Citronella at the Lake

My grandparents' campground was nestled in a Cape Cod pine grove. It was a rocky, piney land where walking to the pond barefoot was the most hazardous thing you could do to your feet and you couldn't so much as breathe without sucking in a mosquito. Nothing could be done about it either, even with the citronella bucket lit on the picnic table. Seriously, if that was supposed to drive the bugs away, why were there always a few floating in it?

Anyways... we weren't allowed to barge in like we did, seeing as it was a private campground and my parents weren't paying up (we just happened to know people who were--our grandparents), but for a few days each summer, we all got a run on the place. We usually came by to "visit" unannounced and to help ourselves to all the amenities. Needless to say whenever we all rolled up, our grandparents were already dragging out the inflatables to send us off to the lake (in a last ditch effort to have a grandkid-free vacation I guess).

That was okay, because we kids got to have a blast taking turns knocking each other off our balloon perches into the pond's mucky black seaweed scum for hours at a time. If not that, we were hitting the still chop with the paddle boats. I learned how to wear a life jacket at the campground (you had to wear one to get on the paddle boats). One summer my brother and I even paddled all the way out to the other end of the lake to find the even smaller clump of untrodden sand and overgrown brush on the deserted opposite shore. Civilization looked soooo far away from out there in bug-dom.

Coming back from the lake was far more perilous though. My feet were fine in the water, but then I'd have to cross the beach to get to the pavement, and since I didn't want to get my shoes all sandy, there was no choice but to walk back barefoot. Now we're not talking just sand, we're talking gravel roads like shrapnel, sticks like thumb tacs, and stones like Lego bricks, all buried under a thick layer of prickly needles, pine cones, and... oh the hell with it... "I can live with sand in my shoes!"

"Can we go in the camper now?" I'd ask. There was something so cozy and bug-free about that RV... being an enclosed space away from the bugs, that is. They never let us kids in unless we were getting a cookie or something because they were smart, so we had to stick it out under the retractable awning with the multi-colored luau "lantern" Christmas lights on the splintery deck. My brother and I sat there shirtless and dripping, fresh from the pond late into the evening with the mosquitoes.

The filthy plastic tablecloth was clamped down, the blue bug zapper was blitzing, those vintage Noma coach patio stringed lights were glowing, the screen door on the RV was super spring-loaded, and the citronella still wasn't working. The murky black pond water stuck to our skin with the scum as our shorts slowly dried into the late evening. We never had to change our shorts at the lake, we'd dry off by the glow of the citronella candle, and summer was everything summer should be.

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