Betty Duffy

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Someone is Going to Do Something About Us

July 4, 2009

All the usual suspects are at the lake: The lanky and tan old man tugging slowly up the hill on his afternoon run. A woman with a long gray pony tail has been riding her bicycle up and down the south shore since I was a girl. And so many tan old women in pink polo shirts that accentuate the age spots on their forearms as they water their geraniums, or drive to Prevo in their convertible Mercedes. They are Midwestern Doctors’ wives, or brides of Chicago attorneys. Most of the residents on the lake are old, because it takes money, lots of it, to live here. But they have children and grandchildren.

I was thinking the other day of all the boys with boats I used to date up here with the hopes that at some point I would marry into a lake house. At fifteen years old, riding my bike past the Elliott’s house in a bikini top and cut-off jeans until I scored an invitation to go out on the lake and tip the catamaran. It was the blue-blood version of cow-tipping. I spent several afternoons in a Boston Whaler with the Bateman scion ignoring the goiter on his neck, even inviting him to our house for Thanksgiving, before it occurred to me that life with him would afford me 345 days of the year in hell for twenty days at the lake in the summer.

What could I endure for money and privilege and ownership of a portion of lakefront? This place is packed to the gills with every comfort and beauty that nature designs and money can buy. I want to keep it all, forever, and I can't help counting down the days and minutes until all this grace will be taken from me. The terminal nature of our vacation taints every moment of this respite with sadness. Such is life for a greedy pessimist.

Fifty years ago when Grandma and Grandpa first started coming up here, they could have bought a cottage with a private beach for a couple thousand dollars. Fifteen years ago, when the Little Brown Jug went up for sale, we could have bought it for 200 grand. We laughed at the price then: “That much? For that dump?” It was a plywood house with no insulation that smelled like mothballs and musty carpet. But the joke was on us. Beach front now sells for four times as much. And the taxes are as much as a mortgage, so that more and more, this corner of the state is a millionaire’s club. In town, the rich people patrol the sidewalks in madras plaid shorts with cashmere sweaters tied nonchalantly over their shoulders. Mom and pop restaurants have been replaced with sushi and fusion bistros decorated in slate and black paint. The charter fisherman whose wife ran the local bakery sold out to a cranky yuppie couple who serve artisan breads and gourmet coffees.

Every year that we come here, I feel more and more like an interloper. In a place where ownership has its privileges, we have always been the grandchildren of renters. I suppose we have moved up in status a bit, being borrowers now, and of our own flesh and blood. But it only masks the reality that at $2000 a week, renting a place up here has exceeded our means.

Yesterday, on the association-owned beach, which extends beach privileges only to landowners, my son kicked one of the association members’ daughters square in the middle of the back. She was enthroned at the end of the dock testing the water with her big toe at the precise moment my son wanted to run and jump off into the water. I saw it happening in slow motion like an impending car accident that you see coming and can do nothing to avert. I yelled his name but he didn’t hear me. He kicked, she squealed and her grandmother came to the rescue, swooping her off the dock and back to safety on the beach without allowing a moment for me to intervene and coax an apology out of my son.

That night, I couldn’t sleep thinking about it. I tossed and sighed in bed, compelling my husband to inquire why the heck I wouldn’t let him sleep. When I told him, he asked me, “Are you more upset about your humiliation, or about the fact that our kid kicked a girl, because to me kicking girls is a bigger issue.”

And there was that age old vanity that threatened to out me as an interloper here. I don’t have the money. I don’t pay my dues. If we are congenial and stay under the radar, then the charity of others that tolerates our stay here will not be exhausted. But if we are rowdy and mean, and hog the beach, and kick unsuspecting little girls, then someone is going to do something about us. My bittersweet feelings upon coming to this place have always been about class; my middle class to their upper class; their membership to my being an outsider trying to secure my place here. I’m the Becky Sharp of the lake.

We really do make our own hell on earth. Here I am on borrowed time in a borrowed place, every day is a grace, and I can’t allow myself the luxury of not caring what people think.

"No matter what the circumstances, no man can completely escape from vanity."--Shusaku Endo


TS said...

They may wear cashmere casually, but how many of them can write an essay in which they casually mention Wendell Berry? :-)

Betty Duffy said...

C'est vrai! I don't think they could mention Berry as casually as I do.

Jus said...

Berry - the Thoreau of this generation......