My parents' Ford wagon hit a concrete divider on U.S. 95 outside
Biddeford, Maine, in August 1990. They'd driven that stretch of highway for
maybe thirty years, on the way to Long Lake. Some guy who used to play
baseball with Pop had these cabins by the lake and had named them for his
children. Jenny. Al. Tyler. Craig. Bugs. Alice and Sam. We always got Alice
for two weeks in August, because it had the best waterfront, with a shallow,
sandy beach, and Mom and Pop could watch us while they sat in the green
We came up even after Bethany had gone, and after I had become a man with a job. I'd go up and be a son, and then we'd all go back to our places and be regular people.
Long Lake has bass and pickerel and really beautiful yellow perch. You can't convince some people about yellow perch, because perch have a thick, hard lip and are coarse to touch, but they are pretty fishI think the prettiestand they taste like red snapper. There are shallow coves all over the lake, where huge turtles live, and at the swampy end, with its high reeds and grass, the bird population is extraordinary. There are two pairs of loons, and one pair always seems to have a baby paddling after it; ducks, too, and Canada geese, and a single heron that stands on one leg and lets people get very close to photograph it. The water is wonderful for swimming, especially in the mornings, when the lake is like a mirror. I used to take all my clothes off and jump in, but I don't do that now.
In 1990 I weighed 279 pounds. My pop would say, "How's that weight, son?" And I would say, "It's holding steady, Pop." I had a forty-six-inch waist, but I was sort of vain and I never bought a pair of pants over forty-two inchesso, of course, I had a terrific hang, with a real water-balloon push. Mom never mentioned my weight, because she liked to cook casseroles, since they were easily prepared ahead of time and were hearty. What she enjoyed asking about was my friends and my girlfriends. Only in 1990 I was a 279-pound forty-three-year-old supervisor at Goddard Toys who spent entire days checking to see that the arms on the action figure SEAL Sam were assembled palms in, and nights at the Tick-Tap Lounge drinking beers and watching sports. I didn't have girlfriends. Or, I suppose, friends, really. I did have drinking friends. We drank hard in a kind of friendly way.
My mom had pictures set up on the piano in the home in East Providence, Rhode Island. Me and Bethany mostly, although Mom's dad was in one, and one had Pop in his Air Corps uniform. Bethany was twenty-two in her big picture. She'd posed with her hands in prayer and looked up at one of her amazing curls. Her pale eyes seemed glossy. I stood in my frame like a stick. My army uniform seemed like a sack, and I couldn't have had more than 125 pounds around the bones. I didn't like to eat then. I didn't like to eat in the army either, but later on, when I came home and Bethany was gone and I moved out to my apartment near Goddard, I didn't have a whole lot to do at night, so I ate, and later I had the beer and the pickled eggs and, of course, the fat pretzels.
My parents pulled their wagon in front of cabin Alice, and I helped load up. They were going to drive home to East Providence on the last Friday of our two weeks, and I would leave on Saturday. That way they could avoid all the Saturday traffic coming up to New Hampshire and Maine. I could do the cleanup and return the rented fishing boat. It was one of those good plans that just make sense. Even Mom, who was worried about what I would eat, had to agree it was a good plan. I told her I would be sure to have a nice sandwich and maybe some soup. What I really was planning was two six-packs of beer and a bag of those crispy Bavarian pretzels. Maybe some different kinds of cheeses. And because I had been limiting my smoking to maybe a pack a day, I planned to fire up a chain-smoke, at least enough to keep the mosquitoes down, and think. Men of a certain weight and certain habits think for a while with a clarity intense and fleeting.
From The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty; chapter 1 (pages 1-9). Copyright 2004 by Zaluma, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Viking Penguin.
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