As Memorial Day approaches, I remember long summer days of swimming and waterskiing until we were exhausted, followed by cutthroat card games in the afternoons and evenings.
My family rented a cabin on Coeur d’Alene Lake in northern Idaho, beginning when I was thirteen or fourteen, until my parents bought land on the lake and built their own cabin. We split the summer rental season with two other families.
Sometimes one family had a week alone, sometimes we would vacation together. When everyone was there, the parents slept inside, and the boys and girls had separate Army tents outside, each tent large enough for three or four sets of metal bunk beds.
The kids ran in a pack, from rowdy teenage boys and giggling girls down to toddlers. Some were natural athletes and waterskied on single slalom skis, starting when the sun rose and the water was smooth as glass. They challenged themselves to take off from the dock and grab the diving board on their return, so they never got wet above the knees.
Others, like me, took a whole summer to learn how to ski on two skis. It was years before I managed to slalom.
Some were too young to ski at all. My five-year-old sister, showing off for a little boy next door, yelled, “Chop, chop, timber!” and did a belly flop from the dock into the lake, not realizing the importance of having an adult who could swim ready to catch her. My father dove in after her, and all was well.
My toddler brother lost his footing in knee-deep water when a speedboat’s wake rolled by. He did a natural dead man’s float without any prior instruction. I picked him up by the diaper, set him back on his feet, and all was well.
No wonder we were worn out by mid-afternoon. At which point, we returned to the cabin to eat corn chips and drink sodas. And play cards.
Sometimes we played Hearts. I always dreaded it when someone tried to shoot the moon, even when it was me. To this day, I hate the Queen of Spades.
“I hate Hearts,” I complained to my daughter many years later when she demanded I play with her.
“No, you don’t,” she said. “You love it. You love all those games.”
I still hate Hearts, even when I’m winning.
But I did love Pinochle, our game of choice, though I have mostly forgotten the rules now. Four of us usually played together in teams of two. Sometimes two games were going on at separate tables. We bid too high, but it didn’t matter. If we lost, there’d be another game. We started a new tally sheet each day.
That toddler brother of mine was a bright little guy. One summer he was learning his letters out of an alphabet book that began “A is for airplane, B is for baby . . .”
When the older children played Pinochle, he wandered around the table begging corn chips and asking, “How come you got all dem Airplane letters?”
Once we realized he could distinguish Airplane letters from Kite letters and Quilt letters, he got sent on many a reconnoitering mission. It wasn’t cheating if he happened to call out what was in someone’s hand, was it?
Each year as Memorial Day approaches, I smile as I remember those lost summer days.
I wonder if kids playing online games today have as much fun as my family and friends had playing cards. The competition can’t be nearly as intense when your opponent is across the world instead of across the table. After all, how can you send little brother to spy through a wireless connection?
What memories do you have of childhood summers?