Every single Summer of my childhood I looked forward to the last day of school, knowing that within 2-3 days after that final day my Grandma GG would show up and whisk me off for “THE SUMMER” to a place where it stayed light until 10pm, fireflies lit our night sky, we could see every star in the universe, we stayed out late to play freeze tag, I worked at an ice cream parlor with her, and I had an endless supply of quarters for Defender and Skeeball in the village arcade.
Growing up, nothing much changed from year to year. The same kids came back, like a refugee summer camp. I had friends from the Palisades – the neighborhood where my GG had lived since the 1950’s, friends from Orange County whose parents owned major Jaguar and Cadillac car dealerships, friends that were kids of rock stars, movie stars and TV stars escaping the heat of Los Angeles. None of this was important to me. Summer was the great equalizer. Sure they were rich, but could they outrun Donny Loth? Sure their parents were important back in 90210, but could they beat my high score at Ms. Pacman?
I loved my childhood in Lake Arrowhead. I am particularly homesick this summer, for many reasons. Mostly, I miss my Grandma and she absolutely loved summer. We would walk the 3 blocks from her tiny cottage to the lake and camp out at Orchard Bay, eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches and drinking Shasta Grape soda until our tongues were purple. We were the first ones there, and the last to leave. Sometimes my cousin Jeremy would join us and those were the best days of all. She would let us wander into the orchard behind the beach and eat bitter crab apples and there was a secret swing to play on. I couldn’t go by myself, but if Jeremy went with me, we could go.
One time Jeremy and I were in the water and since GG was the best playmate ever and could do handstands in the water, we called her – over and over and over, “Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!” She was on the beach with her best friend Pauline Loth drinking Olympia Beer and just had her hair set to go to the Sportsman that night with her husband, my Fafa. Finally, she exploded in exasperation, “If you yell Grandma ONE MORE TIME… you’re gonna get it!” – which we knew meant a smack on the butt with a flip flop.
Daring the sting of the dreaded flip flip, but now also knowing she wouldn’t come in the water to get him, Jeremy replied, “What would you like us to call you? OLYMPIA BEER?” – and that was her name for the rest of the summer and for many others, too, shortened to just “Oly.”
Jeremy and I would be trotted around the mountains to her favorite places – the Yacht Club, Sportsman, Monte Corona and the Royal Oak were her top picks, but the Little Villager across the street from the Royal Oak in Blue Jay was mine. Owned by Betty Pekus, my Godmother, it was the place where I had my first and only “Boy Cheese Sandwich” – so named because Jeremy thought I was saying “Girl Cheese Sandwich” when ordering, and felt it was quite sexist. Only the Cedar Glen Malt Shoppe with it’s super-thick peanut butter shakes could woo me from the Little Villager, but long summers insured time for all of the best things to be crammed in, over and over again.
My GG was a little sassy, and I’m pretty sure it’s embedded in my girls. Every year she would “adopt-a-dock” – which I later learned was code for trespassing. Her rationale was that she lived there full time, owned lake rights and had lost her own dock in her divorce from my Fafa. So, she would stake out the lake, sometimes in Emerald Bay, sometimes Orchard Bay, and figure out who wasn’t using their dock that summer and move right in with her folding chairs and pink floating rafts. By the 4th of July she knew she was home free if no one showed up to claim it. If vacation renters came up for the weekend, she would play dumb, bluff if she needed to, and name drop if anyone questioned her. She always pulled it off and until I was about 16, I didn’t know any better. She always told me, “Oh, so-and-so asked me to keep an eye on it this summer for them.”
I miss my lake. I miss the later summers of the Blue Jay Jazz Festival, and the Rotary Wine Tastings. I miss our friends Bev and Jay and dinners at the Chef’s Inn with Randall. I miss being on my Fafa’s old wooden Chris Craft and eating corndogs with ketchup from the Dam Grill at the North Shore Marina. I miss Tavern Bay and the smell of pine trees, and the honeybees that invaded my the tree in GG’s front yard. I miss honeysuckle and the fireworks over the lake.I miss skiing with Shaneen on her boat, “Kenyaketchme.” I miss my Grandma’s old friends from the Elk’s Lodge – Mickey Haskins, Betty Baumann and Betty Pekus, my Godmother, whom I called my Dodo. The “why” of that nickname has long since faded in shadow, and sadly, I have no one to ask. I miss Santa’s Village and swimming with my Daddy at Deep Creek.
I haven’t been back since my Grandma died. I’m not sure I can ever go back without having a nervous breakdown. It might just be best to let everything remain frozen in time in my mind rather than go back and see it all without her. Who knows? I used to love Summer with all my heart, and now I’m content to ignore it and work right through until Fall. In 11 days my girls are back to school – one to College and one a Sophomore in High School. Maybe next Summer we’ll all go back and make some new memories. Or maybe I’ll just see if I can find a time machine on Ebay and take them back with me to when it was my very own magical place.