Big Things, Small Things

Many of the authors I know spend their launch days hopping from one online event to another. Me? I took my kayak to the lake just up the road from my parents’ house.

I felt kind of weird about it, actually. Like maybe I was Doing Things Wrong. But I also looked at my calendar and thought, I’ve put in a ton of prep work, and I have no events until evening. What am I going to accomplish, sitting at home by myself? Besides, it was two days after Mother’s Day and my parents were returning that night from visiting my sister. I decided I’d sneak in and leave flowers and then head on up the road to the lake.

Now, in my ordinary life I use that phrase all the time: “just up the road.” Normally, this means a few miles. In the case of the lake, it’s less than one. We lived on “the causeway road,” and from the pond at the top of the hill north of the house, the causeway road went downhill all the way to the lake—first a short drop, then a slow descent, then a precipitous plunge, across the lake on, well, a causeway and a big bridge, and then nearly vertical up the far side. Terrifying by bike and way more terrifying in the driver’s seat of a car.

At least, this is how I remember it. This lake, and specifically the bridge that crosses it, loom large in my memory. My dad farmed land north of the lake, so we had to move lots of equipment over it. Imagine driving a tractor across it. And a truck, with implements hitched behind, slamming into the hitch, causing the truck to lurch against the brake as I tried to go slowly down the hill. When I broke my arm and was asleep having it set, I dreamed about the school bus crossing this bridge. It exploded.

Now, keep all that in mind, and then look at this. Because this is that bridge.

Neither big nor terrifying…

Growing up, we only once actually got ON the lake. We walked down there, clambered around under the bridge, visited the World War 2 paratrooper who lived on the steep hill and mostly ate fish he caught himself. But this isn’t really a lake people do a lot of boating on. I was shocked, once I got on the lake, at how small it really is. Suddenly it occurred to me that my whole life I never actually saw a boat on the lake. I mean, there are docks, and there’s a launch, so people must put boats on the lake, but it’s really not that big.

My goal on Launch Day was to kayak to the head of the lake, where Sugar Creek empties into it, and paddle upstream as far as I could. Sugar Creek flowed down through the woods that bordered the field across the road from my house. After rainstorms I’d sometimes stand outside and listen to the roar of the water. Once in a while my sisters and I would wade through the field, stretch the barbed wire enough to duck through, and tromp down to the creek. Once, we set out to walk the creek all the way to the lake. We gave up and came back out of the woods and found ourselves exactly one property closer to the lake.

Perhaps, given all these stories, it’s not that surprising that the size of everything was so much bigger in my memory than it turned out to be in real life.

But it really struck me as a writer, since I was discovering this on Book Launch Day. How many of the events that loom large in our childhoods are actually pretty mundane, the drama in our own heads? I mean, for sure some people have really horrible traumas connected with childhood. But an awful lot of us just have your average, run-of-the-mill, well-adjusted-child dramas. We think they’re enormous, and they send ripples down the years. But sometimes, when we actually take the time to go back and look, they’re actually not that big.

I don’t know—am I being ridiculous? What’s your take on all this?

In the meantime, here are some photos of that magical, overcast paddle up Sugar Creek.