“Whose is that?” We all asked, thinking one of our cell phones was ringing.
Not my cell, its ring a xylophone. My husband’s is hard rock. Gramma’s cell phone, uncharged all week, is probably dead.
The “ring” was a kind of chime, so I even checked the old wall clock, a brass melded confusion of tarnished rabbit, deer and pheasant hunting trophies (as well as a gun), the actual chimes elaborate pinecones. Not a clock I’d care to hang on my own wall, but I appreciated it for having survived to the status of relic, one of the last in this updated rental lake house, besides the brass angry goose on the mantel, and an amateur oil painting of flat mountains – relics I love in old woodsy cottages, and that in each lake rental we try every year, become harder and harder to find.
The clock has been stuck at ten of four, probably for generations:
The source of the chiming turned out to be the washing machine. A new frontloading cute digital one, with a matching cute little dryer, in the newly renovated laundry room. With enough settings so precise, even a tissue might survive on the ultra-super-extra-fine delicate cycle.
“They’ll break,” Ryan said of the machines. “Too fancy. The more buttons, the better it will be to break. And they’ll have to call the fix-it man too.”
He was parroting me as I parroted our appliance repairman who had said that about our own machines that are always breaking down; far too many settings, he told me. The fewer the “dials,” the less apt washers and dryers are to sputter during the spin cycle, refuse to drain etc.
“And who needs grand counters in a forest house?” said Kenny, now the one to parrot Mommy.
“Granite,” I said. We don’t have granite counters in our own bathrooms, let alone in some rustic summer cottage. You should see the showerhead – with little pressure, it is more like the “rain shower” at the spa where Keith and I celebrated our wedding anniversary.
The new owner’s little framed note on the table anticipates more exciting updates, like the ripping out of the kitchen cabinets that had been hand-carved by the original owner sixty years earlier. As well, the note trumpets the new plumbing system; not sure why, as the toilets flush so quietly and slowly, you hold your breath hoping all will be sucked down.
I didn’t realize how much I was complaining until I heard myself in my parroting children. But I do yearn for the woodsy lakeside rental I summered in growing up; buckling linoleum floors, peeling Formica counters, mismatched furniture and chipped coffee mugs. No cream-colored rug to fret over if your son dripped blue Italian ice on it. No hand-painted-made-in-Italy rock-heavy bowls that are a better fit as mini wading pools for our gerbils than for cereal.
And no machines – my mother rinsed out underwear and T-shirts in the kitchen sink, to hang dry on a line stretched between two birch trees. Once a week, we ventured into town to the laundry mat, and to the local market where I was treated to Bazooka bubble gum, a comic book and maybe a plastic boat to sail on the lake.
I think about returning to that house. But I’m sure it has changed too. I’m sure the old squeaky screen doors and buckling floors have been replaced. As well as the faded curtains decorated with bears and pine trees. There’s probably a big screen TV as there is here. Maybe even granite counters. And machines.
Maybe what I’m really yearning for is another time, not another place. The aura of another era, when it was me who was growing up, not my children. When there weren’t all the things I needed to do, or the worries, or even plans for a day. When there really was just the moment at hand – the seeking out of salamanders under damp logs, sitting in the sandy shallow area feeding the sunfish, picking a tightly-shut water lily to float in a cereal bowl, and to watch miraculously it seemed, flower overnight.
I was as young then as my boys are now, but their own moments can seem a far cry from my own; I wish they didn’t wake to a television they want to turn on in the morning. That they could know those woodsy scents that aren’t disguised by freshly stained wainscotting. That they could know the quiet of a lake, not the hammering and sawing, as other homeowners are busy updating their own cottages.
And that they could know what it was like to be entirely disconnected, when we didn’t even have a cord phone. They are growing up as connected as I am now, looking out at the lake, tapping on a laptop.
But as different as those moments may be, I’m beginning to realize that the immediacy is the same: the sudden enchantment of the tiny “purple” pinecone Ryan finds and can’t wait to show me. He runs through the woods behind the house, hauling back logs with heads like lizards’. Kenny can spend more than one long moment following the path of a “very hairy poisonous” caterpillar along the dock. Ryan can run up to me, dripping wet from the lake, to announce that the president should know that he has discovered a new species: a “Fast Dragon,” about five inches long, blue, and if you blink, "one minute he’s right there, the next, across the whole lake."
And finally, there is my own moment: of sitting on the dock with my feet dangling in the water, only to look down into the old tired eyes of a very large snapping turtle who had been gently nibbling my toes.
So I can take back home with me my turtle tale. But as I write, the digital washing machine is stuck on spin. And chiming merrily.