't a lot of  laundry to be done since we existed in suits which were soaked river water fresh every day. yet our day in and day out routine of sliding down boulders and pulling ourselves up boulders took its toll on our suits—when we got back to boston my mother promptly tossed mine in the trash.

we stood knee-deep in the rushing river which, back then, was clear as gin—fresh and clean enough to drink!—and hauled rocks off the sandy bottom to build our own private swimming hole. the river wasn't too deep or wide and it was full of rocks and boulders so we could, in places, hop-scotch across the rapids and tumbling whitewater without getting our feet wet if we were careful. the daily game was: who can get across the river first -without falling in!

we worked off and on for a few summers, repairing, excavating, enlarging, to create our perfect swimming hole, humming and singing to pass the time. (we'd sing i've been working on the river to the melody of i've been working on the railroad.) we called it "ye ole swimming hole." our parents wondered why we spent all our time on such a project when the river offered many of its own nature-made pools to swim in. oh dear silly parents, the answer was obvious: we want to make our own swimming hole, one we design and build all by ourselves! 

the site for our engineering feat was carefully chosen near an isolated place on the river where we pitched our tents. for years my parents had loved to camp out in the summer. they were back-to-nature, back-to-the-land kind of folks, people who recycled and composted way before that became the thing to do. in the summer during my early years, while my friends went to organized camps and their parents played tennis and golf, i lived in a wilderness camp; i built swimming holes, rode down the river on an air mattress, swam and hiked. my parents chopped wood, bought food from local farmers and also swam and hiked. in addition, we had a very basic—no plumbing or electricity—very old and run down, but perfectly dry, hunting cabin where the adults sometimes slept.

ye ole swimming hole boasted three large, grand, slightly angled boulders with flat tops which circled the perimeter where we were building up the sides with rocks we dug out of the middle. on the far side of one of them the river fell off and a three-foot-high waterfall cascaded over the stones. below the falls was a small, calm, bath-tub sized pool surrounded by the gushing whitewater. even with temperatures in the 90's, our bodies soon became icy in the mountain water. we would flop on the hot, hot sun-baked stones to warm up, then head back into our pool once we had toasted all sides, and swim or sit under the waterfall and freeze our heads off. then back up on the hot stones again, joyfully repeating this scenario over and over.

another memory is sparked by a black and white photo of me from those river years: i have medium length, straight blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. i am about seven years old and i am wide-mouthed, singing a song while dancing around the campfire at dusk. someone had a guitar and i remember singing songs. first i would belt out the real words of the song, then i would sing my own crazy made-up version until my wonderful song started to get on everyone's nerves and—according to my mother—my mother would politely tell me shush, it was time to sing the real words again with the rest of the people gathered around the fire.

pshaw! those people just didn't appreciate a good song when they heard it!

songs of summer, songs of the river, songs of the way it was, all part of the melody of childhood.....

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