Coping with practical reality isn't much fun, Sherrill and I had discovered yet again. Lately, we'd been nose to nose with it more than we liked. Why hadn't we learned useful trades, like roofing or laying carpet, instead of becoming a writer/editor and librarian? Recently, a little apartment building that we co-owned with friends had needed a lot of work that we either had to do ourselves or pay out money we couldn't afford to get done. In addition, the library branch in Oakland that Sherrill managed had been broken into and vandalized, windows smashed, Xerox machine destroyed, books and furniture hurled around. It wasn't the first time, but the worst.
"I'm getting to know the Oakland police department very well," she told me.
Now, however, we were going to get away from hard reality for more than a week. No more thinking about roofs and carpets or smashed windows and police reports. Sherrill and Simone and I and two other families were renting a houseboat on Lake Shasta in northern California for a week. Sherrill and one of our friends bought supplies at the Canned Food Store. The cans were only slightly dented and most of them still had labels. We all contributed additional ingredients to round out the menus, as well as an assortment of beverages. It had taken five years for our three families to coordinate schedules, but now it was happening.
"It hasta be Shasta!" the kids sang on the way north.
The girls did love the lake; they loved splashing in the cold water and spotting curious deer on the shore and whiskered otters in the foamy creeks feeding into the lake. They loved rowing their plastic boats and fishing for trout and bluegills and watching the clouds of bats that swarmed over the lake at night, but maybe we adults felt the lake's magic even more than the kids. The sun and space and fresh air seemed to peel away the armor encrusted on us by years of hard reality. We were lucky, we agreed, the weather was perfect—sunny, but not too hot. Nevertheless, we'd made sure that there was enough refreshment to keep us content, indoors as well as out: a case and a half of bargain champagne and a variety of wines and cocktail ingredients and nibbles to go with it—plus all those meals.
We had our books and games and I'd brought work that I needed to finish by the time we returned, but we also talked a lot and explored the meandering fingers of the lake. From time to time, we passed other houseboats, large and small, one on which the sunbathers were as bare as they were tanned. One steep-sided red-rocked channel shrunk until it wasn't much wider than our houseboat. Whichever one of us was driving it then turned off the engine and let the boat nudge into the bank, then we leaped off and pounded in stakes and fastened ropes. Spindly pines leaned over the naked orange earth above the receding waterline.
Was it this time or another when the three girls went off in the little plastic boat to explore more of that roaming finger of water? One time, when they went scouting, we adults were too busy celebrating something—it may have been the eleventh anniversary of somebody's twenty-ninth birthday—to notice how long they'd been gone. When we did realize the time, we sent off a search party. Of course, eventually the girls were found, but we had a nervous hour or so first.
"It hasta be Shasta!" the kids sang. "It hasta be Shasta!"
It wasn't easy during those years for the three of us to get away together, but several months later, Sherrill and Simone flew off again to Honolulu to stay with Pat, Sherrill's mother. They didn't have any difficulty finding things to do without me. Pat's condo was small, but it was just three blocks from Waikiki beach. One day, they went snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, the circular remains of an ancient volcanic eruption. Many movies had been filmed there, with stars ranging from Elvis to John Wayne. When Simone told me about it, I did envy her swimming with those multi-colored fish and the other exotic marine life, even friendly turtles.
Simone also wrote a lot of letters, she admitted, to the young man back in Berkeley that she later married. After she and Paul graduated from high school, they celebrated with a trip to Europe. It was a good trip, she said, but they did have their adventures.
"When we were staying in Nice," Simone told me, "we took a train to Cannes and then a boat to a tiny island where we watched an opera--Carmen—in a Roman ruin. With real horses. People in the audience were eating sausages and drinking wine. It was great, but afterward the trains had stopped running and we couldn't afford a taxi. We started out trying to sit in the lobbies of the big hotels along the beach but eventually got kicked out, so we ended up on the beach and even tried to sleep on a ping pong table. There weren't any twenty-four hour fast food places and they wouldn't let us into a casino. We tried."
With their train passes, they explored France from Paris to Monaco and much of Italy, too. They even got to Barcelona in Spain and visited the nearby monastery at Montserrat to see the black virgin. How many eighteen year olds, I wondered, would do that?
"When we left Venice," she told us later, "we intended to go to Milan, but we got on the wrong train and went the opposite direction, to Yugoslavia, and got yelled at by a bunch of guards for trying to cross the border. It's strange to think how 'other' it was. Like falling off the edge of the earth. Luckily, we could get another train back."
Even years later, in 1988, when Sherrill and I visited Yugoslavia, we could see how "other" it was. However, soon that world was to fall apart—and Sherrill and I would see some of it happening.
To be continued....
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