(Originally appeared in my essay collection Lake Forest Moments)
There are always those precious days in early fall when we are granted a few last glorious days of summer. Even though there have already been chilly mornings, and the pumpkins hang heavy on their vines, suddenly it gets hot again for a day or two, and everyone gets as giddy as though it was spring.
This is the best time to call friends and family together and go down to the lake for an evening barbecue.
We meet friends at the lake pavilion with footballs, beach towels, and coolers of food. Our collective children, seven of them between the ages of ten and fourteen, also sense that this will be the last true day of summer. The previous weeks of school are shed in a flash as they run with abandon, barefoot through the sand, whirling and laughing and calling out to one another.
In a few years they will all be teenagers and we will be lucky to get them to come with us at all. But for now we are envious of their freedom to jump and twirl, their ability to live in the moment.
We fall upon the food hungrily, sharing and passing dishes around. Summer food – fried chicken, potato salad, chips, and watermelon. The children sit at their own table, seemingly all talking at once. People walk up and down the beach, holding hands, pushing strollers, carrying toddlers on shoulders.
You can almost feel time moving forward.
After devouring their food the children are off again. The sun begins its descent over the copse of trees to the west, lighting the treetops like halos. Fleeing sunlight reflects, sparkling on the water, which laps the sand gently, timelessly.
The adults shiver reflexively as the sun goes down, knowing that the night air will bring a chill breeze. But not yet, so far there is only warm stillness and a pale moon hanging full in the darkening sky, watching us.
The children beg us to go in the water, one last time. Being parents, we cast a worried eye toward the lake – It’s too dark, the water’s too cold, it’s getting late, you’ll get all wet and sandy…
But to our credit we acquiesce. Clothes are tossed to the pavement; swimsuits revealed underneath sheath the children’s willowy bodies like the skins of iridescent fish.
I go down to the water’s edge to keep an eye on things, but also to be part of their fun. Hold on to the moment, I silently remind myself. This is one of those moments you are given in life as a gift. Happy carefree children on the verge of adolescence flinging themselves with wild abandon into the deepening shadows of the lake.
Then, as if on cue, they all get out of the water, stand in a row about twenty feet from the lake and race together with clasped hands into the water. They repeat this at least ten times, running and flinging, running and diving. Then, suddenly, they are done.
We drift back to the pavilion where the adults are in small conversational groups. The children dry off in silence. Large plump raccoons help themselves to our leftovers, out of the trashcans. They pay us no attention.
I am surrounded by shining round faces; faces that are changing and becoming more grown-up with the passing of each season. The hair on my arms stands up as the air suddenly blows chilly, causing the lake to smell like northern breezes. We pack up quickly and quietly and head home.
Tribune Magazine (Brenda Butler) sent 8/28/00
CS Monitor R
Tribune Magazine (Marshall Froker) sent 10/3/01
WBEZ (Edward Lifson) sent 8/26/02