18 March 2007


I've resisted blogging about my childhood in much detail, feeling that as I wish to remain anonymous, it is foolish to give away too many details that might help someone identify me. But the story I am about to tell has very little chance of adding to the information that the interweb has about me.

I had an idyllic childhood, free from abuse, neglect, poverty or horror. I like to say that I have a white picket fences background, with a stable, two-parent family. Both parents were there for my sibs and I in just about every sense of the word. They're pretty conservative, and growing up I felt they were way over-protective, but they're fantastic parents. On my MySpace page, where you can list your heroes, the first two people listed are my mother and father.

We traveled quite a bit over the eastern section of the US as I was growing up, and spent time every summer at a cottage in Michigan, on a small lake. Being there was (and still is, the last time I was there) amazing. For one, as kids, at the cottage we were allowed to get things at the grocery store that weren't allowed at home, "because we were on vacation."

For another, we were just about inaccessible by anyone while we were there. It wasn't unusual for my dad to get phone calls in the middle of the night at home, calling him in to work. He worked long and hard hours as I grew up, and that time at the cottage each summer was devoted to exclusively not being at work, so it was a wonderful novelty to have him around all day, every day.

The area where the cottage is located is pretty remote. There was a party-line telephone there until the mid-eighties. The grocery store was 20 miles away, give or take. The movie theater and mall were farther, perhaps 40 miles away. There was no television at the cottage. And since I've already talked about the TV watching policy at our house growing up, this wasn't a problem at all. There was a radio, used primarily to tune in to weather forecasts.

The cottage did not belong to my family. Another family allowed us to use it in return for doing chores around the property, things like opening the cottage for the summer, repair work that needed done around the house (replacing a rotted floor, for example), cutting the grass, things like that. Many summers we were either the first family there at the start of the summer season, or the last family there before the fall set in, opening it for the summer or closing the place down in preparation for winter weather.

The place was huge, with the capacity to sleep at least 20 people comfortably, and it was often used by the extended kin network of the family who owned it. We often went with another family, and had 10 people or more in the house. It had a rustic kitchen and a microscopic hot water heater, but it also had a washer and dryer, a vital necessity when you wear every bathing suit you own over three days.

My sisters and I were allowed an amazing amount of freedom at the cottage. An almost intoxicating amount of relaxation of the usual rules, combined with the ability to do almost anything we wanted...it was a heady mix. The lake is about three-fourths of a mile wide and about a mile and a half long, and there wasn't much of it that wasn't visible from the cottage's long metal dock. A pair of binoculars hung on a tree at the shoreline, and with them, you could easily spot any of the cottage's watercraft. I don't want to really get into the nuts and bolts of the water-centered activity that went on there each summer, so let's just say that there was a rowboat with a very small horsepower motor that my sisters and I made good use of, as well as a very small sailboat in which I learned to sail. No matter which boat we took, we were usually within 'hollering' distance of my mother.

If we opted to stay on the shore, we weren't allowed to stray much from 'our side' of the lake, but there was more than enough to explore on 'our side' of the lake, so it wasn't a temptation to wander far. A well-worn path extended over most of our side, from the public beach and boat launch area of the lake to a creek which was perhaps 6 houses down from the cottage.

The cottage was strictly a place for summer play; it wasn't insulated and had only a small heater, not a furnace. While there was a fireplace, it would be devilishly difficult to keep the pipes from freezing in the wintertime, so it was prepared at the end of each summer to survive the harsh Michigan winters by completing a long list of chores, which included draining the pipes of every ounce of water. But not all the houses on the lake were cottages; many of them were year-round residences for their owners. It was easy to spot the difference; most cottages didn't have a garage, or if they did, it was a detached affair, with the old fashioned bi-fold doors hanging at an angle, clearly disused. The summer cottages also had that forlorn look that vacant houses often have. They might be unoccupied the whole time we were there, or for just a few days. Many of the cottages were owned by large clans, and while we didn't know the entire clan personally, we often knew many of the members of a kin network from our summer visits.

The houses that had full-time, year-round occupation were more robust and better cared for. I did not have a special friend who lived 'up' there (this spot in MI being far north of my Ohio home) as both of my sisters did. Oddly enough, there was no one my exact age in any of the kin networks or full time residents. Now, in my 30s, an age difference of a year or two is immaterial. At 14, the 16-18 year old set was mostly too old for me to be running around with. I was always old for my age, but these kids were a much faster set than I was used to running with, and their blatant sexuality made me very uncomfortable. So I gravitated to the adults, spending time with people who lived there full time, talking about cooking and often their kids, who were my sister's friends.

I also took frequent walks on the path that ran from the beach to the creek, and there was a cottage along the path with a name over the door, a wooden sign over the door that faced the lake, that wouldn't have been out of place at a kid's summer camp. It looked a lot like the cottage in the Steve Martin movie, Cheaper by the Dozen 2. While it isn't all that odd to name a property here in the States, it is not as common as it is in say, England. This one said "Killcare", and I spent no small amount of time one summer trying both to get an invite to see the inside of the place (note that I never succeeded) and trying to figure out just what, exactly, Killcare meant and how it was pronounced.

Killcare was an enigma to me because we did not know a single person who used the place. And because it was often vacant when we were there. One of the full time residents at the lake was a woman who had grown up on the lake and through a series of lucky coincidences had purchased a home a few houses away from the one she grew up in. Her daughter was my baby sister's closest summertime friend. I remember her name, and can clearly picture her face, surrounded by a curtain of dark red hair, often pulled up into a bun, her apple cheeks, her sunny smile. I don't often use real names here, so we'll just call her Jane. She and her husband (whose name I do not remember and his details are lost to time, I don't remember at all what he looked like, but I do remember his Harley motorcycle, parked in their big attached garage) were involved in a massive rebuild of the house they lived in, gutting it and nearly tearing down the original structure. The work they were doing was amazing, adding a section that was like a log cabin, and I spent many happy hours looking with Jane at interior design catalogs and magazines, and listening to how they had done each step of the remodel. They did most of the work themselves. Growing up, Jane had spent a lot of time at Killcare, and when I found that out, I couldn't restrain myself from asking many questions about the place.

When she said the name to me for the first time, pronounced just as if it was two words, kill care, I said, "Is that the place with the name over the door?!? Three houses down from our place, close to the beach? You know them? What's that place like, have you ever been inside?"

All this was said rushed, with barely a breath in-between. Yes, she assured me, she knew the people. They were "summer folks" like my family. From someplace even further away than the day-long drive it took us to get to the cottage from Ohio, but I can't recall now where they were from. She had been good friends with one girl, and had spent summers growing up sleeping there more often than at home.

I interrupted the narrative of What-I-did-every-summer-growing-up to demand, "What does that MEAN, Killcare? I thought it was maybe the name of an Irish county, like County Claire, and I thought it was pronounced kil-kar-eee. Or that it was a last name, or a town, or something."

She gave me an odd look, as if I'd sprouted a third arm, or if she couldn't believe that such nonsense was coming out of the mouth of a reasonably intelligent, normally articulate, small adult-like person. And this behavior was indeed more kid-like than I usually displayed.

"Kill. Care. Kill your cares. Kill yer care. Killya'care, Killcare," she explained, running the words together slowly and then faster, showing me how the name had been derived. She went on to describe the inside of the place, and talk about how her childhood friend still came every summer and that she and her family would be arriving after my family and I had returned to Ohio. I was mostly no longer interested in nosily barging through the interior after that, but I spent a lot of time thinking about the place's name and what exactly Killcare meant to those who had chosen it.

It struck me as very odd because why would you want to stop caring about someone or some thing? And then when I asked about it again a few minutes later, Jane explained to me that it meant to kill your concerns, leave your worries behind, not to stop caring about someone or something. Oh.

At 14, I couldn't imagine needing to be reminded to let go, stop worrying. Anytime I was at the cottage, it was summer, I had no responsibilities beyond the cleaning chores assigned to me (we all shared all of the housekeeping while on vacation, being reminded by both parents that they were on vacation, too). I've been thinking about Killcare, the phrase, a lot again, wondering if it would, indeed, be possible to let go of all of the things that are weighing me down and leave me feeling fettered to a life that I'm not sure how it got where it is, nor am I sure that I'm happy with it and want it to continue in the same direction as it has been.

How did I end up here? The quest of my growing up years, to paraphrase a line I once heard Madonna use, was to "Get the hell outta Ohio." I have a memory book, an autograph book that I purchased while in Sweden as an exchange that I encouraged friends to write messages on the blank pages. I told them they had to write something, "deep and meaningful" and since almost everyone who wrote something in it was 17 at the time of the writing, most of it is filled with what are now howlers of most amusing variety. We were so young. What was then deep and meaningful is now trite or worse, hilarious instead of earnest. But I'm struck at the fact that more than one person wished me sincere good luck in escaping small town America. I wonder what any of them would say if they knew that the zealot of those times still lives not at all far from the hospital where she was born, or that any of the places she's lived since Sweden were all in and around the hometown that I so desperately wanted the hell out of.

I need to make some changes. I need to get moving. Change directions. I'm going to quote Dave Matthews band lyrics here, and I hope I can be forgiven for regressing to a teen kind of thing to do, but he does say it so much better than what I would come up with.

To change the world
start with one step
However small
first step is hardest of all
Once you get your gait
you'll be walking tall
You said you never did
cause you might die tryin
cause you might die tryin

Right now, I'm feeling like I just might die if I don't try to make some changes. The 'die tryin' lyric is sarcastic, that hey, man, if you don't get out there, what's the worst that could happen? You might die trying? Right.

So this is my 'first step', admiting that some changes need to be made, that something must be done. Perhaps that is letting go of some of my worries. Killcare. What a great idea.


terri said...

LA, what a wonderful, beautiful, touching post. I really appreciated the long-ago childhood story and all the images it carried for me. I grew up in a rural area by a river with lots of cottages owned by "people from away" so it was all too familiar to read about the curiousity we all had at these old places that no one seemed to come to, or the ones that were hidden away so we could only peer at them from the road, or see from the river. Wonderful images and memories - thanks. And I also love the Killcare angle. It is a wonderful name for a property and like you, I think an Irish origin, not a literal "Kill Care" when I see it! I like that you mention this. I love places with neat old names, especially if they are mysterious, and also that a word or phrase has stuck with you over the years. I have some words like that, words that I carry with me, in my heart, that mean some strange warm little thing to me alone. That is a nice word and idea and story to carry with you.

And I am sorry to hear that you are feeling a bit dejected right now, but also happy to hear that you see change is needed and that it can be a positive thing. It is really hard to get up the nerve to do something, anything different from our every day routine. Change, no matter how small, is a hard thing to start because we don't know the outcome and we're afraid of failing, and sometimes we don't even know what needs changing but it is good to recognize that something has to.

By the way, I found your blog when I searched "well behaved women rarely make history" as I was looking for a t-shirt. My very lovely friend Margaret has one and I decided I needed one also. :)

Hence I found your blog, somehow I guess....

MotherMe said...

I also enjoyed the nostalgia and innocence of this post. And I, too, had an Irish kill-CAR-ray pronounciation in mind. That's what you get for posting such a thing on St. Pattie's weekend! ~mm

Lucy Arin said...

Aww, thanks, both of you for your kind words.

I thought it might have been Google that brought you here...the stats are really interesting to my uber-geek nature. Someone I know has a CafePress store that features Well Behaved Women t-s, if you haven't found one, check CafePress.com

Heee. Great minds, eh?

I never thought about it being St. Pat's weekend, but somehow appropriate, nes pa?