One summer, an endless childhood summer, we stayed at a cottage on a lake in Michigan. The house came with a little outboard motorboat that coughed and sputtered when it started, and it gave off that unmistakable gasoline smell most of the time.
My mother didn’t drive the boat, but when my father was around, he and I would take it out. He came up from Cincinnati on the train a few times, and while we waited for him at the station, I would put coins on the tracks to be flattened by the train. I got quite a collection.
We often went fishing in the little boat. I caught a total of thirteen perch that summer, a disappointing number. I remember them floating on a string hanging off the side of the boat, but after that I don’t know what happened to them. I do know that we didn’t eat them.
Sometimes we took the boat across the lake to a country store to pick up provisions. Every time we went there I had a cherry ice cream soda. I had never heard of such a thing before – at home I always had chocolate.
Cherries grow in orchards in that part of Michigan, so when my mother and I went out in the car, we would stop along the road and buy a bag of them. As we drove, I would roll down the window and practice spitting the pits as far as I could, trying to hit mailboxes and trees and telephone poles.
That was the summer that Babe Ruth died. There were big black headlines about it, and I felt upset even though he had retired before I was born. Besides, I was a Cincinnati Reds fan.
Summer is coming in the Adirondacks, and soon I’ll be smelling the gasoline fumes from the motorboats starting up on the lake near my house. Pennies. Perch. Cherries. Babe Ruth. It all comes back to me every time.