Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Loving. The Memories Don't Die.

There were very few entries this month, but they were all wonderful and I thank you for participating.

As with our latest challenges, I have asked for an explanation along with the soap you made, so that we, as artists, draw out our thoughts as we create and really get in touch with your art and your inner artist.  It also makes the soap more interesting to look at as a viewers standpoint because the history adds depth and understanding.

When I say dig deep, some of you clearly do and I am honored to have the remains of the upheaval shared with me.

I loved EVERY submission.  This was about memories (or fantasies) and you all rocked it!  The most original soap in my opinion along with the back story is Milo & Otis.  She describes the moments of her lying at the bottom of the river, looking up at the surface while listening to the unique sharpness of stones tapping together underwater.  The description of that magical moment of time brought back huge memories for me...being underwater in complete oneness with no angst. I remember loving the feeling of being immersed in water.  It erased the tensions of the world above and made me float.  It muffled all the yelling and hatred and calmed my soul.  I wanted to be a fish and never leave or sometimes wished I would painlessly and magically drift away into the bliss I found alone and under the world I knew.

Milo & Otis made this soap:

This is her story verbatim:

Summers in my childhood meant one thing, the lake and the cottage. Some of our friends referred to it as the cabin, but it was no cabin; It was a sizable white clapboard house on one of two connected lakes that was about 30 minutes from our house. Our family of seven had taken a few vacations, which must have been quite expensive and no doubt provided little relaxation for my parents. Instead of family vacations, they decided to buy a house on a lake within striking distance of our home so my dad could commute for work while we spent the summers and some weekends there.

I remember our first visit to the house for sale, the foreign feeling of being in someone else's house and the familiarity of a lake but the unfamiliarity of this one. While my parents talked with the owners, we played in the shallows and had seaweed fights. They bought it and the house took us on.

We spent endless hours in the lake the way children can without ever becoming bored. My sister and I were delegated the task of watching "the babies" (my brothers are 2 and 3 years younger than I, so it's a relative thing) swim in the area buoyed off for them. They would daringly somersault over the line or swim underwater under it, then U turn and swim back before coming up for air. We didn't mind their shenanigans but occasionally yelled at them so it remained fun for them to do. We all became excellent swimmers, completely comfortable in the water, probably more home to us than the house was. I would man the big net with my brother, catching minnows for bait. Within a couple hours, my sympathies would get the best of me and I would move silently under the pier to the bait can floating in the water, quietly open the top and tip it over. Swim free, little minnows! I took a couple fishhooks to the head, standing too close to my brother as he swung the rod back to cast, then as he threw the rod forward, the hook would set in my scalp, me shouting at him to stop before he yanked me off the pier. He was good at getting them out.

We played alone and together, the five of us. I loved wearing a mask and swimming along the bottom, enthralled with everything in the green light, watching the pull of the waves sending swirls of detritus to and fro. I would lie on my back and exhale enough that I would sink to the bottom where I would be lulled by the ebb and flow as I followed the beautiful patterns of the sun on the surface of the lake. I never failed (and still don't) to be amazed at the clarity of the sound of stones being tapped together and how far it travels underwater. We dunked each other, cannon-balled off the pier, stood on inner tubes, and were generally loud and happy. The constancy of our feet on the bottom packed it down into firm sand and obliterated any weeds. Just beyond our pier, the water was over our heads and we hated walking past the end of that demarcation. Your foot would sink into the clammy, cold, obscenely mushy bottom and the seaweed would brush your skin in way that felt perverse. As kids, we called it "the ooglies." If we took running starts to jump as far out as possible off the end of the pier, we all swam back as fast as we could.

Sometimes our dad would take us out in the boat to our favorite swimming spot. It was a ways offshore from an abandoned lakeside restaurant and was instantly recognizable by the wide expanse of water that had no weeds, in spite of being deep. We didn't know why there were no weeds there and we imagined it to be unfathomably deep, although our anchor told us otherwise. Every time we went, we would watch the anchor come up from the bottom, waiting to see evidence of seaweed but all we ever saw was sand floating off in a thin trail. We loved it there. We would do flips off the boat and dive down, although none of us ever made it to the bottom, perhaps to protect the mystery we felt. Hippo, our dog, would occasionally jump in to swim with us, then, not understanding that the boat was our station, she would take off for shore. One of us would have to go get her and lead her back to the boat so someone could lift her back to solidity.

Two doors down from us was a restaurant that got heavy traffic, being on the far side of two lakes and town. They had boat slips, a bait shop, a boat launch. The pier ran through the deep water in a big square and in the middle, although it was thickly weedy, was where kids who were visiting would jump and swim. One morning a man and his nephew went out to fish in the early morning before it was light. It was a Sunday, their last day on the lake before they went home, and during their horseplay, the man pushed the boy into the lake. When he didn't come up, he thought the boy had snuck to shore and gone home, a sore sport. He shrugged it off and headed out to fish, leaving the boy in the dark cold water in the ever tightening weeds, until he could hold his breath no longer. Later, when the day was hot, the kids came to play in the water and in their jumping, they knocked him loose from the weeds and he finally came to the surface under the pier.

Our neighbor's rule was that he and his kids would play softball or volleyball every day. It was optional for us but not them and anyone was invited to play. I watched the softball games rather than play and that day, as I stood with the batting team, we saw people come running up from the lake to the restaurant. One of the kids, in the bald blunt way of children, yelled over to one of the batters, "Jay, your brother's dead!" I could see Jay, caught half in paralysis, half in panic, try to understand and finally start to move, jumping the fences between the yard and the restaurant. We went down to the lake shore in front of our house, where I saw my dad, sadly shaking his head, kneeling next to the boy on the pier. He had been in the water for too long for there to be any possibility other than death. My dad, his face grim, crossed the yards back to our own, incongruous in his orange jumpsuit. (He was not a convict. It was the 70's and his favorite color was orange. You can get away with wearing just about anything on a lake.) As I stood and stared at the still body on the pier, it started to rain. The clouds were high and bright, casting a yellow light, and it seemed too scripted but there it was. Maybe the skies do look down on us and shed tears. My parents had been preparing to go back to our house and we got in the car, driving in silence all the way home. I watched the rain spatter on the windows and thought about the people who had only wanted a weekend of sun and swimming. The lake broke that family.

We were aware of the dangers of the lake even before that boy's death, and my parents surely were acutely conscious of it. We were not allowed out in any of the boats without a life preserver. However, they were bulky and hot and we were all good swimmers, to say nothing of the fact that kids are notoriously overconfident. My sister and I took the paddle-wheel out one day and of course took off our life preservers. We were on the return leg, not too far out from shore or our house. I had gotten up to stand and pedal backward when we heard the slap of the wooden screen door and my mother's piercing shriek. It stopped us in our tracks and we watched her bull-like charge across the yard with trepidation. Shouting at us non-stop, she stomped across the neighbor's lawn, pushing a wave of ferocity ahead of her. Her eyes lasered in on us, she did not look where she was going and went down face first in the neighbor's hostas. Laughter burst out of us for a mere moment, pushed back as quickly as she snapped back up to continue her lambasting all the way to shore. It was like laughing in church; the more inappropriate the place, the stronger the urge, but we did not dare give in to it. You simply did not laugh at my mother. Thankful for the distance, we reluctantly started our trek in to the pier where she went to await us, but the moment her back was turned, we laughed into spasms. She continued to exude fury but we were shielded by the vivid image of watching her face plant. Whatever her punishment was, the count was clear. We won that one.

On some nights, we played Hearts. Before a remodeling, our long long dining room table was on a porch barely wider than the table itself. How my parents got it in there is a feat of engineering I'm not certain I will ever understand. Family, friends, neighbors all, we would cram around the table, its oilcloth tablecloth wiped down after dinner, our places marked by sweating glass bottles of Squirt and Coke, the Real Thing. We played to win. No mercy, no matter what your age. The two losers would have to wash the dishes the next night, a duty that defaulted to my sister and me otherwise. We used real dishes, no paper or plastic, for a minimum of seven people and far more frequently for 10, 11, 12 or more. No dishwasher. I tried to win but I tried harder not to lose; the feeling of lettuce leaves in dishwater still sets my teeth on edge. We had to play under fake names. My Hearts name was Mabel. Through the game, we would toss out cards and jabs and lighthearted insults, but tensions built when it became clear that someone was trying to moon (collect all the points). It could be a deal breaker. If someone managed it, they had to literally moon the table, by law, which we all did with relish. The exception was my mother. Fonzerella struggled with the idea of dropping her drawers in front of everyone; I think perhaps she worried it would undermine her authority. (It didn't) It wouldn't surprise me if she purposefully avoided it except for the times she was dealt a hand that made it impossible not to moon, and then she would gloat. There were always shouts and cheers when someone mooned, but when my mother got one, it was near bedlam. We would be hooting, pounding the table and catcalling, drowning out her protests until she finally got up and flashed us so quickly, you had to wonder if it had even happened. How did she do it so fast? Did she practice in front of a mirror? We could probably identify any other player by their butt, but my mother retained her dignity in a difficult situation. After the game broke up, everyone would go their separate ways, sometimes for a night swim or skinny dip, if you weren't in mixed company, to read or watch a movie or lie in front of a fan, making sounds into it so you could sound like a robot. Too often, the next night, the losers would be forgotten and my sister and I would be in the kitchen, singing theme songs from TV shows to bide the time, getting dishpan hands.

Summer memories jumble together. We went barefoot all summer and would start the summer limping and hopping over the sharp stones of the gravel driveway, "winter feet" we called it, and ending in hardened soles that could take anything except a direct jab to the arch. We went all day, swimming, then drying off, then pulling on our cold sticky suits once again in the sweltering heat that existed behind the house and miraculously disappeared as soon as you got to the lake. It made you wonder why you were in such a hurry to get back in the water.

We slept in our clothes, ready to go the moment we woke up. Some mornings were utterly still and the lake looked like "Glass lake! Glass lake!" my oldest brother would shout, running through the yard, sending up the alert to my cousin, brothers and neighbors. He would wade in to get the boat off the mooring and bring it to the pier, unsnapping the cover as he went. Within minutes, they would be ready to ski, heading out to break the calm surface of the water with rooster tails from the slalom. I spent most of my time in the boat watching for falls and signaling to the skier the quality of their sprays. I wasn't much of a water-skier but my cousin and I worked on a trick. Wrapping my arms and legs around the thickness of our life preservers and him, I would hang on his back until he got up, then I would climb up and sit on his shoulders. It was our only trick, so its life was relatively brief. The last time I recall doing it was when my mom drove the boat for us, which she didn't do regularly. When we said, "Hit it!", she went full throttle, which was more than required for two kids. I scrambled up to my perch on my cousin's shoulders and realized we were going far too fast. We frantically signed to slow down before my cousin wiped out. I fell from the height as if onto concrete, skittering along before sinking. I learned that if water is going fast enough, or you are relative to it, it can perforate tender skin. I'm not sure my derriere has ever been the same.

Most summers we would walk across the lake on the logs of a long fallen bridge that ended on our seawall. We knew where it was and, dragging a boat with us to let other boaters know we were there, we would pick our way, feet finding the slippery roundness of the huge logs, long submerged, until we were at the sandbars all the way on the other side. We'd play in their water for a while and then head back across to our home shore. We would canoe into the lily pads, listening to them hiss, feeling them on the underside of the boat. We'd watch for the huge carp that loved the warm murky waters, fearful of falling in and frantic if we did, sure we'd be eaten.

My sister and I would canoe around on 4th of July, singing every patriotic song we knew at the top of our lungs before dusk fell. Once the fireworks started, we renewed our singing efforts while sitting on the pier in the dark. Sound really carries on a lake; I feel a bit sorry for the people across from us.

The smell of the water, the smell of boats, the sound of feet pounding on the pier, the deep ka-ploosh of a well-done cannonball. The lake, the green lake, was what summer was. I didn't like it there so much when I was a teenager, but that's another story.

My soap is made to look a little like the surface of the lake as I lay on the bottom, looking up to the sky.

Please go see some of the beauties that were submitted in the Soap Challenge Gallery facebook group.  Search for summerloving and see the art!

Thanks for all the support of this soap challenge group.  And thank you for following my blog.  Kisses!  xo Jo