(Excerpt from a memoir-in-progress)
in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, told us Pokegama meant “spider” in Chippewa. She
and her family couldn’t use their cottage on the lake because my cousin Bob was
ill. They offered it to us. We summered many years on that spider’s body—leggy inlets
off in the distance.
kids, Helene, Jack and me—in the early years Dick was too small to be a part of
it—spent most of our waking hours on the beach. We walked out on that sandy
bottom till our chins touched the water—water so clear we laid our faces on the
surface and saw our feet.
off, swimming to Blandins’ raft with its wild games of tag. Certain we wouldn’t
drown, we held our breath and dove beneath to escape from “It.” Often we were
in the canoe, paddling to deep water and always, our dog would follow, nose in
the air, tail floating, paws busy just under the surface. Then we’d deal with
getting his waterlogged body into the canoe.
tipped. That meant righting the canoe and getting ourselves—and Gob—inside.
Mother couldn’t see us from the cabin.
still, the water so calm, we’d explore the bottom close to shore, turn over the
occasional log that drifted in. Underneath, always, bloodsuckers lurked. Looking
like narrow slices of liver, they’d ride in our sticks. Shuddering, we threw
them on the sand and watched them shrivel like frying bacon.
when Daddy came, Mother always told us “spend time with your father in the
water.” So we did—trying to mimic his top-like twirling, our toes in the air,
arms flailing. Secretly glad when Monday came and we could go back to our
its own wildness. Storms hit us directly. Between our cabin and Blandins’
house, the forest of young birches bent like ballet dancers. We slept on cots
on the screen porch, used the ledges to keep our books and other treasures. If
the storm came fast, we rushed those treasures to a dry spot, then struggled to
get the heavy canvas blinds down and buckled to the walls. They puffed out like
sails. Rain came in waves. We pulled our beds over to the walls, and escaped
into the enclosed part of the house. Mother lit the gas lamp. Its gossamer
mantle hissed as it burned, and we huddled around it till the storm blew itself
when winds were constant and days short, I began to feel homesick—not for
Duluth and home, but for what I was leaving. I collected small treasures in a
wooden dried codfish box—snail shells, stones from the beach, and if I was
really lucky, a loon feather.
Michigan, resident Marie Bahlke started writing poetry in her 70s and she recently
celebrated her 94th birthday. Her book One
Oar follows her husband's life from the time he was first diagnosed with
Alzheimer's disease until Bahlke is left a widow.
Listen to TSP
editor Zinta Aistars interview Marie Bahlke on WMUK radio, the NPR affiliate
station in Kalamazoo.