A Little Lake-Lover's Swell, Slimy Summer

William was probably about eight years old the summer he took a vacation from showers.

Our family lived - and my parents still do live - on the shores of Lake Erie. It was a muggy Ohio summer, punctuated by spectacular thunderstorms that swept over the lake. But other than a few rainy outbursts, every day was nearly the same: hot, humid, and thick. We spent as much time as possible immersed in the lake.

The amount of time we spent in the water led to my younger brother's theory that a lake bath was just as good as a hot shower (albeit showers had the distinct advantage of soap). He must have figured that since he spent much longer in the lake than he would in a bathtub, he must be getting that much cleaner.

Most days went something like this: Wake to a sticky-slow morning, pull on your bathing suit (stiff from drying overnight), round up your friends (and a responsible adult), borrow the neighbors' inner tube (essential for water games), and make a beeline to the pier.

I have found since then that pool-swimmers sometimes turn up their noses at lake-swimming. Lake water smells different, things grow in it, and fish swim in it. (Which, truth be told, probably did contribute to the ripe little-boy smell William developed by the end of the summer.)

But anyone who grew up swimming in a lake knows that there is nothing like swimming in fresh, cool water that stretches out past the horizon. The water changes: It develops sandbars; it is glassy in the mornings and choppy in the afternoons. It warms to perfection in August and early September. Freighters laden with iron ore steam across the Great Lakes.

Pools, on the other hand, are small and rectangular, temperature-controlled, and artificially blue. Plastic blow-up toys are the only boats that sail in pools.

Swimming pools are not alive like the lake.

Things grow in the lake on piers and on the undersides of rowboats: soft, fuzzy seaweed, perfect for wadding up and tossing at one's brother. White bass, perch, sheepshead, and walleye: None are found in a swimming pool.

About this time of year, shortly before school began, I think someone finally noticed that although William was getting wet daily, he was developing an all-over coating of grime. His hair was sort of matted down and becoming a darker blond. Mom was probably the one who finally insisted on some soap and shampoo.

I've always been a little envious of William being able to get away with not showering that summer. I like to be clean, but I don't like to take showers. Showers are harsh, chlorinated - like the water in swimming pools.

During these hot, inland Augusts, I'd much rather dip into the lake every day.

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