I’ll start by invoking Tom’s words at the opening of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” Tom tells the audience that they’ll be watching a memory play, and that “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” Such may be the case here.
The picture accompanying this story is my grandmother, then Amanda Algaier, not yet Bleck. She is canoeing on Priest Lake, circa 1917. Or it could be Loon Lake, and probably is. Which lake is less important than my grandparents starting a family tradition of spending summers at Priest Lake and Hill’s Resort, beginning in the year of my birth, 1958. Each summer brought the Seattle Blecks and Tacoma Johnsons together. For all of us, it was always The Lake, a definite article and proper noun that needed no explaining.
Unlike E. B. White, from whom I stole the title, watching my son Tobias at The Lake, whether in my mind’s eye or on the beach, my groin feels no chills of death. Rather, Priest Lake stories breathe their own life. He listens rapt as his uncle Rob and I tell of taking a boat with our cousin Marty, not even in our teens, to camp on Papoose Island, unsupervised.
He is struck by the stories of feral children, now his aunts and uncles, rabidly chasing a sow and her cub through the resort, his grandmother chasing with a broom, swinging it wildly, perhaps thinking she might sweep some sense into us. He is wistful about being the youngest by too many years, never having slept on the beach with his cousins, never waking to the sound of breeze-blown waves lapping against the shore in the otherwise still dawn, taking the sounds, as I did, for footsteps—bear of course. He never ate pancakes loaded with huckleberries picked by his grandmother from along the shore trail on an early morning walk.
Tobias never had a chance to creep into any of the many abandoned mines that were still exposed around the lake during our childhood, although we never went far when we did. He never made trips to the dump to watch the bears scavenge as dusk fell. We longed for them to rummage through the trash behind the cabin, the closer the better, the thrill immeasurable. No one said a fed bear is a dead bear. Our stories brought this and more alive for him and kept it alive for us.
In 2008, we celebrated our 50th anniversary at The Lake with the whole family. Everyone. A few years later my aunt passed and her ashes were scattered in Luby Bay, becoming one with The Lake. In 2017, following the death of my father, our visit occurred shortly after his funeral when we were still raw with the loss. Despite the beaches, the bay, the lake, and the extended family, those extended trips began to seem no longer worth it.
Two weeks in the 1960s became a week in the 1970s became a few days for some, a long weekend for others, and finally a day trip from Spokane for me. One sister bought a cabin near Coolin. Another found a vacation rental. My siblings and cousins are the last direct links to that woman in the canoe. After five generations, will there be a sixth?
Bradley Bleck last wrote about keeping backyard chickens last summer for Out There. He’s longing for Phase 3 when he can join his Badlands Cycling Club mates out on the road again.