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