You may recall that my sister, Peggy-Lou, had the child care skills of a hungry, one-eyed crocodile. A couple years later, she hadn’t improved, as I will demonstrate below.
This time we were living at a campground in Maine while my step-dad completed some masonry work for the owners. I remember three things about the place: First, the campground’s owner made potato pancakes on a regular basis. They looked and smelled delicious but tasted like leftover mashed potatoes fried in Crisco. I fell for those pancakes every time, cursing my bad memory with each gummy bite that followed. How did these people have so many leftover potatoes? If you consistently had leftover mashed potatoes, wouldn’t it be prudent to revise your menu? Maybe substitute pasta, say, or even Rice a Roni? I loved Rice a Roni. I would have happily chowed down on leftover Rice a Roni even if it wasn’t made into a pancake and fried in Crisco.
The second thing I remember was the Trading Post at the entrance to the campground. It was filled with the sorts of tools a young Native American enthusiast, who hopes to wander into the woods and be adopted by a nomad tribe, might need: drums, maracas, moccasins, feathers, fringe and Slim Jims. I didn’t have money but I did have an extravagance of time and I spent much of it at the trading post lusting after a full Native American headdress.
And then there was the campground’s canoe. This canoe brought every Indian fantasy I’d ever had to a fever pitch. I imagined myself on the lake, gliding silently along in my canoe, wearing a beaded leather headband with a single eagle feather, tilted just so. I may have looked like a little girl on the outside but on the inside I was Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Tecumseh and Geronimo, all rolled into one. See me? Don’t I look exactly like that Indian who cries when you litter?
I wasn’t allowed to take the canoe out by myself. It had to be signed out by an adult. So when Peggy Lou came for a visit and offered to take me, I consented for lack of options. I couldn’t really get a good Indian fantasy going with Peggy Lou on board. For one thing, she talked too much, and for another, when she smoked, she threw her cigarette butts into the lake, which made a single tear roll down my cheek just like the Indian in the commercial. I sat at the end of the boat, glaring at Peggy-Lou, jealous of her adult status and annoyed by her presence. When she tired of rowing she asked if I’d like to row but I said no. A plan had begun to percolate somewhere above my neck, but the jury’s out as to whether it percolated fully and whether my brain was responsible. It may have been a bad sinus. She pulled the canoe onto the beach while I remained seated. She said, “You coming, Chicken?” I said, “No, I’m going to sit here awhile and sun tan.” She shrugged and left. Consider that exhibit A in my defense. Did she even know me?
I’m not sure what happened next, but somehow I pushed the canoe back into the water, hopped in and took off. It was all an accident. Finally, I could breathe! There I was, out in the middle of the lake, in all my Native American glory! The sun shone bright and hot upon my oiled black braids and bronzed skin. My watchful gaze scanned the lake’s edge for any sign of the Crow, my tribe’s sworn enemy. I didn’t see any Crow, but there were several crazy white people yelling and waving their arms. They looked familiar. I pretended not to see them. It was too damn hot to massacre white people.
I had a small problem. Steering a canoe wasn’t as easy as it looked. In fact, I couldn’t seem to make the canoe go anywhere I wanted it to go and was floating aimlessly in the middle of the lake. By now, the loco white people were really very agitated. And there were more of them. It seemed the whole settlement had turned out to aggravate me. It was getting hard to maintain my fantasy what with all the yelling, so I figured I might as well go find myself a popsicle. I finally managed to get close enough to a private camp’s dock about a half mile from ours, and the camp’s owner was able to throw me a rope and pull me in. Peggy Lou, sent by my mother, came to fetch me. I hopped out of the canoe, strode right past Peggy Lou, and back to my mother, less Indian now, and more wronged child.
My mother asked what I thought I was doing, and so I explained how Peggy Lou told me I could row the canoe, and almost killed me. I’m not a tattle tale by nature, but someone had to stop Peggy Lou from endangering America’s youth.
Peggy Lou got away with her careless boating instruction, and is probably coaxing some small child into the water as we speak. The next time my mother needed a babysitter, I ended up sitting in the owner’s kitchen eating potato pancakes. Can you believe that?