The Summers of My Life
The Good Ol' Summertime.
To a youngster, summertime is a release. Kids run for freedom when that last bell rings in June, as if they were a bird suddenly released from the confines of an aching metal ring, and the cage door was suddenly thrust open to the free air beyond. Ah, summertime. A time filled with campouts and fishing trips, mosquito bites and bee stings, crawdads and bullfrogs.
The summers of my life are the foothold of my childhood memories. Every summer brought the family vacation, a time when the 6 of us piled into the family station wagon and headed to parts unknown, with some general idea of what we wanted to do, but always doing more. We camped, fished and hiked everywhere. We even stopped and looked at the stupid stuff my mom wanted to see (sorry mom, but every single historical marker along the highway gets old after the first 5).
In the summer of 1969, I sat on the banks of the American River in Northern California and fished with a man that turned out to be Jimmy Stewart. We caught grasshoppers together and used them for bait. What a wonderful experience that was. It is a story that I love to tell, one that my grown kids now tease me about.
In the early 70’s, my folks bought a Tioga motorhome. We took hundreds of trips in that thing, and in 1974 we drove from L.A. to New Hampshire to attend my oldest brother’s wedding. That was the hottest summer of my life. Thank goodness for the cool waters of Lake Winnipesaukee.
In 1976, I was appointed to the position of Assistant Scoutmaster to my Boy Scout troop, and we led the boys on a 2 week cross country trek across the Sierra Nevada on the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. It was an exhilarating experience. I still keep in touch with some of the “boys” today. That was the trip where I accidentally stabbed myself in the leg and had to hike 20+ miles back to civilization to be stitched up. In the summer of ’78, my dad and I repeated the same trip, fishing in the high Sierra streams and lakes. I was surprised at how well the old guy fared carrying a back pack.
The following spring break, we led the same bunch of guys down the Colorado River in canoes and kayaks. The scoutmaster “accidentally” stirred a giant moth into the big pot of chili he was making, and said nothing to the boys, with me being the only witness that was sworn to secrecy, and I was too hungry not to eat.
But my most cherished summer was the one of 1981. I was 24 years old, and Sammie and I were expecting our first child. We weren’t married at the time, and we had just broken up over something that is now considered so trivial, that I can’t remember what it was. She was due in November, and here it was late June. My mother figured that I needed time to think, to have some time away from the situation. Under the auspices of her brother, my Uncle Rudy, we set forth for a “manly time in the wilderness”. It was just me, Rudy, his son Steve, and my two other cousins, Steven and Danny.
We all caravanned up to the Virginia Lakes region of the High Sierra, and set out with back packs, tents, food, fishing poles and whatever else we needed. We didn’t plan on coming back for ten days.
We were dropped off on a Thursday, said our goodbyes, and hiked up into the hills for an adventure that was educating to me, allowed me to educate my younger cousins on wilderness camping, and allowed Rudy to use me to educate every one of us with a hands-on lesson in advanced first aid.
My mother, God rest her soul, was a very doting parent when it came to me. I was born with a heart murmur which had subsided by the time I was a teen, but she was convinced that at any given moment I could drop dead, especially hiking in high altitude. She made Rudy promise that he would not for one minute leave my side, and Rudy, being the loyal person he was, never did. He went where I went, and it soon became evident to me of what he was up to, and he admitted to me the promise he had made to my mother. I tried to let him off the hook, but “a promise is a promise” he told me. That was lesson one.
Lesson two came on the second morning of the campout. Uncle Rudy was up early, bathed and was shaving while sitting on a log. “Why are you shaving?” I asked. “We’re roughing it.” He looked up at me and smiled. “You gotta have class.” He said. “No matter what you’re doing, you gotta have class.”
We were camped at the edge of a glacial lake at the base of a steep shale slope. The glacier that rose up the slope on the far side of the lake kept it fed and flowing with its icy runoff. The water was literally ice cold, about 34 degrees. It was absolutely numbing to swim in it, but we did anyway. The naturally occurring Golden Trout in that lake were plentiful and made for great campfire suppers. We would sit around the campfire and Rudy would tell us stories of his years of police work and how he was a medic on Guadalcanal during the war, and about his boxing matches while in the Navy. We all shared stories of our lives, told jokes and bonded. The 5 of us have a bond from that trip that none of the rest of the cousins will ever have.
But Uncle Rudy also shared some personal time with me (and there it was, the method to my mother’s madness. She knew that Uncle Rudy was the most influential person to me in my life and that I would cling to every word he said). He educated me on relationships, marriage, in-laws, the good side of being married as well as the ugliness of it. He pulled no punches and didn’t sugar coat any words. He laid it out for me to make an intelligent, adult decision about my future and the future of my unborn son. Lesson number three.
One of the mornings we decided to climb to the top of the shale slope. It was a good 1,500 feet above our campsite, and it took us about 3 hours to get to the top. On the way up we found mine shafts with old ladders going down, hammers with no handles, and the wasteful remnants of past hikers. When we got to the top we all posed for a group picture after hoisting a flag made from Danny’s handkerchief. Unfortunately, that picture has long since disappeared. Uncle Rudy stood at the top and told us a story of a long forgotten nomadic Indian tribe called the “Fukawee” tribe. He said that they would constantly travel on foot in the mountains and climb peaks to announce themselves. Apparently, the Chief of the tribe, according to Rudy, would stand on the highest point and shout “We’re the Fukawee!” as he looked around.
But alas, that trip to the top of the shale slope turned ugly. As we stood at the top of the steep side of the slope, looking down at the speck that was our camp, I mis-stepped and fell about 200 feet, tumbling on the loose shale, and finally slamming into a large rock. The heels were ripped from my boots (little Steven brought them to me as he walked down), my back, arms, butt and the palms of my hands were ripped up by the loose rocks, and I was a hurting, bloody mess. I laid there on the rocks looking up the slope at Uncle Rudy. Being a seasoned medic and police officer, he didn’t panic. I waved my arms to him to let him know that I wasn’t dead, and laid there listening to the sarcastic humor emanating from my dear sweet cousins, who were laughing at my predicament.
The white, long sleeve shirt that Uncle Rudy was wearing was soon torn into bandages and he used my broken body to educate the others in emergency first aid and field dressings. Lesson number 4. After about 20 or 30 minutes of bandaging, we continued down the slope to our camp. Had I known the outcome ahead of time, I would have taken the stairs instead of the express elevator.
Once at our camp, we were approached by another camper that was with his young son. They had just arrived and set up camp not far down the shore from us.
“I couldn’t help noticing that you had fallen. It was quite a spectacle.” He announced with a grin. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” I replied. “Just cut up is all.”
“Let me take a look. I’m a cardiologist, and I have a pretty good medical kit. I even have sutures.”
Suturing on my butt and back was what I needed.
“The only thing is I have no anesthetic.”
“Great” I thought to myself. My cousins all snickered. Trying to act tough, I volunteered to tough it out just to close the wounds. Then Uncle Rudy piped up.
“Del, why don’t you sit in the water at the edge of the glacier until you can’t stand it, roll out, let him stitch you up until it begins to hurt, then do it all over again.”
“That’s what I was thinking” I said. (I wasn’t really, but I wanted to act like I had half a brain here.).
It took about a half a dozen trips to the icy water before I was fixed up, and we invited the doctor and his son to join us at the campfire that night. We had a good time. The good doctor camped next to us for about three days. Each day he would check my wounds and put some antibiotic ointment on them, it was a Godsend that he was there. We still had about 4 days left before our rides returned.
It was a fun time regardless of the accident. We bathed in the lake, washed our clothes in the streams (all with biodegradable soap) and took the opportunity to enjoy the time we had together. We ran out of our packed in food a day and a half before we were supposed to leave. Our last few meals consisted only of fish. We were getting hungry. We considered eating a marmot that was frequenting our camp, but decided not to.
On the morning of departure, we were famished. It was a pretty good hike back to the motor campground where we started. There was also a lodge there that had a small café on one side of it. As we got closer, Steven began counting his money. He had just some loose change. I didn’t bring any money because I didn’t think we’d need it in the mountains. Danny came up with some change and so did Steve. Between all of us, we had enough for one double cheeseburger with fries. We began running down the path, racing to be first at the café. Soon, the four of us were standing there, dirty, sweaty and hungry, looking at the menu, trying to decide how to get the most for our money. We got the double cheeseburger and fries, and divided it all up into 4 pieces of burger and 4 shares of fries.
We felt satisfied on just that small amount of food.
Then Uncle Rudy walked in. He set his pack on the floor and walked up to the counter and took out his wallet. We watched. Hoping. We were no longer feeling satisfied. We wanted more. Rudy handed the girl some money and sat down at the table next to us, saying nothing. He put his head back and closed his eyes. Soon, the girl from behind the counter brought a tray piled high with burgers, fries and chocolate malts. It was great! Hooray for Uncle Rudy!!
Later that afternoon, our rides returned. My parents arrived in their motor home accompanied by Uncle Manny (Mom and Rudy’s brother), in his motor home. My mom came up to me and looked at my injuries. I showed her my back, and I told her the whole story. She seemed irritated, and said “Where’s Rudy?”.
She found Rudy, and questioned him. “I thought you agreed to stay with Del every place he went. What happened?”
“I stayed right by his side the whole time” he went on. “But I was NOT going to follow him down that cliff!” She muttered something to him in Spanish and they all laughed. To this day, I still have the scars from that trip, happy mementos of a great time had by all.
Sad to say, Uncle Rudy is no longer with us, passing away just a couple of years ago. It was a sad, sad day for our family to lose someone so important and influential to all of us. But I heeded the advice he gave me on that trip, as I had always heeded his advice. I went home and eventually made amends with my bride to be. We were married the following March, in 1982.
So now I am four kids older. They are all grown, with one grandson and another grandchild on the way. They are scattered across the country from the west coast to the Midwest to the Deep South. I spent those short years of their youth trying to make the best of their summers. We fished a lot, camped, traveled across country three times as a family and let them experience their own favorite summers the way that they wanted to remember them, and I now encourage them to write about it for future generations to come. The written word is a wonderful thing. It seems that journaling and reading might become a dying art. I hope not, because where there is the written word, there is an endless imagination.
As always my friends thank you for stopping by. We are bracing ourselves here in Lulawissie for the possibility of a hurricane hitting the gulf coast, which always brings us a lot of wind and rain, even way up here. Take good care of one another, do a good deed for a stranger, work hard and always give the Good Lord thanks for everything, the good and the not so good.
I bid you peace.
© 2012 By Del Banks