This morning I flew from San Francisco to Spokane Washington to visit my mother and to have a little writing retreat at the family summer house on Deer Lake. As I flew over San Francisco Bay, a web of dissipating clouds cast amorfic shapes across the water, like echoes of mysterious underwater continents, a map of an ever-changing world that lies just below the surface.
A three hour plane ride, a half hour taxi and then a forty-five minute drive later, I stand on the shore of Deer Lake, which reflects the pine strewn hills that rise above it, but just below the surface lies a lexicon of memories collected from the time I was in my early twenties when my parents bought the tiny one room fishing cabin with an outhouse and slowly grew it over the years to a lovely two bedroom, two bath lake house.
First they added an indoor bathroom, then a kitchen, later came the master bedroom, a deck with a hot tub and then a guest room with a separate bath. Kind of like growing a family. (Or a novel.) When they first signed the papers, money was scarce and they knew it was a luxury they couldn’t afford but they stretched to make the $100 a month payments so they would have a place for family to gather in the future.
Standing here on the shore of the lake, I hear the exuberant echo of multi-generational family reunions that spilled into every corner, the happy laughter of summer birthday celebrations, the wiz and boom of firecrackers on the Fourth of July, the sound of children splashing in the water on a hot August day. I can still see the morning, 29 years ago, when my soon-to-be husband and I took the little sailing boat out on the the lake before breakfast and capsized it, losing our towels and flip-flops along with our dignity.
From the time my own children were infants, we would come from San Francisco every summer. Both girls took their first steps on the deck overlooking the lake, almost as if they were walking on water. When one of my daughters was three, she startled us all, shouting, “There’s a fire on the shore! There’s a fire on the shore!” After much concern and searching for the fire, the source of her panic turned out to be a spider on Daddy’s shorts. (She remains terrified of spiders to this day)
We scattered my father’s ashes in the lake more than a decade ago, but his presence is still palpable, throughout the house he built, along the beach he lovingly tended and in the reflections on the water where he pulled us all behind the ski boat from one end of the lake to the other.
My children grew up, my mother can no longer navigate the stairs down and up to access the house and my sister and my life are too far away to properly maintain the property anymore, so we have decided to put the house up for sale. But tonight, as the sun goes down, my heart is filled with a deep gratitude to my parents for the courage to dream and stretch to make those $100 a month payments that enriched our lives with summers together and gave us all memories that go well beyond the surface.
And as I use my retreat time to write, I will try to remember that novels are built 100 words at a time and do grow from simple one-room beginnings to complex structures that can house lives and memories. Word by word, wall by wall, room by room.
Take Good Care,