Every summer our family spends time together up at the lake. Mom. Dad. Eric, and I, and the kids. Uncle Bill and Mary. Laurie, Dennis, and the kids. Troy, Blair, and the kids. There’s endless eating, swimming, and campfires, and we share stories of Auntie Carolyn. It wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t; maybe it’s our way of feeling that she’s up at the cabin with us.
We usually share the same ones and they still make us laugh every time. The storytelling only lasts so long before we move to something different. It starts to feel sad (for me anyways).
Here are a few stories that I usually share…
The Exploding Cigarettes
A person would never know that my aunt smoked. Her house smelled clean and had floral scents. Her hands were not stained and her nails were always painted. Cigarette ashes were never left behind, not even in an ashtray. Ashtrays looked unused in her house.
Anyways, one summer up at the cabin, we decided to pull a little prank on Auntie Carolyn. We had neighbours from Illinois who were pranksters and liked to bring up fireworks to play around with. This particular summer, they brought up tiny little firecrackers – about the size of a grain of rice.
I don’t remember whose brilliant idea it was (seriously, it was pretty funny), but we slid a tiny firecracker into the end of two or three of Auntie Carolyn’s cigarettes. We tucked them back in amongst the rest of her pack and sat back anxiously waiting for the show to begin.
When she grabbed her next cigarette, it just happened to be one with a firecracker stuck inside. With her cigarette held firmly between her lips. Her lighter held up with an orange flame to the end… CRACK! It blew the end of the cigarette off. She was pissed. She wanted to know who did it and she wasn’t happy about it.
She grabbed a second cigarette. She wasn’t having much luck. CRACK! Somehow she grabbed another cigarette with a firecracker tucked inside. I don’t remember if it was after this cigarette or if one more exploded on her, but either way, she ended up stomping over to the fireplace and chucking the entire package of cigarettes into the fire.
There were no firecrackers left. She had only lit the few that had a surprise tucked inside.
We always laugh when we retell this story. It wasn’t funny for her, but 20+ years later, it still makes us all laugh and remember her and her fiery temper.
Painting the Gazebo
This next story is one that Uncle Bill and I share.
Up at the cabin, our family has a screened in gazebo next to the lake. It was built decades before my parents bought the property (I was eight years old at the time).
We have replaced the screens multiple times. There are many layers of paint hidden beneath. It was our way of sprucing it up and making it new again.
When we first used the gazebo, it was a place where our family liked to sit at night to visit without getting eaten alive by mosquitos. I can remember Auntie Carolyn, Uncle Bill, and Dad sitting out there together. Sitting in the darkness, laughing and telling stories while listening to old records on Grandpa Johnson’s old record player. Drinks were also in hand.
One particular summer, I remember being up at the cabin with just Auntie Carolyn and Uncle Bill. My mom and dad must have been working. We decided that the three of us would paint the inside of the gazebo white to brighten it up. We changed into some clothes that were suitable for painting and grabbed our brushes and cans of paint. We were ready to go.
But if you’ve ever painted a ceiling, you know how easy it is for the paint to drip down onto your head or clothing. That’s exactly what happened to me. Auntie Carolyn must have noticed the paint on my shirt. I wasn’t worried at all.
I had turned my shirt inside out. The teenage Lainie thought that if paint was to get on the inside of my shirt and didn’t wash off, no one would ever see it. Auntie Carolyn thought it was the funniest thing in the world. She couldn’t stop laughing. The kind of laughter where you are wiping away tears as you giggle uncontrollably. Her reaction was hilarious. Soon all three of us were laughing in the middle of our painting project over something so silly.
Every summer when Uncle Bill is up at the cabin, we look up at that white ceiling and smile at each other. We both remember that day laughing with her. We try to tell the story but it’s one of those, you had to be there.
Getting Dolled Up at the Lake
Spending time up at the cabin is so relaxing.
When my parents first bought the property, an old log cabin sat beneath towering pine trees. We had electricity for lights and to run a few appliances. We had an outhouse and a roughed in shower in our shed. It was far from glamorous and we loved it.
Because when you’re at the lake, you don’t worry about what you look like. Your hair is windblown and usually wet from the most recent jump off the dock. Sunblock is likely smeared in and there’s a subtle granular feel of sand. Most of the time you’re in a bathing suit or a comfy pair of jogging pants and a hoodie. The only people that see you are your family and friends. So who cares, right!?
I remember my Auntie Carolyn standing in the doorway of our bedroom. She was facing a large wooden mirror and holding a curling iron up above her head. She had short hair and curled it every day, even at the lake.
I remember Auntie Carolyn sitting at the end of our dock, her knees slightly bent as she shaved her legs. My Dad and Uncle Bill standing beside her and chatting away as she swished her razor in the lake.
She was always put together. I remember pink lipstick. Gold jewelry. And the smell of perfume. She used to have a little wiggle when she walked and she was so short (around 5 feet).
But never underestimate a tiny woman. She was a fiery redhead. She was funny and sarcastic.
I loved her. And things have felt so different since she’s been gone.
I’m looking forward to this summer at the lake. I hope the whole Paterson crew will come up. It’s crowded and noisy and awesome. And guaranteed there will be lots of laughter, and stories about Auntie Carolyn.