There has always been something amazing about a good swimming spot that draws me like a pig to mud. A swan dive from a sandy spot felt as glorious as cliff diving over an enormous turquoise-colored waterfall in a Hollywood movie.
The best summer memories involve swimming and playing games on a little beach with our Smalley cousins when I was very young. Their aunt and uncle had a cottage on Pleasant Hill Lake, and being invited to spend a couple of days and nights at the cottage was the closest we ever came to a vacation get-away.
Like all dairy farmers, the work never ended, and getting away for even a day or two felt like a glorious gift. We would get a couple of days away sometime between second crop and third crop hay, but our dad wouldn’t get to join us for anything more than an evening meal. As any dairy farmer knows, the cows are the ones in charge.
We enjoyed the sense of adventure, swimming and diving from a floating dock until we were so exhausted that it showed quite clearly, and one of the moms would insist that we get out and dry off. “Just one more somersault!” we would all chime in, looking for any excuse to stay in just a little bit longer.
Waiting on the shore for us were nice little surprises: sugar cookies and Kool-Aid or Ritz crackers and lemonade. It was usually something quite simple, but it tasted amazing. Always. There is something, to this day, about a good snack after a long and enjoyable swim. There is just nothing else like it.
While the adults fixed a meal back at the cottage, we changed out of wet swimsuits and hurried to get back outside. Every minute was put to good use, even if it just meant playing freeze tag or hide and seek. We loved spending time with Kim, Connie and Krissy, visiting from the far-away land called Illinois. I try to imagine the sounds of seven little girls running wild and free, joyfully, making up one outdoor game after another.
Kim was the master producer, and she would stage little shows for us as the summer brightness faded to dusk. I remember learning my part and wanting more than anything to make Kim proud of me. I wanted to land the next big role she had waiting in the wings for a deserving little actress. With three big sisters, I knew how to follow constant instructions of what to say and how to say it.
If my big break didn’t work out, there was always swimming. It was constantly on my mind, making every single moment more enjoyable. If a kid cleaned up her plate, then helped with the dishes, maybe a nighttime swim would be allowed. Swimming in that enormous lake with stars overhead was pure bliss.
Even sleeping in the cottage was a thrill, either in the loft over the kitchen or in bunk beds, a first for me. I would ask to be told the great Illinois tornado stories, and fall asleep feeling safe in our Ohio world. “I wish you could move to Ohio,” I remember saying repeatedly.
I somehow pictured Illinois as horribly unsafe, a nightmarishly stark world where tornadoes were a daily threat, and I feared for their impending doom. I loved my Smalley cousins and my nightly prayers included them, wanting them near.
In a few short years, my prayers would come true, as my far-away cousins became our next-door neighbors, and Connie my classmate. We were able to enjoy lots of swimming in the summer, sledding and skating in the winter, and I felt like the luckiest kid in all the land.