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It’s just a thread.

May 10, 2011

An orange thread hangs from an abandoned beach towel in the top of the linen closet, the same color and texture of a bathing suit I wore when I was nine years old. Looped terry and faded tangerine, it was my favorite; the bandeau top held in front by a plastic o-ring and the seat picked to a colorless fuzzed mass by nubby concrete and ragged picnic tables.

We camped then, my parents and my brother and I, along the lakes of southeastern Virginia—near the dams where the fishing was good and the water was deep. Family after family, some friends, some strangers, stretched out side-by-side in temporary homes with trashcans full of fishing rods, lines of canoes and john boats, rubber lawn chairs and badminton nets.  We lived out of coolers stocked with slices of country ham, ringed bologna, and dense wedges of hoop cheese; on Wonder Bread and orchard apples, cans of chili, sardines, and pineapple rings. A craft paper grocery sack of bagged marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey bars appeared each night as if by magic, brought in on the wings of fireflies or the tails of shooting stars.

I loved arrival day at the site best and even as a small girl understood the cutesy domestic pride of setting up a home from nothing. My father would stabilize the camper and then pull things from the back of the truck while my mother and I cranked the handles and flipped out the wings, stowed paper dishes and plastic flatware in the tiny cupboards, and made the foam mattress convertible beds.  There was always an abundance of vinyl table cloths and plastic floats, wind socks, pennants, and twinkly lights. Our camper wasn’t fancy like some, but it more than accommodated our family and was still, by any standard, quite nice.

Quite nice—that distinction is my forty-something year old memory talking, not my nine year old self.  As a child I don’t once remember thinking we had more than or less than. We went camping in a pop-up trailer and my mother drank rum punch and sang Hot Legs with Rod Stewart on a battery powered FM radio. My father worked all week to sweep us away to this cove or that park where he could fish the sun right out of the sky for a day and a half and resuscitate the dried up pieces of himself in the murky water. We were not better off—we just were.

I don’t know if those little excursions were an extravagance or not, I suppose it doesn’t matter; the heart of it beats the same whether they were offered up as sacrifice or indulgence or pretense. I think back on that now, on me in my orange terry cloth bikini bobbing on a real tire tube in the hot Virginia sun to the plunk, plunk, plunk of my baby brother tossing rocks into the tepid lake, and see my SPF-less face against the silver glint of the sun on a wake and know I was deliriously happy, drifting, without status or validation, as free as a thing might ever be.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere about threads and ties and pulling strings that light up an overcast suburban world; the reclaiming of a third grade mindset that allows a flood of freedom to pulse out through the arms and fingers, pound deep into the heels and toes. Tied down and untied, strings and runs and lines, to leash one’s self to something new, to something old, to a distant memory and to the future—to the living,  sunkissed dirty water of youth, to self and to children, to now and then.

But, metaphors are messy … in reality, an orange thread, as thin as a whisper, hangs from an abandoned beach towel in the top of the linen closet.  It won’t suspend a swing or pull a wagon, strap down a canoe or string up a line of crappie. It’s not a bathing suit or a whole summer, the smell of Coppertone or another life all together. It’s not melted chocolate or a momma in cutoffs screaming, “I love ya, honey,” from atop a weathered picnic table.

It’s just an imperfection.

But, it is damn beautiful.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. May 10, 2011 8:15 am

    Oh my god, how I have missed this!!!!! I am all teared up at not just your memories but the absolute beauty of your words.

  2. May 10, 2011 8:29 am

    It is a real gift to be able to see just a small orange thread and have it bring these wonderful memories up. But it is talent to be able to conjure the memories for others. I, too, am sitting here with moist eyes. You’ve got it, girl.

  3. May 10, 2011 8:43 am

    What I’ve got is a grumbly tumbly and little boys who want to get outside and play. They could give a hoo-ha about my threads and memories and need to scratch it out in the sand. All I hope is that someday, they realize that this is here for them. 🙂

    Love you both and have extra Kleenex in my sweater pocket. Help yourself, but leave the Xanax.


  4. Sarah Spykman permalink
    May 10, 2011 8:56 am

    Annie……. oh my… you blow me away. This is the finest thing I’ve read in a million years.

    • May 10, 2011 9:55 am

      Don’t go trying to make me all blushy. (but know that I’m printing this comment out and having someone tattoo it on my butt.)

  5. Lisa Kern permalink
    May 10, 2011 9:13 am

    Aw, man. I hit the line about “free as a thing could be” and the tears came. I haven’t felt that free since that certain age when I wore a similar swimsuit. Damn…

    • May 10, 2011 9:56 am

      The seventies. Good times, right? I know! Let’s get all our sons together and have them build us a time machine!

  6. Gluten Free Canteen permalink
    May 10, 2011 10:36 am

    If this is why you have not been cavorting on FB much, keep it up. I get first dibs on a signed first edition, though. I could smell the coppertone.

    • May 11, 2011 5:46 pm

      hahahaha! I will sign the recent copy of Rolling Stone for you. I’m not in it, but it actually exists ….

  7. May 10, 2011 11:41 am

    Oh how I loved this. Those fleeting moments of past remembered are intoxicating. And I was drunk with your words.

    • May 11, 2011 5:47 pm

      I love you. If I get powered up later, I’m going to write a thing about our conversation about the books. la la la watching the detectives la la la ….. hahahahaha!

  8. May 10, 2011 9:55 pm

    Loved it! I could smell the Coppertone and taste the marshmellows!!!

  9. Walt Wilson permalink
    May 10, 2011 10:53 pm


    What a wonderful yarn you spun! I could smell the campfire, feel the cool cool water and remember many trips similar with lots more kids in different parts of the country. Your writing is captivating. Sure wish the writer was just down the row of houses.

  10. Patty Amidon permalink
    May 11, 2011 1:56 am

    Ann, this brought back alot of forgotten memories of my childhood camping trips on the lakes right down to the fuzzy bottomed swim suit. I see why Jen and Walt miss you so much.

    • May 11, 2011 5:50 pm

      Thanks Jen, Walt, and Jen’s Mom! I’ve been kind of amazed by how universal that memory is. The liberation of childhood and the bathing suit and the smell of Coppertone. I am still a Coppertone fanatic. We were on the back porch on Sunday and Kayla came out with it and asked me to spray her back. Then she said, “mmmmmmmmmmm, that smells like summer!” And she’s totally right. It does smell like summer. I miss you guys so much! Thank goodness for the internets!

  11. Brian Douglas permalink
    May 11, 2011 5:58 am

    I love it. I brings back so many memories for me too sis. Love you

    • May 11, 2011 5:50 pm

      I left out the part about you peeing on me. I’ll save that one for another blog. ;D

  12. Bill S. permalink
    May 11, 2011 8:46 am

    I can see every aspect of that point in time, right down to the trashcans full of fishing rods. Your writing puts me right there, and the way you turn a phrase is sinfully delicious.

    I love to read anything you write, Annie. You should be getting paid to do this stuff. 😀

    • May 11, 2011 5:51 pm

      Only if I’m getting paid in eclairs or Crunch n Munch! Thanks, Bill! I’m an excellent sinner. Ask anyone! 😀

  13. Candace Mann permalink
    May 12, 2011 8:56 am

    “…the cutesy domestic pride of setting up a home from nothing” — a feeling that never leaves you, does it? i can fall into that place just setting the table sometimes. this piece vibrates in my sensualist’s heart, ann.

    • May 12, 2011 11:13 am

      awwwwwww thanks! and you’re right, it really never leaves. i guess that is a good thing, otherwise, i might have to run away from this place. hahahaha!

  14. Ann Hunt permalink
    May 20, 2011 6:44 pm

    I’m trying to catch up on all your “writings”. FANTASTIC! That was a special time….good ole Gladys and the simple things that make the best memories!

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