Home > The Summer That Made Us(3)

The Summer That Made Us(3)
Author: Robyn Carr

She felt anything but relaxed. She was stuck with time off because she was canceled and because of Megan’s illness, but it didn’t feel good. It didn’t make her feel strong the way her talk show had. She wanted to feel sturdy and confident again. Marriage after all these years wasn’t going to do that for her. Turning her into a wife instead of a television star didn’t make her feel stronger; it made her feel even more vulnerable. She wanted to feel equal again.

* * *

Charley went to the hospital to see Dr. John Crane, Megan’s husband, rather than waiting to talk to him when he got home in the evening. She wanted him to speak frankly with Megan not present. She asked him if he could arrange his schedule to look after Meg for a few days if she wasn’t available. John said it was fine; he could be there earlier in the evening and leave later in the morning. He would adjust his schedule to make dinner in the evenings, breakfast in the morning before he went to work, and he would check on her at least once during the day.

“You’re such a good team,” Charley said. “A couple of years ago when you were separated briefly, you seemed to be as much in love as ever. If you don’t mind my asking, what happened?”

“Love was never the problem,” John said. “We’ll talk about it someday. Right now I just want to get her through the next few weeks. Are you going back to California to see Michael and Eric?”

“No, actually. I’m going up to the lake house to see what needs to be done to make it habitable. Meg wants to spend the summer there.”

John’s face split into a huge grin. “So she finally found someone who would take that on. Why am I surprised that it’s you?”

“Maybe because if I was still working it wouldn’t be. Or if Eric were younger, or many variables. But I’m available and want to see Meg through this recovery. Maybe you should tell me right now—how much care should I plan on for her recovery? Could this get worse?”

“It could, but it shouldn’t right now. She doesn’t need around-the-clock nursing care. But at the moment she’s too weak and tires too easily to look after herself for any length of time. She can’t cook, do her own laundry or clean the house, but she’ll probably continue to get stronger. At least for now.”

“And then?” Charley asked.

“And then stronger still unless...” He shrugged. “Look, the reality is, it could go either way. Quite a while ago she said no more chemo, that it took too great a toll and she wanted to enjoy what time she had left. This last round, prepping her for the transplant was the hardest yet. Four years, Charley. She’s had enough.” He hung his head slightly, then raised it again. “And that’s why. That’s the separation, right there.”

“Huh?” she said, confused.

“The separation. Our disagreement was all about treatment. I bet you didn’t expect that, did you?”

“Wait,” she said. “I didn’t know you didn’t agree on the course of treatment...”

“She doesn’t want you to know, Charley. Meg didn’t want treatment. I wanted her to do anything and everything. I admit I wouldn’t have done it, either, if I was facing stage-four metastatic cancer but I wanted her to. I couldn’t let go. I wanted anything that might give her a chance and I would have taken miracles.”

“But she’s been in remission a couple of times!” Charley said.

“Only for it to come back harder and force her into more torture. She didn’t want me to make medical decisions for her if she was unable to do it herself and I’m afraid I brought that on myself. But we made our peace with it—I won’t do that to her anymore. I’ve given her my word—it’s up to her. I’ll support her. She says this is the last time, and if that’s what she wants, so be it.” He was quiet for a moment. “Because, no matter what, I love her.”

* * *

Charley had wondered why John and Megan had been arguing so much, especially when Megan was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Then she wondered why John was still around so much if they were supposed to be separated and talking divorce. That was two years ago. Now it all made sense—John wanted Meg to accept radical and even experimental treatment while Megan was saying, “It’s not just a waste of time. It’s also making me so sick.”

Charley knew from her research into various talk show guests that it wasn’t always the case with cancer treatment. In fact, most forms of breast cancer were easily treatable and highly survivable. Megan just got herself a rare and aggressive form. And Charley, like John, had always thought, That means you just fight harder.

But she knew how much Meg had suffered. And fought. If she wanted this to be her last battle, that was her decision. And Charley vowed to honor it.

It begged the question—did Meg want to go to the lake to rest and recover? Or to die in the last place they were a family?

* * *

As she drove to the lake house, Charley thought back to all those summers when her family made the same drive. They spent every summer at the house on Lake Waseka. A cabin or house on a lake was almost an institution in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Lake property was handed down through the generations and people who didn’t have a home or cabin had a piece of property they could park a fifth wheel or Airstream on for weekends or vacations. But the Berkeys had a very nice house because Charley’s grandfather was a superior court judge. The judge started sending his wife and two daughters to the lake for the summer when his daughters, Josephine and Louise, were nine and ten years old. He’d drive up from the Twin Cities on some weekends and for two weeks in August. Lou and Jo continued the tradition of summer at the lake after they were married and had daughters of their own.

Charley, her sisters and her cousins lived for summer. They looked forward to it all year, started shopping in April and packing in the middle of May. The very day after school let out, off they went, north to Lake Waseka, a two-hour drive. Two moms and six kids packed into Louise’s car—first a station wagon and later, as the kids grew, a van. There was no law about seat belts back then—they were merely recommended. The Hempstead girls usually piled into the back on top of each other. They’d take enough luggage to get through a week or two, stacked on top of the car in a luggage rack, and on the weekend Charley’s father would bring the rest, thoughtfully packed boxes of linens, clothes, towels, toys and any other items they didn’t want to live without for three months.

It was always so meticulously planned.

The judge and Grandma Berkey stopped going to the lake house by the time there were four granddaughters, being overwhelmed by the noise and clutter of small children. And soon there were six—all little girls—and it was more than the grandparents could take, so they started renting a cabin at the lodge across the lake for their occasional weekends.

Six girls, each born one year after the other. Three for Louise, three for Jo. It seemed perfectly choreographed—Louise, the oldest sister, had Charlene and the following year Jo had Hope. Next Lou had Megan; a year later Jo gave birth to Krista. Then there was a little slip and when Krista was only a year old Jo gave birth to Beverly, who came so fast she was actually born at the lake house. Not to be outdone, Louise then had Mary Verna, who they called Bunny. And then they stopped. Six girls, sisters and cousins, in six years. Stairstep, tow-haired girls, bonded by blood and family and not just a little DNA because sisters Lou and Jo had married brothers Carl and Roy.

The Hempstead girls appeared to have charmed lives and they were happy and carefree during summer. Life back in the Twin Cities the rest of the year had its challenges, like all families. Particularly for Jo and Roy; they struggled with money and issues brought on by that struggle. But summers were different. The lake was a magic place. A haven. All of the problems they might have had through the school year drifted away. Until the summer of ’89. That summer everything changed. Charley and Megan’s little sister, Bunny, the youngest of the six girls, Louise’s baby, drowned accidentally. She was only twelve. Louise, grief-stricken and half-mad with the pain of losing a child, insisted the lake house be closed up. For good.

Charley found that at first sight the house was worn but presentable. She knew her mother paid a local family to keep an eye on the place over the years. The grass was cut and the hedges trimmed. But it was clearly in need of some attention. It was a roomy place—three bedrooms downstairs, two small rooms upstairs in the loft with dormers, two full baths and a half bath in the master. Plus, there was living space over the boathouse and the wide, deep porch was screened. The screen was torn and sagging and there wasn’t any outdoor furniture anymore.

She pried open a porch window. Meg was right; it opened easily. Upon getting inside it became obvious she hadn’t been the first one to do that. The place was heaped with trash and the beds downstairs looked used. Stained. There were, of course, no linens. But all that aside, she was wildly optimistic—the damage was all cosmetic. She would need new furniture and new appliances. The porch would have to be rescreened. Everything would need a serious scrubbing and fresh paint. There should be new toilets and maybe new tubs.

But first, she’d call an electrician to make sure the wiring was safe. And she’d have to hire someone who would clean the place out and make a trip or two to the dump.

Charley went back outside and sat on a tree stump that had been there since she was a little girl. She pulled out her phone and began making a list in the notes section. The afternoon was sunny but not warm; April in Minnesota, especially on the lake, was chilly. The lake was so calm and quiet. The gentle lapping of the waves at the shore was soothing. She closed her eyes.

Then she began to hear it—the laughter of children. Someone’s mother yelling from the porch, You better not be in the lake without an adult! She could smell hot dogs and ribs on the grill, smell the campfire, toasted marshmallows; she saw seven sunfish lying on the dock to be cleaned—the largest of the catch. Someone whistling for his dog. A happy squeal and splash. Women laughing. The horn of a speedboat and the whistles of men. The pounding of little feet across the porch, across the dock. Whispers and giggles from the screened-in porch at night; laughter from the moms inside the house. Music from the radio mingled with the laughter. Voices and shouting of a late-night party somewhere on the lake. She recalled it so vividly she could hear it—the sounds of summer.

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