When Jerry wins the lottery


“When Jerry wins the lottery, that’s the first thing to go,” Donna says.

She is referring to the Drawer of Death, the cheap plastic drawer in the kitchen at camp, where we keep all the sharp knives. It regularly falls down, spilling its potentially lethal contents, if you don’t know exactly how to open it.Drawer_of_Death

Donna has been coming to camp ever since we were twelve years old, and there’s not much about camp now that’s different from the way it was then. In fact, there’s still a bottle of shampoo on a shelf in the bathroom that she left behind nearly forty years ago.

We don’t rush into big changes around here. We’re cautious about doing anything that might change the spirit of the place. Or at least that’s my excuse.

Back in those early days, it was one visit a summer, and getting Donna here from Connecticut meant arranging a ride with someone we knew who was making the 325-mile trip, or having her parents put her on a bus for a nine-hour ride.

Now that she lives just a couple of hours away, she gets to come to camp—which has become her “happy place,” just as it is mine—much more often, every two or three weeks in the summertime. This weekend she’ll be here for the ninth time since Memorial Day.

This makes both of us very happy, since, for the past 49 years, we have always loved spending as much time together as we possibly can. It makes Tony and Will very happy, too, because there’s always more fun and better food when Donna is around.

It probably doesn’t make her partner, Jerry, quite as happy.

“You’re always at camp!” he moans, as she waves goodbye to him and heads north.

In all the time they’ve been together—well over 20 years now—Jerry has never been to camp. Not once.

Why? Because no matter how often we tell him that camp is a solid, wooden building with electricity and indoor plumbing, this is how Jerry pictures it:


Also, he thinks it’s surrounded by bears. In 55 years, I’ve never seen a bear anywhere in the vicinity of North Pond, but that doesn’t prevent Jerry from thinking they’re out there, just out of sight, waiting to attack.

Camp does have a few features that I will confess are a bit primitive.

We spend the warmest four months of the year here, but we have four big windows on the lake side that don’t open. That’s because they’re just old wooden storm windows my parents picked up somewhere when they were building the camp, to use until they could afford to replace them with new (or, more likely, used) double-hung windows.

In other words, they’re temporary. When Jerry wins the lottery, we’ll replace them.

There are several more of these old storm windows that can be opened a few inches and propped up with whatever happens to be handy—a chunk of wood, a can of soup, or an old pickle relish jar full of marbles (which for some reason has been the prop of choice in the guest bedroom for as long as anyone can remember). You have to be careful when you open them, though, because they’re heavy and apt to fall down and smash your fingers.

These windows are also temporary, and will be replaced—when Jerry wins the lottery.

We have a staircase to the loft that is exactly seventeen inches wide, with treads that are only six inches deep. Moving large, heavy objects (like iron cribs and full size mattresses) up and down it over the years has resulted in several bumped chins and pinched fingers, many swear words, and one chipped tooth.

My mother always told people (while they were nursing their pinched fingers and bumped chins) that the stairs were “only temporary,” built as a way to get up to the loft until they could get around to building a permanent staircase. That hasn’t happened yet, but maybe when Jerry wins the lottery.

The kitchen counters at camp are covered with dark green linoleum. Over the years, it has cracked, chipped, and worn away to the point where it really can’t be cleaned effectively because energetic scrubbing just exposes more of the soft black stuff that’s underneath the green layer. We no longer let food come in contact with it, and occasionally we talk about replacing it.

It was only meant to be temporary, after all. We’ll get new countertops when Jerry wins the lottery.

The camp was built—or at least begun—in the summer of 1955, which means that next year our temporary windows and staircase and kitchen-counter linoleum will have been in place for sixty years.

Donna says that when Jerry wins the lottery, he wants to pay for us to replace all these temporary things. Even though I’m always hesitant to change anything about camp, I can go along with most of that idea, since windows that don’t open and scummy black linoleum countertops aren’t exactly the things that lend it its charm. (I may draw the line at replacing the stairs to the loft, though.)

Once Jerry has won the lottery and upgraded some of the more primitive aspects of camp, maybe he’ll even agree to come Jerry_loves_campup for a visit.

But probably only if we build a moat around it to keep out the bears.

My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother

“My mother’s clothes are not my mother…my mother’s things are not my childhood,” says Elizabeth Peavey.

Her terrific one-woman show, which I attended yesterday at St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland, is about losing a parent, hanging on, letting go, and why it’s all so damned hard.

Through a series of connected monologues that she delivered to the audience while sorting through the contents of her mother’s closet onstage, she gave us a privileged peek at her childhood, her mother, and their relationship.

Elizabeth is nearly the same age as me—just three months younger, to be exact—and I’ve found that I often have an immediate affinity for women who were born within a few months of my birth date.

When I meet someone new, and we realize we’re only weeks or months apart in age (no matter what drastic differences we later discover between our respective childhoods and adolescences), we start off the getting-to-know-you process knowing that we have a set of common experiences. We were the same age—exactly—when Big Events happened that rocked our worlds, like JFK’s assassination, the Watergate scandal, or the airing of the first “Brady Bunch” episode.

We can remember the lyrics to “The Erie Canal” (fourth grade music class), “Seattle” (theme song from the ABC series “Here Come the Brides,” 1968-70), and “I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing” (Coke commercial, 1971).

Throughout the show, I found myself making mental comparisons. Clearly, Elizabeth’s mom was more sophisticated than mine—she smoked cigarettes, she wore stylish clothes, and she and Elizabeth’s father entertained often at parties in the family home.

These were all things that were foreign to my experience. My own mom, who was a widow, entertained only family and close friends (and never at fancy dinner parties), wore clothing in a style best described as “suburban drab,” and was death on smoking and drinking.

But look: our moms’ taste in decorating both endured a heavy pine “Colonial period.” (Elizabeth still has the dark-stained pine grain-scoop-or-whatever-the-heck-it-is to prove it. It’s a prop in her show.)

And listen: her description of her dad’s prized rec room—complete with bar, of course—sounds just like the one my best friend’s parents built in their basement in the late sixties. (I bet it had the exact same fluorescent lighting and fake wood paneling, too.)

But even if you aren’t the same age as Elizabeth (and me), if you’ve lost your parents, you’ve probably already figured out that a lot of what you’ve gone through is a fairly universal experience.

Elizabeth says that people come up to her after the show, wanting to share their own stories. They tell her about their own mothers’ particular possessions that they just can’t bear to toss or give away—most often nearly worthless objects, like a tattered apron or hideous artwork.

They send her emails with the subject line, “My Mother’s Dishes Are Not My Mother,” “My Mother’s Keys Are Not My Mother,” and even, she says, “My Mother’s Player Piano Is Not My Mother.”

Before I attended the show, Elizabeth (whom I had met three years ago when I took her two-part memoir class, which is how my writing group got started in the first place) sent me an email about the performance. When she told me about the player piano, I thought about the things I have kept that were my mother’s, and why I haven’t been able to part with them.

I have my mom’s copper Jello molds, even though I seldom use them (I still have PTSD from her tomato aspic and a certain lemon-Jello-and-cabbage creation). I have one of her grocery lists (“Bread, creamed corn, evaporated milk, apples, celery”—obviously it was a corn-chowder-and-Waldorf-salad kind of day). I have this “Don’t Yank the Crank” t-shirt from a failed campaign to save the Bryant Pond Telephone Company in the early 1980s.CAMP 2014 2014-09-15 005

And I’m hanging onto all of it for dear life.

I guess I should be grateful that my mom never owned a player piano, and that her most unwieldy legacy is a 50-year-old Castro Convertible couch.

I remember going with her to the furniture showroom to buy that couch when I was about five years old. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, it was always kept covered with a floral slipcover, and although the original upholstery did eventually wear out, when my mom retired and moved to Maine full-time in 1982, she had it reupholstered and it was as good as new. She sat on it a lot to read, knit, or watch TV, especially during her last few years, when she did more sitting than she ever had before.

After Mom died, I insisted on moving her prized Castro Convertible to camp, where it continues to see heavy use for about four months of the year. Even if I ever did want to part with it, I’d never be able to find anyone to help me move it. It weighs about two tons, and when my brothers, who had moved it for her countless times over the years, brought Mom’s couch to its final resting place at camp, they all declared, “Never again!”

But hey, you know—it’s still in great shape, and even though it’s been ten years since Mom died, every once in a while when I sit on it, I can still imagine I catch a whiff of her Arrid cream deodorant.

How could I ever let it go?

CAMP 2014 2014-09-15 003

They don’t make couches like this anymore.