Rewrite for first part of Vacations from Raised by White Trash
Growing up we went on a lot of vacations. More precisely we repeated the exact same vacation a lot of times. If you're the type of person not interested in geologic wonders, historic points of interest or any culture other than your own it's a good way to spend a few weeks every summer.
One night some time n the late seventies at a family dinner enjoyed while sitting in the car at a drive in restaurant our parents told us they had bought a cabin at the lake. The lake of course being the Lake of the Ozarks an enormous body of water in southern Missouri not far from Branson. I thought about this as I ate the onion rings I had slipped over my fingers. A habit that has left me with two burn scars. I loved the idea of having a lake house. You know a little second home we could run off to when the pressures of our small town got to be too much. "What did you do this weekend?" my classmates would ask. "Oh" I would reply adding a pause a bit dreamily but still somehow non-chalant " we spent a few days at the lake house"
"Let's go there now!" my brother yelled through a mouthful of fries.
"Splendid idea" I chimed in. The word splendid was one that I was trying to incorporate into my regular speech. I don't know where I picked it up but I do remember it replaced the word "capital".
"It's a school night and it's not going to be ours for a few more weeks" my mother replied.
This made me suspicious. "Why won't it be ours?" I asked just a little bit frantically "Is there someone living in it? if it's our house why can't we just go whenever we want to?". I was beginning to worry that they had been taken advantage of. Somehow tricked into buying a house that wasn't really for sale.
"No, nobody lives in it. It's only for vacations" my mom tried to explain.
"Do you have to wait until you get paid? How much did it cost?" I demanded. She ignored me on the question of price but instead said "Buying property isn't like buying a car. It takes a few weeks to close the deal".
This is sounding better and better. Not just a lake house but property and there was a deal being made. "Will we be able to bring friends?" Not that I had a lot of friends I wanted to expose to my family but maybe a summer property would ease the blow a little.
"Well", my mom calculated "the cabin sleeps nine and we can bring the camper for eight more". Nine people!? this place must be huge! I may not remember it correctly but I think my respect for my stepfather went up a little. Think of it. A Summer House.... on the lake.
To be fair I was never told it was an actual house. It was always referred to as a cabin. In my excitement and imagination I had added the house part myself. My memory started to correct as we got closer to the lake I still didn't see any actual houses. I did see mobile homes though. Dirty lonely ones set back in yards cut out of the surrounding woods. I started to get anxious. This was not going to be splendid.
When we found the lot it was situated off the side of an old highway. There was no driveway so we did the classy thing and just drove off the shoulder and right into the front yard. We parked in the shade of a honey locust tree. A pretty name for a tree that created an unending supply of long spikey thorns. These three to six inch long harpoons were solid enough to puncture tennis shoes, flip flops and the the front right tire of the family car.
The cabin itself had three different colors of shingles and the two windows facing us didn't match. It was way to small to be a house at best it could be though tof as a largish shed. "Well" I thought to myself "At least it's not a trailer". I had been taught that there was nothing worse than "trailer trash" and that somehow even with all evidence to the contrary we were superior to people who lived in mobile homes.
I tried to rescue some sense of satisfaction by telling myself that if we ever bothered to meet the neighbors they would probably say "Oh, you're the ones with the actual house". They would probably envy us and want to seek shelter within our real and solid building. The first sign of a strong wind they would be huddled in the front yard begging to be let in. We would allow this of course because we respected all types of people. Even the inferior white trash forced to live in flimsy homes with wheels. Or at least once had wheels.
It's generally accepted that people can cry when in the presence of intense beauty like a painting. an amazing sunset or the birth of a legitimate child. I was thinking of this and how the opposite of beauty can have the same effect. A tear ran down my cheek. This was not splendid at all.
The inside of the cabin was about four hundred square feet with walls alternating dark wood paneling, dry wall, a bluish off panel and to tie it all together cracked plaster the color of diseased toenails. I suggested we take the paneling off the walls so maybe we could at least paint it all one color. Of course we couldn't because there were no walls behind the panels.
For lighting there was one bare bulb hanging from the right half of the ceiling and a circular fluorescent tube for the left. Neither had glass globes over them nor did they give off much light. This didn't matter too much since the far wall has dominated but a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign meant for outdoors. Because the signs original purpose was to draw broke rednecks from miles away to purchase cheap beer it gave off plenty of light. In a twist of irony it was the only light bright enough to read under.
The kitchen was the size of a medium sized walk in closet. The bonus to this was we would never really expected to help out with food preparation. There was simply not enough room for more than one person in there. The stove was a leaky gas adaption that didn't kill us outright but probably helped us sleep at night. Come to think of it it may have something to do with the low test scores my nephews seem to have in school to this day.
There was a bathroom complete with a sheet metal shower stall that shifted with body weight. Move back and forth fast enough and you could recreate the sounds of a thunderstorm. For convenience there was no door. Instead there was a thick plastic folding curtain that never opened or closed all the way.
The cabin came furnished and, true to my mothers word, it was technically able to sleep nine people. One full sized bed and three ancient fold out sofa beds all smelling of dust and mold. Guest number nine would be sleeping on what we called the chair bed. The chair bed was the least comfortable but most coveted since it the only bed you didn't have to share with a gassy relative.
Not long after arriving an elderly couple appeared at the side of the highway that made up the property line of the front yard. She was wearing a denim sundress that allowed dimpled doughy under wave in the breeze. The man next to her was dressed in overalls, a white t-shirt and a blue and white striped baseball cap. He looked like someone was trying to pass him off as an old time train engineer.
My stepdad introduced himself and shook hands and pointed at each of us and recited our names and social position in the family. "yep" the man seemed to agree with who my stepdad thought we were. Then he continued as though halfway through a speech. "My brother built that place 'bout 15 years ago. He weren't no god for much and drank too much to keep a good job so he just made it out of scraps he brought home from job sites."
"We offered to help him get himself a good trailer but he wanted to do it himself. We got a phone if you have an emergency..." This was the wife speaking. I don't remember what followed. Something about property lines and trees but I was having some realizations that didn't sit well with me.
For one these people weren't jealous of us for having a the only house for miles. They pitied us for not having a trailer. "Hey we have a real house we live in all the time" I wanted to say just to let them know we were still better than they were. Before I could speak up the phrase "...made it from scraps he brought home..." was starting to take full effect.
Today a home made of recycled or reclaimed materials is very trendy and I would probably be proud to own one. A few summers before we had built a fort in a tree from scavenged boards and that was really cool. I guess it's all a matter of context. This wasn't a clever construction project this was a house made of trash. Not even a house! Just a cabin. And even that was an exaggeration. Not splendid... no not splendid at all.
After a few bloody mishaps with giant thorns and my generally sour mood our mother decided we were underfoot and sent us to see the lake. "Why don't you kids go down to the water. Just follow the road. Come back before it gets dark". If she ever thought it wasn't a good idea to send young children down a highway to a large body of water unattended she never let it show. She probably had a lot of confidence in our abilities to handle problems or her own ability to replace us if she needed to.
When we went camping I always liked hanging around the boat docks or going swimming so this perked me up. I guess even though we weren't "on" the lake we were at least "at" the lake. All was not a complete loss.
There was no boat dock, though, and no swimming beach just the highway plunging directly into the water. I knew on some level that the lake had been made by damming rivers and flooding valleys but this was the most obvious evidence I had ever seen of the process. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal but when I was five years old my parents had taken me to see Deliverance at the drive in. The "squeal like a pig" scene didn't scar me like it probably should have but the very last few seconds of the movie did.
If you haven't seen it or don't remember the last scene of the movie is a hand, obviously belonging to a corpse, shooting up out of the water of the calm waters of the newly made lake. A lake made from flooding a town. A lake like the one I was now looking at. Now even the lake part of having a lake house was ruined for me.
That first night I lay awake under the blankets that we hadn't been able to sell at garage sales and tried not to freeze. Every sound outside came from an imaginary Deliverance lake corpse that could easily get through walls made of wood paneling if they knew we were there. How could they do this to us? I wondered. What did we do to deserve this terrible place.
Then I remembered last years vacation