Friday, December 17, 2010

Driving to Saylorville Lake: 1976

There weren't many swimming options in central Iowa. There was Camp Dodge Pool and smaller community pools, there was the Des Moines River and the Raccoon River--but people didn't really swim in them, there was Big Creek--a man-made lake--and then there was Saylorville Lake (also a reservoir).
My best friend Kevin had a little black late 60s Volkswagon Beetle. He and I often drove to the lake, often with my other friends who were from my high school class (Kevin was from the class ahead of us, but he and I had become good friends--I was always one of the oldest in my class) and I can still recall that feeling: summer, no school, the warm hot air coming in the open windows, the trees full and open land full of weeds or crops and even above the rush of the air you could hear the calls of redwing blackbirds . . . It was just, by 76 and right out of high school for me, a feeling of youth. And we'd have his cassettes or 8tracks playing--usually the Eagles--we'd sometimes sing along to them though I never got the lyrics right because I've had bad hearing all my life, but it didn't matter, it was the drive and the lazy day and the looking forward to the lake and the friends and the girls that would be there, the sun and the water and what passed for a beach in Iowa, it was a time when time was endless. We were all very young.
But by, say 78, my attentions were shifting. I'd been off to school at Iowa, in Iowa City, while all of my friends--including Kevin--had gone to Iowa State, in Ames and they did not think of staying there in the summer, as Des Moines was so close. And by 79 it was--to the best of my memory--my last summer of coming back to Des Moines and I pretty much lived in Iowa City from then on, until the end of 83, and after that I lived in a series of places for brief months or years (as well as back in Des Moines and Iowa City) until, say, about August of 1990 . . . Anyway, this is a long way from a post about driving to Saylorville.
Saylorville Lake. We swam there. I swam there. Used to go water skiing with Seth who had a fast boat and all the accoutrements that go with the sport. I recall one fall--late fall, maybe even November--there was a late Indian summer and Kevin and I--perhaps I was home on Thanksgiving break from Iowa, or perhaps it was the semester I took off from school with the idea of going to Europe (Brock and I--he went, I did not and went back to school instead; just one of a number of times I backed out on good ol' Brock)--and we decided to go to the lake. We donned swim suits and took towels and when we got to the beach no one was there. The water looked gray and cold, the trees had few leaves. But, it was warm, and we went ahead and got in the water--it was cold, but tolerable--and swam. Not so bad. I recall I went ashore while Kevin kept swimming and I picked up a rock, not a big one and not a small one, and tossed it out into the lake at him. I hit him in the head. You've got to understand, this is a big lake with a big swimming area and no one was out there, not even a boat and I threw the rock from a far distance, never thinking I'd hit him, but I got him right in the forehead. It must have hurt. But Kevin and I were pals and shared a wickedly sarcastic and pessimistic sense of humor, so he laughed it off. I apologized and neither of us could believe I'd hit him from that distance.
But after I'd lived in California and Florida's panhandle, when I went back to Iowa and I'd see my friends, I couldn't bring myself to swim in Saylorville anymore. It looked ugly, the water was thick and dirty--unclear and unclean. It was cold compared to the Gulf of Mexico.
Kevin had stayed in Iowa (as had almost all of my high school friends) and so he didn't know that it was ugly and dirty.

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