Looking Back

This blog features poems by a native New Englander and octogenarian, as he looks back on the stomping grounds of his youth -- Chaffee's Woods, Kent Heights, Beach Pond, Escoheag, Wood River -- and his army days in Europe towards the end of WWII.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Beach Pond

Way down in old Connecticut
And partly in Rhode Island too
Lies a peaceful, quiet lake that
Those who camped there remember still
As just Beach Pond, though pond it’s not.
‘Tis three miles long and half as wide
With pines and hemlock all around
Its giant rocks and pad-filled coves.

This lake I’ve been to since a child
Where parents pitched a tent to dwell
With children on a sandy shore
But got rained out and so we spent
Most of our time inside the tent
And nearly drove our parents wild
And all the fishing plans we had
Went by the board, so we went home.

Since then my parents often went
Back to this lake but did not tent
For cottages were there to rent
And one of these would be our home.
No fear of rain or other ails,
We’d fish for bass in daylight hours
Or spend the night out on the lake
Just catching horned pout for the morn.

And once we set forth on the trail
And walked for miles to Escoheag
Then ‘round the road past Tippecan
Until we cut the trail again.
Then descended until we came
Back to the cottage and the pond.
And swam to clear the dust and grime
‘Til mother called “it’s supper time.”

These are the memories I have
Of Beach Pond days now in the past,
Of swimming, fishing, sailing too
Wherever Green or Briggs girls came
And took us out on their swift boat.
We’d sail and tack, then sail some more
And after many hours of fun
Would once again come back to shore.

The summer next was ‘forty-one
The cottage rented in advance,
 But each of us had grown a lot
And wanted friends to join our fun.
Too many came, there was no room
So Larry, my best friend, and I
Just put our things in my canoe
And paddled down near Pine Tree Point.

It’s there we stayed, in the same spot
Where rain had devastated plans
My parents had for all us kids,
Who now were safe from heavy storms.
Same parents who had left their kids
Had gone back home, and then returned
With tent and poles and other things
We would need as we camped alone.

We raised the tent, and stowed our gear
Then went to sleep out on the lake.
We settled down under the seats
He at the bow, I at the stern
And deeply slept, mosquito free.
We’d wake, and oft as not would find
A fog so thick we knew not where
We were, and so went back to sleep.

When we awoke, the fog was slight
With sun and warmth just burning thru
Sometimes we’d drift close in to shore
While often we’d be near the end.
But where we went it mattered not
For we could always paddle back
To eat our breakfast, have a swim
As naked as the day we’re born.

The time was short, it went by fast.
We’d hardly used the tent, but spent
Our nights out sleeping on the lake.
But often as the nights came on
The lake would still, and moon would rise
And we, like most amorous youth
Would ask the older girls if they
Would like to paddle ‘round the lake.

My father once did question me
And asked me what was my intent
When I had asked my sister’s friend
To take a ride in my canoe
When Patty, for that was her name,
Intervened, and told my dad
That she was sure that I’d behave,
She’d known me for so many years.

And so I asked her out that night
But saw her in a different light
No longer little sister she
But one who'd found maturity
Who had developed graceful ways
And with a smile that now did say
That she no longer saw in me
The brother figure of the past.

Now in those days the best canoes
Had four long pillows with backrest too
And for this purpose were designed
To give sheer comfort to a girl.
So when my Pat was covered well
With blankets hiding chilly legs
I knelt and paddled toward the rock
That loomed so bright on yonder shore.

We paddled southward for a while
And then turned west, so Pat could see
The rising moon, so full and round
Pat Paulson's graduation picture, June 1944
That spilled its light out on the pond.
We moved along more slowly now
With just a hint of light gray mist
That touched the surface here and there
As wraiths upon a surface still.

No words were said, for she and I
Would not disrupt the beauty of
This night. While somewhere off along
The shore, a whip-poor-will did call,
And broke the spell of quietness
That seemed to hover over all.
And when the quiet was disturbed
‘Twas then that I began to sing.

I sang to her so quietly
That only she could hear and know
The song, though using different names,
Was meant for her, and only her.
I sang a song so often heard
Of “How I loved the kisses of
Dolores,” but changed the name and
Sang “Patricia” to her instead.

These were the words I sang to her
And when I’d sung this made up song
She murmured back, “How would you know?”
I looked at her and then I asked
If it was time that we should kiss.
She nodded, and with paddle in
I leaned toward her, both hands on thwarts.
We met halfway, our lips did touch

And as we kissed, a long sweet kiss,
We did not touch, except our lips
Yet never gentler did I feel
Than toward this girl before me now.
I’d meant to lie down by her side
And hold her softly in my arms
But passion started welling up
So I leaned back and paddled on.

Most men, less tactful, would have tried
To take the innocence from her,
But she had stated to my dad
That she had trust and faith in me,
And I had stated to him, too,
That I would show respect to her.
And so I paddled her back home
And went back to the tent to sleep.

I guess that here I should explain
Why Pat and I did not pursue
That tender sweetness that was ours
The love we’d found in early life.
My dad was wise in all his ways
And now he took me to one side
And spoke to me as man to man
About Patricia and our love.

Of all the girls that I have seen
She is the one for you, by far.
She loves to roam the woods and trails
With me alone or all of us.
A daughter she has been to me,
Who listened well when e’er I read
A story, or a poem to all
And always was so close to you.

But in your love there is a catch,
She is Catholic – you are not.
And marriage of two different faiths
Generally does not work well,
Unless you’re willing for your kids
To be raised as Catholics, too.
So that’s the problem facing you
And caution now I do advise.

We saw each other after that
At home, at school, yet did not date
And together were often joined
When she and I were both alone
With neither having dates that night
Yet were a part of larger groups.
So we reverted to our roles
As brother, sister once again.

Roles that neither cared much for,
And though the wisdom of this stance
That mixed marriages often fail
Was clearly seen by she and I,
We knew our dreams could never be.
And so she wed an army friend
But still remained so close to me
With Beach Pond memories intact.

The year was nineteen forty-two
We’re out of school and summer’s here
Larry and I lay on our grass
And watched the stars, our thoughts out loud.
How quiet this night of stars would be
If we could watch while floating free
Upon the waters of Beach Pond.
“Let’s camp,” I said. “Let’s go,” said he.

And so we packed our camping gear
With high school past and service near
To spend the summer of forty-two
Upon the lake we loved so well.
His mother’s car we loaded up
And putting my canoe on top,
Put in the tent with poles and pegs
With fishing rods and paddles, too.

We said goodbye to family
And headed out away from town
His mother driving while we spoke
Of when she’d come to pick us up.
We made the journey to the lake
And parked the car close to the bridge,
Then loaded my canoe with gear
And headed out across the lake.

We had about a mile to go
He at the bow and I the stern
We crossed thru afternoon’s mild chop -
The breeze was coming from the west.
But even with our Old Town low
We made good time, and soon put in
To that hidden sandy cove
Where we had camped a year ago.

We unloaded our gear at once
And set to work upon the tent
Then after that we built a fire
For suppertime was drawing near.
We ate and then went for a swim
Then after worked upon our beds -
Well off the ground our bunks must be
In case of rain or creeping things.

The rest we left until the morn
And put it either in the tent
Or ‘neath the overturned canoe,
Then watched the fire ‘til coals turned dark
And heard the sounds of night begin,
Mainly crickets and whip-poor-wills.
Thus as we climbed into our beds
We sighed and knew our dreams were true.

Now Larry was a baritone
Who had a strong and well-trained voice.
He often sang around the camp
Or hummed while daily chores were done.
But when at night and lake was still
He’d raise his voice and sing a song
And hoped that someone ‘cross the lake
Would hear and ask, “Who sings like that?”

And so one night he sang his song
“In the Still of the Night,” I think,
But when another verse was due,
That verse came back from o’er the lake.
We were startled to say the least
That someone heard, a baritone
Who knew the songs that Larry knew
And sent his voice across the deep.

We hurried into our canoe
And crossed the lake in record time.
With Larry singing now and then,
And with the unknown baritone,
They filled the night with many songs
Of Nelson Eddy’s repertoire
Paired with Jeannette McDonald’s voice,
A pair that none could ever best.

As we got close, we heard a voice
That called for us to come on in.
We did and met our baritone,
The father of these goodly folks.
And after all were introduced
We went into their cottage home,
And while a daughter played the tunes
We sang and sang, in harmony.

When all were tired, we said goodnight
And slowly plied our way across.
We knew we’d met a wondrous group
Of people, all who liked to sing
And harmonize when e’er they could.
And after crossing we did swim
Then made our way to bed, and slept
Uninterrupted ‘til the dawn.

And so the days did pass us by
We fished, we swam, or simply loafed.
We’d gotten tanned, and I mean dark
With bacon fat rubbed on our backs.
We picked a lot of blueberries
To make the slumps which Larry loved
And oft’ we’d simply paddle ‘round
The lake to gaze upon its shores.

And as we paddled ‘round the lake
We noted bluffs and giant rocks
With sandy beaches interspersed,
With hemlock growing near the shore
And quite close to our camping place
Were ledge-like rocks where we could dive
And so we found our swimming spot
With water deep and oh so clear.

And here it was we saw the girls
Perched on rocks not too far out.
Dropped off while father went to fish
And they were left to tan a bit.
Larry whispered, “I dare you to
Swim out there to see if they
Would like to join us here to swim
Until their dad returns for them.”

And never passing up a dare,
I swam to them and let them know
Who I was and what we proposed.
One was younger, her name was Joan;
The older simply beautiful,
With tanned up skin, and long dark hair.
“I am Paula – Paula Ballou,
And we must stay ‘til dad returns.”

And so I stayed and talked with them
And soon I learned that she was proud
To be a majorette at school
And would be here for one more week.
Would I be here that length of time?
“Yes,” I stated, “and would you care
To see the lake when evening comes?”
Yes, she answered, that would be fine.

I did not know her very long,
Perhaps an hour, or less I’d say,
And yet we got along so well
That we could end up as a pair
And so she did not hesitate
To answer yes, when I proposed
To see her early Monday eve.

And so I swam back to the rock
To find a Briggs boy waiting there
With a message from my mom
That said my dad was very ill,
That I should come immediately.
I left with nothing on my back
And hitched a ride to Providence
And soon was back to my own home.

I entered and went up the stairs
To my father’s room, where he lay
So pale yet happy I was there
For dad and I were very close.
He said to me, “I’m glad you’re here,
But go back soon and stay your time.
I’m sure I’ll last 'til you get home
Then we can talk of what’s ahead.”

I stayed two days, then headed back
That’s what my father said to do.
I went by bus to Hope Valley
Then hitched my way up to the lake
And did the last four miles on foot.
I got back in time to see the
Bacon Larry put in a pan
And with my help mixed pancake dough.

We ate, then swam to get cleaned up
I dressed in jeans and clean white shirt
Then placing backrest against the thwart
I put in pillows and blankets too.
Then telling Larry I’d be late
I shoved off quickly from the shore,
Slid quietly toward setting sun
And headed down to Paula’s home.

I reached the sauna at her home
Where all her family did wait
To see this boy who was to take
Their daughter out upon the lake.
I docked, with introductions made
Her father, mother, brother too,
Her sister Joan, the one I knew,
Then father said, “Don’t be too late.”

And after we were settled in
We waved goodbye and moved away
From setting sun, and toward the east
Where moon was rising o’er the hills.
We paddled quietly at first
Then spoke a little of my dad
Who had insisted I come back
To take this girl out on the lake.

Then after talking for a while
And slowly paddling up the lake,
We listened to the evening sounds
The lonesome calling of the loons,
The whip-poor-wills whose songs were low
But carried well, to fill our hearts
With quiet longing we both felt
To be together here, and so.

I slowly brought the paddle in
And moving forward to her side
I turned and lay beside her, then
I placed my arm around her back.
Her head she rested on my chest
And thus we lay with hands entwined
Saying nothing yet we knew
That love had come to each of us.

We lay that way for quite some time
She with her thoughts and I with mine
And watched the climbing moon that shone
Upon the stillness of the lake.
We spoke at last, and wondered how
We seemed so natural as a pair
As though we’d known each other years
When overall it was just hours.

‘Twas then we turned, came face to face
And knew our love was meant to be.
I kissed her forehead, hair, and cheek
While she just waited there for me
To take her in my warm embrace
And for the first time kiss those lips.
I did, and ‘til the day I die,
I will remember that first kiss.

We stayed out there upon the lake
And drifted with the slightest breeze
Until the great horned owl’s hoot
Reminded us that it was late.
And so, I once again began
To paddle, past our silent camp
Past Pine Tree Point, and past our rock
Until we came again to home.

I held her tight before she left
And said I’d come in two more nights -
I’ll wait, she said, no matter what -
Then I kissed her a final time
And watched until she closed the door
Then left, and with my thoughts on her
I paddled back to darkened camp
And finally to bed I went.

The sun arose, the day went past
And though we swam, and fished, and tanned
My thoughts of Paula always seemed
To turn me from the work at hand
And then to get my thoughts on track
We decided we ought to fish
The open pools at Tippecan
Where dad had told me fish were huge.

The next day, though, we did sleep late
But rising we did swim, and ate
Then shouldering our good canoe
We started up the trail to fish
The backwoods pond of Tippecan
Where lily pads and reeds abound
With open water here and there
Permitting space for our canoe.

We fished for perch at first to get
Their yellow bellies that were great
For catching pickerel when cast
And wiggled back, so like a fish.
Larry paddled and I fished first.
I cast the bait and watched it fall
Just short of lily pads and then
I let it sink, then did retrieve.

Nothing happened for a while
Then on another cast, I felt
The strike, then let him chew the bait.
And when I saw the line begin
To move, I knew he had it well,
So set the hook, then fought as I
Had never fought a fish before
That he was big, was all I knew.

He headed for the lily pads
‘Twas all that I could do to keep
That fish away, and in the clear.
The rod was bent in a great arc
And though Larry sculled so hard
The fish still pulled the boat around
And headed for the depths to sulk.

He did not leap, for pickerel don’t
Nor the steel leader could he cut
He just stayed deep, but gradually
He began to tire, and finally
He surfaced and we netted him.
His length was twenty-four inches
Just two feet, that up to then, was
The biggest fish I’d ever caught.

Now it was Larry’s turn to fish
And so we traded end for end
I got the paddle, he the pole
I sculled until the boat was set.
He fixed his bait and made his cast
And to our surprise he got a strike
In the same spot where mine had hit
What followed then, had gone before.

And finally when in the boat
He measured just the same as mine
That was more fish than we could eat
And so we packed up all our gear
But stopped to watch two otters play
Romping near the swampy shore
Oblivious that they were seen
Ted with both fish
By humans who so rarely came.

And so we left, for the hike back
But first took pictures of our fish
So people in a future time
Would know our fishing tales were true.
We left and took the fire break back
The trail that runs between the states.
It was a chore in getting up
And over rocks that blocked our way.

But once we’d gotten our canoe
Up and over this high crest
We made much better time and so
Reached our camp ‘ere sun did set.
We swam again before we ate
Then had one fish, which was enough
And so we put the second out
Where foxes could eat to their content.

The mosquitoes were thick that night
So we slept out upon the lake
Waking early, then paddling in
To take our usual morning swim.
Then had a sumptuous morning meal
Of flapjacks, bacon and cocoa.
We watched the sun rise in the east
And were ready to start our day.

It was that night that I would see
My Paula at her lakeside home
So Larry planned on dropping me
At her place while he crossed the lake
To visit with the folks we’d met
Who liked to sing as well as he.
And so with plans made for the night
We spent the day just resting up.

The day passed slowly, at least for me
And shadows lengthened gradually.
At last we ate, then took a swim
To get cleaned up before we left,
He off to sing, and I to see
That girl I’d come to love so well.
He took the stern, and I the bow
So each could go his separate way.

The night was cool as we approached
The landing where I soon would meet
The girl I had been pining for.
The sun was way down in the west
The moon just rising in the east
The whip-poor-wills began their calls
As we came in to dock and saw
Her standing on the sauna deck.

We moved the boat into the dock
I took my coat and rifle too
For I must make the trek that night
Back to the camp on trails unknown.
I gave the boat a shove, then turned
And climbed the steps to Paula’s side.
She turned and came into my arms
And then I knew she loved me too.

We stood a while, before we kissed,
Her arms were tight around my neck
Her cheek was nuzzled to my chest
While I in turn just held her tight.
I stroked her beautiful long hair
Then tipped her face up for my kiss,
I kissed her then, so hard and long
And knew she understood my love.

We were alone, so arm in arm
We sat upon the glider swing
And watched the moon which rising high
Was casting shadows o’er the lake.
We talked of what our future held
As she went back to school, and I
Worked ‘til I had reached an age to
Select a service of my choice.

We talked then held each other tight
And kissed each other in between
Then talked some more, until her dad
Did call and say the hour was late,
She should come in and very soon.
And so I walked her to her door
Embraced her in our final hug
There on the shores of our Beach Pond.

She slowly climbed the cottage steps
And paused to look at me once more
Then disappeared into the house
And left me standing there alone.
I stood a moment ‘fore I left
Then donned my jacket for ‘twas cool
And slinging rifle ‘cross my back
I made my way back toward our camp.

Thru woods I went, then by the trail
What light there was, was from the moon
Which cast long shadows on my way
And caused me to watch warily
Until I came out in the field
Where we had picked our blueberries
And thus returned once more to camp
To find my friend was fast asleep.

We had a day before we left
But Paula’s family did go
That morning. So the two of us
Just did the things we came to do
We swam, we fished, we loafed around
And waited ‘til the sun went down
Then out we went in our canoe
To sleep our last night on the lake.

When we awoke and paddled in
We ate, then went in for a swim
Our last in quite a while we felt
Not knowing what the future held.
We packed our gear, knocked down the tent
Then packed it all in our canoe
And paddled slowly ‘cross the lake
To meet his mother, then depart.

That was the last that we would see
This lake we loved, and carefree days
Until our service years were done
And we returned to its fond shores.
That summer was the best of times
I’d found a girl I loved so well,
That fall would be the worst of times
I lost a dad so dear to me.

But time goes on and years go by
And Paula’s gone far to the west
Although we managed four good years.
She finally wed, and I did too.
We often bring our children here
To wash off salt from Moonstone Beach
Then run and play in all the sand
In this my lake, my old Beach Pond.

No comments:

Post a Comment