As summer approaches I am looking forward to heading over to the Finger Lakes for our first in-person FLARE event. I am also looking forward to seeing some family while I am there, and, of course, that brings up fond memories of my youth.
My uncle was the pastor of the tiny church in Hector New York. I spent a few weeks with my cousins in the summer of 1967. It is one of my fondest memories. My older brother and I were sent to stay with my mother’s sister Jane, her husband, Dick, and our cousins, George and Peggy. (Yes, my Aunt and Uncle were Dick and Jane.) Paul and George spent their time doing whatever it was that teenage boys do, while Peggy and I were busy doing what 10-year-old girls did. Part of the family included a three-legged dog named Fuzzy who I adored.
They lived in a house right on Seneca Lake. A hammock swayed in the breeze under the tall trees in the yard between the house and the lake as if occupied by an unseen visitor. Peggy and I would climb into that hammock and tell each other all our stories, adventures, hopes, and secrets while Fuzzy napped beneath us.
Some mornings Aunt Jane would hand Peggy and I each a basket and direct us to go pick blackberries, raspberries, or pears, from the fields and orchards across the road. And by the time we returned with full baskets the pie shell would be ready and waiting on the kitchen counter.
My uncle had a beautiful wooden boat tied up at the dock. He had spent a career as a Navy Chaplin and that boat was his happy place. That summer he spent hours driving that boat up and down the lake while the four of us learned to water ski. He made us wear bulky orange life jackets, and at first I took personal offense to the suggestion that I might not be able to swim well enough. But once he explained that there was a rule “All Water Skiers Must Wear Life Jackets” I acquiesced. It took me so many tries to stand up on those big, long wooden boards. The first few times Uncle Dick started my run the handle just flew out of my hands. The boys were relentless in mocking me, but Peggy encouraged me, telling me to “stick your butt out”, and “push your skies out in front”. Pride swelled through me when I finally stood up.
One day George and Paul took us to the grotto. Water tumbled down the hillside over big rocks strewn throughout the gully. It was a magical place. The water was cold with deep pools where we floated on our backs and looked up at the blue sky through the trees that lined the banks. Peggy and I were sure that fairies watched us as we found pools of tadpoles and patches of wildflowers. The temperature dropped as the sun set across the lake every evening. Exhausted we crawled into our beds with limp limbs, sun kissed cheeks, and bellies full of summer joy.
It is easy to see why so many authors find inspiration in the Finger Lakes.