A late-season malaise has settled over the wide porch, the headquarters of summer at my house. The plants are sagging moodily in the August heat, their blooms barely even tired replicas of the first brilliant bursts. The shards of a broken pot, toppled to its demise in a stormy gust of wind, remain to be swept up. The inviting rocking chair, this year’s proud new porch trophy, is gathering dust, abandoned and unmoved since the smothering humidity settled stubbornly over the area. The porch, like many of us in the South this month, is dragging itself toward Labor Day looking and feeling August-y; in other words, hot, grimy, and far less than its charming best.
Near the porch door, where the rain shoes for dog-walking and watering cans and other seasonal paraphernalia perch at the ready, sits one little souvenir of summer. It is an odd leave-behind, a spot of comedy that prompts a laugh in the otherwise dreary scene. It’s been sitting there since June and really needs to be thrown away, but somehow, I can’t make myself toss it. It’s a single, smelly, mud-encrusted, child’s water shoe.
The shoe and its mate went on the feet of my 8-year-old grandson, Buddy, to day camp back for a week back in June at a lovely, wooded park south of town. Buddy stayed with me for camp week, since it was an easy drive from my house and an extra chance for some special summer time with him. On the third day, fondly recalled now as Camp D-day, both shoes went bravely out, and only one returned. The one that remained, opined the veteran camp counselor after the tragic loss, is probably thriving as a salamander castle, adhered for all time to the deep, sticky mud at the bottom of a marshy pond far in the park’s natural center.
Camp D-day rained down insult upon injury on Buddy’s determined blonde head as the long day wore on. Apparently, he plunged bravely (or so the counselor said; in surveying the aftermath, rashly is the word G-ma chose) with his net deeper than the other children into the pond water in pursuit of tadpoles, the day’s quarry. Suddenly, he found his feet stuck in mud about as unforgiving as quicksand. The mud held his feet like fast-drying concrete, so firmly that the counselors could not get close and were forced to extricate him by extending a long pole for him to grab. They heaved a mighty pull to haul him out, leaving one shoe behind for the salamander version of Flip this House.
The young Tadpole Hunter was deeply troubled about the abandoned footwear at the time, the story went, but it was pie compared to the indignities that followed. While Buddy awaited rescue from the pond water, a leech sampled his ankle for lunch and was later detached with dramatic effect, bloodletting, and the application of a trophy band-aid. And if that wasn’t enough, the change of damp muddy clothes later revealed an attack of chiggers in the water like nothing his doting G-ma has ever seen. The tiny itch monsters feasted on him in the only location he was not covered in bug repellent: under his underwear, everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, if you catch my drift. A cool, soothing bath, Cortisone ointment and ice packs were required that evening to achieve sleep.
D-day featured the most concentrated dose of malfortune at camp, but other minor calamities occurred as the week progressed, causing G-ma to fear the whole camp thing was a misguided bust that would leave her beloved grandson scarred for life, literally and figuratively. That was right before Buddy piped up brightly on the last day and asked if he could come back to camp again next year.
Relieved but still fretting, I relayed the D-day horror story to a dear friend who has taught second grade for decades, seeking her expert assessment of the potential long-term impact of Buddy’s camp traumas. “Believe me,” she said firmly but kindly, in a solid, classroom-managing tone, “he has already moved on. Now, you need to do the same.”
So, I’m keeping the Buddy Memorial Camp Shoe, for now. I’m using it to stave off the end-of-summer blues, the oppressive August feeling that life, like the unyielding air blanket, is stuck in a dank and dark place. Take a lesson from an eight-year-old boy, says the shoe. Move on.