When I was a little girl out in the wilds of West Africa, I would spend hours each day outside. I'd roam the hospital compound with my younger sister and two younger cousins/next-thing-to-brothers pretending we were a band of lost orphans wandering the wilderness surviving off the fruit of the land. Literally: we'd feast on mangoes and passion fruit and the tiny little limes we'd peel with a pocket-knife and suck until our teeth surrendered their enamel in despair. We'd climb the low-slung branches of frangipani trees, each claiming one as our own "house," then jump off into the muddy ditches below and visit each other for dinner parties of mud pie and beans.
My cousin Stevie was the one who gloried most in the mud and dirt of it all--pigs had nothing on him--but we all would trek home at the end of the day more red than white with the peculiarly rust-colored dust of the Ivoirien savanna. As the oldest by three years, I was the leader of our band and bossed the others around unmercifully. Whatever it was we (I) decided to do, it was usually outdoors, and it usually required a bath afterward.
At some point I decided I was less interested in wandering the wilderness and more interested in perusing the pages of books while my younger compatriots did their "kid" things. Formerly they had protested my dictatorship: now they came begging my mother to make me come tell them what to do. My imagination still ran riot, and I would even venture outside for the occasional game of kick-the-can or freeze tag, but my days in the mud faded into the past.
Today I went down to the shore of the little northern lake on which my grandparents' rather large cabin (we call it "Chalet Shalom") perches. I pedaled my two young sons about in the small blue paddle boat that is the only operational water vehicle at our little dock. I sat on a rock and piled thick lake sand into recycled cottage cheese tubs to create mini sandcastles, which were promptly stepped upon by fat little feet. I watched as small boys splashed through the shallows up and down the stretch of beach.
I remember the days of sun and sand and water I spent here as a little girl, those few years when we were here in Michigan. I remember squatting in the wet sand making my own sandcastles, splashing through the wavelets, swimming with trepidation out to the raft that still floats in reincarnated form some fifteen yards from shore. I never did like the muck and weeds of lake bottoms, so I would swim as quickly as I could and climb the ladder to sit in the sun instead. I remember the occasions when my mother's cousin Ken would bring his speedboat to the lake and we could tube behind it: once, when I was ten, he even let me steer the boat for a little while. I remember Grandpa trying to pull us in tubes behind the pontoon boat, but it couldn't get up enough speed and we were simply pulled under the water, coming up sneezing and coughing.
Today's visit...well, it was nice enough, and I'm glad I did it for their sake, but I soon tired of the moistness in my nether region and the scratchiness of sand on my extremities, and I wished I'd thought to bring a chair and my Kindle and a drink down to the deck. I think that will be on the agenda for tomorrow's excursion.
Nowadays I'm more citified, I suppose. If I'm going to be outside, I'd prefer to sit with a good book and a glass of lemonade, perhaps a Smirnoff Ice if it's a social occasion. I'll don my swimsuit, but I rarely venture in water--perhaps if it's very hot and I'm next to a nice clean pool rather than a lake with who-knows-what lurking below the surface. I dislike the feel of sand in my crevices and weeds between my toes.
I can still rough it when called upon. I have cooked a full breakfast over an open fire, I have taken sponge baths in the woods, I used to be the one people could count upon to have a roll of toilet paper in the car for emergency situations (now I have baby wipes).
I'd simply rather not.
And I think I'm okay with that.
3 years ago