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Cathy Tallady: A ‘barefoot girl’ from summers past

I didn’t go to my cottage this summer, and it has made me sad. So, I’ve been going back to that place in memory. The mind can still create something powerful through memories. And I need them now.

My cottage is on a lake near the tip of the mitt of Michigan. It is literally just a few yards from the beach. And I spent my summers there, growing up as a little girl. Those were the best of times. I didn’t know it then. I just lived it.

At that time, the beach, clean and warm to my feet, stretched into the lake beyond it to make a clear bottom where minnows swam as I waded into deeper water.

We had a raft in the deep part, and it was a gathering place for kids of all ages. The older ones would show off by diving in headfirst. Not me. I jumped in, feet first, holding my nose. Sometimes parents would join us. Not always. No lifeguard. We watched each other. No one drowned. We were lucky.

Rowboats lined up on the shore. No loud engines. Just oars powered by arms made strong by rowing. I’d take my boat to the middle of the lake and drift with the wind. Lie back and look at the clouds and blue sky. Once or twice I’d row clear across the lake to the other side. There were harmless garter snakes, but I was always on guard when walking barefoot through the tall grass.

I went fishing with my dad or grandpa. I had a long bamboo cane pole. I remember catching a fish on it once and still feel the bend of the pole and its pull as the yellow sunfish fought its way up to me through the clear water.

In the evenings we all walked down to the farmhouse at the end of the lane and watched the farmer milk the cows or we played kick the can. The farmer never complained about our “invasion” and its noise.

And later we would gather in the small farmhouse kitchen and watch the farmer’s wife separate the milk from the cream. While the farmer was tall and lanky, his wife was short and rounded, with rosy cheeks and a neat gray bun. When all was finished and the milk put into bottles, unpasteurized then, we walked home down the lane under the stars.

I was free from July to September, even though surrounded by parents, grandparents, a special aunt and congenial neighbors. While I suppose they knew where I was, I felt I could do what I wished on land or water as long as I appeared for meals and bedtime.

So – I go back to my childhood, especially this year when only my heart is there. I didn’t realize then how lucky I was, young and barefoot and free – tanned and touched by sun and wind.

As I relived these memories – so real and so dear – a song sung by Mary Hopkin rang true: “Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end …”

And a century earlier, author John Greenleaf Whittier echoed the same nostalgia in his poem, “Barefoot Boy.”

Blessings on thee little man

Barefoot boy with cheek of tan

With thy upturned pantaloons

And thy merry whistling tunes.

From my heart I give thee joy

I was once a barefoot boy.

I change just one word in his last line.

I was once a barefoot girl. And I, too, was blessed.

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