I can't remember anything I learned in Second Grade. I remember Miss Quigley being beautiful. I remember learning to write and read. I can't remember a thing of arithmetic. I've asked my friends what they recall and the answer is the same. It's a strange thing to say but I passed through Second Grade as an innocent. It was the last year I believed in Santa Claus. It was the last year my parents were my whole world.
It was also one of the last years I spent at the Wenonah Lake. After school ended there wasn't much to do but play. Wenonah is a hot humid town near Philadelphia. When I was getting better and living in the Knisell's home Rachel told me that homes used to have outside kitchens to deal with the heat of summer. What we did do was go to the lake. There were several bodies of water in Wenonah. The Wenonah Lake was a community association that dated back to the 1880's when Wenonah was a resort town. There was the recently formed Wenonah Swim Club. A clean chlorinated pool with a snack bar and a kiddie pool and tennis and basketball courts. There was the Mantua Creek and the swamps. There was Parkers lake and Sinnott's Pond and another lake by one of the mansions in town. Only the Wenonah Lake and the Swim Club were open for recreation. It's a long standing fact of life in Wenonah that young families begin their lives at the lake and migrate to the pool. Young children have no sense of cool so the lake was fine. Once you were older the brown water and lack of facilities made it less than cool.
My friend Bob has many memories of play at the lake. Ed Campbell, one of the teachers in our school, was a lifeguard and regularly roughoused with kids on the raft of wood and 55 gallon drums in the middle. Kid's sold snow cones and families barbequed and there were rudimentary swimming lessons. The swim club had a world class swim team. Kid's from the Wenonah Swim Club competed in Philly and all across South Jersey. Their swimming records were all over the walls of the club. When you swam in the lake you emerged in a brown tan from the cedar water. It was neither clean nor cool. No one raced. Instead you ran willy nilly and cannon balled off the pier.
When I went back to Wenonah to recover from my illness (AIDS) I went each day to the lake. I sat there the only adult male in the place and watched mothers and young children having fun.
On the 4th of July there were competitive races at the lake. The 4th of July was the greatest day in Wenonah and remains so to this day. My friends come back year after year to sit on corners they sat on when they were children to watch the same silly little parade. It's beautiful. The Pitman Hobo Band and the Bonsal Blues Band square off mid town in a burst of John Phillips Sousa. Raggedy fake hobos and military nincompoops all playing their hearts out and everyone cheers and salutes. Politicians pay homage and walk the streets. You can say hey to the local representatives, laugh at the presumptions of small businesses and guess as to this years theme. I'll have a lot more to say about the 4th in years to come.
But always, on a hot day, when you were in 2nd grade you went to the lake. You caroomed off the pier. You laughed and scared your parents. You begged for a dime for a snow cone.
I'm going to break protocol here and put in a poem I wrote when I was stuck in Wenonah in 2002-2003. Please read it for it's great joy and nostalgia.
We’re All Going to the Lake
We’re going to the lake!
All of us.
We’re loading up the minivans.
We’re slapping up the kickstands.
We’re running around the house,
screaming about how we can’t
find our badges or our high band
or our favorite suit.
Which was right here and
we’re getting up slow from lunch
and walking out to the car.
We’re going to the lake!
Eight housewives, twenty five kids,
three lifeguards, one kid in the refreshment stand to dish up the water ice,
me and once in a while a dad and maybe some teenagers,
who are loud and look scary but
swim like shit once they hit the water
What a lake to dive into!
A long brown ribbon of cedar water.
Trees brushing it’s sides, bright blue skies
fill it with clouds
and turtles strung out on a log.
They’re so tired from this hot, hot sun they forget to eat.
So the crappies and minnows
are all over the shallows.
Gotta get while the getting’s good.
Far, far out on the lake a big bass leaps up, flops down
and nobody sees the water ripple out.
They’re riding their bikes
down Jefferson or Monroe.
Towels over their shoulders
snapping in the rush.
A whine of spokes and muscle that’s been going on for fifty years.
Fifty years of kids hauling their
bodies trawling streams of brown water,
small muscles stretched,
yelling, running, tight little balls that
cannon into the water!
O Joy! O headlong rush to water!
O the whir of spokes!
Bodies lying in beds, dreaming of other
bodies last night, last week.
Heat raising tiny beads of sweat,
the bathing suit tossed heedless on the chair.
The brush of finger to breast.
The wives dreaming of sweat;
muscled backs, thick bellies.
The drop falling from his chin,
running down her breast.
But then the kids are yelling!
We gotta go swimming!
Water calling water.
head out of water
crazy seven year old treading water.
mad dog paddle.
Mom watching, feet in water,
not really there,
but cool and wet on a hot, hot day.
O Wenonah Lake!
Canoes, boats, rafts,
big fat guy, belly up,
The only husband here today.
Me, watching housewives,
slap of hand on water.
Ripples that go all the way to shore.
We’re all at the lake!
We’ve brought everything we need.
Life jackets, blankets, sunscreen, towels, badges, bands,
balls, rubber killer whales, sunhats, sun glasses, coolers,
cocktails cleverly disguised as lemonade, water,
watches, buckets to carry water and
All for the lake!
On a hot, hot day.
We go to the lake for the water.
That's my lake. That's my town. Soon it will be summer and the snapping turtles will be on their logs, the bass will be leaping from the middle of a small brown lake and children will be screaming at their friends. Oh God. This is a beauty that can never be recovered.