65 Jumps – Growing Up on The Lake

(Continuing the draft of the story ’65 Jumps,’ started back on 12/28/08, intended to be read sequentially.)

From 1998, when Nate and Anna were 7 and 5 years old, we have been returning to our summer family on Lower Saranac Lake. The growth of this special extended family just happened, and while I know that the Paces and the McManuses are among our oldest friends at the lake, and that the Windels and Karps were definitely on the scene by 2002, the evolution of what we sometimes call “The Manhunt Clan” just seemed to happen.

Kurt Vonnegut coined the words “karass” and “granfalloon” to describe the two different types of human groups.

A karass is a spontaneously forming group, joined by unpredictable links, that actually gets stuff done, “a team that do[es] God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing.” A granfalloon, on the other hand, is a “false karass,” a bureaucratic structure that looks like a team but is “meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done…

Atheist that I am, I like to think that, if there is a God, it is His will that people spend a week or two a year in heaven on Earth; fishing, hanging out on the dock, swimming, sifting little semi-precious stones from bags of sand at tourist-trap caves, motoring slowly through a narrow river channel while Great Blue Herons reluctantly flap away, and, most importantly, the kids have a chance to spend some great time every year with familiar, non-judgemental, other kids.

It is like family without the baggage, a karass, I like to think.

Every year, for nearly a decade, Nate, Anna, Chelsea, Shannon, Ericka, David, Anna, Nathan, Bryan, Daniel, (and others more recently) have spent this time together. They now know each other as well as anyone. The friendships develop over the years, but there’s no peer pressure. They all accept each, warts and all, for the week. In between times, they email, they send text messages, they visit, they see each other over the webcam, and on and on.

Kids’ lives are full of problems and challenges and insecurities. What a struggle. But every year, if only for a week or two, it all goes away. They are At The Lake and that’s it.

And on top of that, each family has its own store of photographs, memories, and stories to get them through long winter nights, or to help count down the weeks remaining until August when it’s only early April.

A photo of Anna, when she was about six, wearing a light blue Cub Scout hat, holding a fishing rod, smiling a peculiarly satisfied smile occupied a prime spot at my office desk for years. We took it on a walk to Moose Pond, a spot that we haven’t gone back to since.

And there’s a photo of Nate, from which I am oddly absent. He landed a 23 inch Northern Pike one day when he was about seven. When he first heard the noisy splashing, we thought he or Robbie had fallen in. But he landed this truly monstrous fish, and of course, we wanted a photograph. I inexpertly tried to pick the thing up, but he opened his jaws so widely, I thought I might lose a finger. A helpful, more knowledgeable guest, came to the rescue and held up the fish. The photo of a beaming young Nate next to the anonymous guest holding the huge fish still decorates the office at Ampersand Bay, and we have a few 5-by-7’s of it too.

We can follow a whole history of life preservers, from the first little yellow toddler ones, with the all-important head supports, to Nate’s latest, high-tech gray-blue, absurdly trendy item.

There are even rituals associated with it: Manhunt, jumping off the Bluff, going to Sandy Beach, Kathy & Ira’s picnics, buying sausage bread from Lake Flour Bakery, going to Donnelly’s for Fruit Surprise, Joe’s fish-fry, and so on. Each one of which the children, and the adults, imbue with special significance, because of all the history that is wrapped up in each event.