I haven’t been writing much over the past few months, but I have completed a chapter for my memoir that I would like to share. It takes place during an important period of our teenage years. Linda was sixteen, and I was a few months shy of sixteen.
Before you read the story below, there are two points I’d like to make.
One, I’ve written my memoir in pseudonym—fictitious names—Ryan and Lilla. Lilla is pronounced Lill-uh. At this time, I won’t detail why I made this decision other than to say I began writing under those names from the beginning. Also, even though I have given a lot of attention to remain as factual as possible, memory and facts may not always match.
That takes me to my second point; I relied on my memory from 45-years ago to write this detailed description of the cabin where Linda and I spent our first weekend together. It was located in Forestville, Michigan, and owned by her grandmother, Hazel. Weeks after having written this chapter, I discovered a photo of the cabin. The faded and yellowed photo is inserted below. I believe the person on the left, with their foot on a chair, is Linda’s father, Jack Bruce. I’m certain the structure has been torn down.
I hope you enjoy this snippet from my memoir. Let me know how well you think I captured the image of the cabin.
Due to the length of this chapter, it will be posted in two parts.
Forestville: Part One
In a hands-up position of 10 and 2 o’clock, Aunt Carmen peeked through the steering wheel and over the dashboard. Her nervous foot shifted between the brake and gas pedal while drafting bumpers down state road M-25. I sat in the back seat; Lilla rode shotgun. Our mission was to open up the two Forestville cottages for a family gathering on Sunday.
The car, an old Buick boat, exaggerated the whole experience. It was long and wide with lousy shocks. We bounced over potholes and drifted down on the struts. Our conversations were almost nonexistent since we were all helping drive the car or holding it down. I’m not sure which. On top of that, the radio didn’t work, and Aunt Carmen’s accent was so thick I couldn’t understand a word she said. Except for the cussing—she had that in spades. I stared out the side window and fought asking, “Are we there yet?” but it slipped out a couple of times. I guessed when Lilla talked up a great weekend trip, she wasn’t aware of her aunt’s daredevil driving skills.
Lilla pointed at an approaching road.
“Turn right at the light, go two streets, then make a left.” We leaned with the car as she turned the corner.
“See the totem pole? Pull next to it,” she instructed. The Buick slowed, bobbed against the brake, and snuck around the turn. We were all up in our seats, except for Aunt Carmen. She was still hanging off the big steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock. We bumped across the gravel and crunched to a stop. Red, green, yellow, and blue faces with broadly set eyes, protruding ears, and noses marshaled in our arrival. The car settled for a few seconds while we sat in silence, listening to the squeaking springs. The engine wheezed and sputtered. Smoke shot out the tailpipe and wandered past our gaping stares. I wasn’t sure whether she killed the motor or it died.
Lilla finally spoke.
“These two cottages are ours. Daddy’s is the big one, and the smaller red one is grandmas. We’re staying in grandma’s.”
The car doors creaked open, and we stepped out onto the gravel.
I whispered to Lilla, “We’re riding back with your brother.” She nodded.
A light breeze wafted off the great lake bringing in a pungent odor of rotting fish. The first thing that caught my eye was an oxbow harness mounted over the door. Above it, a fishnet filled with seashells and sponges strung along the soffit. A “gone fishing” sign dangled from a misplaced nail on a flower box gracing a solitary window. One hundred feet behind and below the cabin, blue-green water spanned the tree-marked horizon. The wooden harness didn’t fit the beach scheme. Neither did the totem pole, which was nothing more than brightly painted faces on a telephone pole.
“Oxbow?” I asked Lilla.
“It only gets better,” she said, pushing the key in the lock and spinning it open. “Welcome to the Taj Mahal fish camp.”
The room was dark and had a musty smell mixed with Pine-Sol cleaner. Motes of dust hovered in a stream of light, sneaking through a crack in a burlap-covered window. Lilla pulled it back and tucked it into a hook on the wall. It was a single room, longer than wide. No ceiling, just open rafters and worn wooden floors sparsely covered with a few rugs. Crudely built bunk beds were fastened to the wall on the left side of the room. Sheets, blankets, and pillows stacked high on the lower bunk. A jigsaw puzzle sat on the large table with border pieces partially connected. Four mismatched chairs butted against the wall. I sized up a threadbare, overstuffed brown sofa on the opposite side of the room. It would probably be my bed tonight. In the far corner, a wood stove sat tall. Its metal chimney stack pushed up through the ceiling.
“Help me open windows so we can air this place out.”
“Seriously, Lilla, it stinks worse outside.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
Her aunt said something in French, and Lilla replied in English.
“It’s outside and under the cabin.”
“What’s outside and under the cabin?” I asked.
I went out to the car and fetched the grocery bags and ice cooler. When I got back in, Aunt Carmen was busy with a bucket and mop. Lilla was cleaning the kitchen sink. I set the bags and cooler on the table, taking care not to upset the puzzle. Then I picked up the rugs piled in the middle of the floor.
“I’ll shake the dust out of these.” I grabbed my pack of smokes from the table and lugged out the door with the rugs.
Lately, Lilla and I have been together as much as we can…sometimes-skipping school and hanging out at a local diner or shopping center. We were discovering a lot about each other. She ate foods I’d never heard of, like quiche, couscous, and paella, which is a fancy name for chicken and rice. I ate familiar foods like burgers and fries. We also talked about our similar family problems. She told me her mother was dominating but loving. I described a father who was emotionally distant and uncaring. I revealed feelings that I’d never shared with anyone. I trusted her. However, what impressed me most about her was how she reacted when I was attacked by a group of teenagers at the state fair a few weeks ago. She stayed fearless and was vocally forceful. It seemed as if her words chased them away. It was over in a few seconds, and while I lay on the ground bloody faced and battered, she held me and cried. She said she loved me, and I believed her. For the first time, someone was on my side, and the world felt a little bit safer. In spite of the pummeling, I managed a weak smile.
Teaser excerpt from part two—
Lilla said, “It’s not like it’s the first time we slept together.”
Aunt Carmen glared at me. I shrugged my shoulders. Technically, it would be the first time we spent the night together.