Calling it a lake was like saying the "Spice Girls" rate up there with the "Beatles." It was little more than a shallow tidal pond ringed by sea grass. At one end, a submerged pipe connected it to the sea and water ebbed and flowed with the tide. On the opposite side was the one true open spot, right next to an old corrugated metal pipe that drained into the pond.
It was that spot that encompassed a large part of my childhood. My Mother told me that, as a toddler, I would walk down to the pond with Figaro, our dog. He was a mutt. Dad called him a "compact St. Bernard" and he was just my size. With one arm over his back and a bag of breadcrumbs clutched in the other, he'd steer me down the road, across the busy street - he knew to look both ways, mind you - and over to the pipe. Mom always regretted not getting a picture of that. But, youth is like time and tides, they wait for no one.
I'd feed the ducks and Figaro kept the swans away with a single growl. Nobody messed with him! But, large dogs don't live so long, and he was old already. So, before I was old enough to remember him well, he was gone. It fell to her to take me to the lake that first time without him. Years later, she told me that I'd asked where he was. Choking back the tears, she'd said that he'd gone up to Heaven.
And I, being a typical small child, asked that one word question that has tormented so many parents over the centuries: "Why?"
To her credit, Mom gave a wonderful answer. "People stay on Earth to learn how to love and give, and care. Well, dogs already know all those things; so they don't have to stay as long."
Never were there more comforting words to a dog owner.
Yet, the lake still beckoned. My friends and I fed the ducks, but the simple pleasures of early childhood soon gave way to the hyper activities of eight-year-old boys. It wasn't long before we were using those breadcrumbs to catch minnows in a jar to go fishing. And, we wondered: where did the water in the pipe come from? One summer, we got the bright idea to build a dam across the pipe. "Omega One" it was called, the ultimate dam. It lasted all of a week. "Super Dam One" followed, and Two, Three and Four in quick succession; each one bigger and better than the one before.
It was only then that we learned just how important that old pipe was. Seemed it drained an entire neighborhood! The Town Constable received complaints, and our civil engineering endeavors came to an end.
Time slipped through my grasp, like water through that pipe. The games of childhood led to the fumbling of the teens, which became the demands of adulthood. I graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Civil Engineering. It seems that old lake had a long reach into a man's soul.
Family and work filled my days, but memories of the Island and the lake whispered to me each night. Like the salmon who must return to the spot of his birth, I felt my own "Homing Signal" calling to me. Wait, wasn't there a "Star Trek" episode like that?
So, finally came the day that I stood next to the old pipe. No evidence of our efforts remained. Nature had easily erased the minor acts of children. The swans and ducks regarded me with hostile looks.
I frowned. "What is you problem?" I asked.
As if in response, they turned, with their bills in the air. I could just about hear a collective: "Well, if you don't know, we're not going to tell you!"
(Sounded like my wi - someone I know.)
Then it came to me. Ah, I'd neglected to bring them bread and was therefore banished. And thus the link was severed. I was no long part of this place. It's time to move on and let the next generation build their adventures, and memories.
A week later, it was time to leave. We drove by the lake on our way to the ferry. I looked over and smiled. There at the pipe, a group of children fed the ducks. Off to one side, stood a little boy; his big old dog guarded him. A couple of older kids looked in the pipe and gestured at the ground in front of it. It didn't take a Civil Engineer to know what they were contemplating.
I was left to wonder: was I viewing the present, or merely a montage of shadows from bygone summers?
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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