It was August 1988. I had been divorced for two years. I had lost my job of the previous four years in a take-over of the bank. I was lucky though, the business transaction wasn’t hostile, and we employees had the choice of keeping our jobs at 3/4ths pay or take three months’ severance pay. I took the latter since I had an offer of another job, a move to my uncle’s law firm to help setup their Informational Technology department. The new job didn’t start for another month. I had time to enjoy the last part of summer.
Growing up, I enjoyed camping, spending weeks up at a state-owned campgrounds, playing with my siblings and other children. I hadn’t been there, though, since 1984, when my then-fiancée informed me it was disgusting to spend days without a shower and living in the woods. I decided to take advantage of my time off.
I called the rangers’ station, to see if there were sites available. I was in luck; there was one left. “But it’s in the new section,” the ranger said, “Away from the beach, volleyball courts and softball field.”
“I could use the exercise getting there,” I told him. I booked it immediately for the next two weeks, the first day beginning at 11 the next morning. Quickly, I called my father to see if he still had some of the old equipment — tent, table-canopy, stove, sleeping bags. All except the tent were still in the garage.
“It ripped last summer, and I never replaced it.” I told him I’d be over in two hours to pick up what was available, after I made a trip to the sporting goods store. All the store had left was a four-person tent. It was big, too big for what I needed, but the price was right, half price. I purchased it, put it in the back of my car, and headed to my dad’s house.
As I thought, he had the equipment packed on a trailer waiting for me. He asked if I wanted to put a hitch on my car or wanted to use his truck. I tossed my keys to him. I put the new tent in the space he had left and headed back to my apartment. I still needed to pack my clothes and food.
The ranger was right: The site was far in the back. It was large, surprisingly so. I put up the tent, put the picnic table in the canopy/tent hybrid, and unpacked everything else. I set up my cot and sleeping bag, had enough room to have a makeshift nightstand for the battery-operated lantern my dad gave me.
It was after one and I was hot. I changed into my swim trucks, grabbed a backpack and filled it with a book, two bottles of Dr. Pepper, beach towel and blanket, and headed off to the lakeside beach. I was going to follow the road when I noticed a familiar sight, an almost hidden path.
Memories flooded back to me. I knew where I was, what the new area was once. The state had purchased the old Hotel Ten Eyck property and turned some of it into 10 new campsites, each large and enclosed in old pine and ash trees. I turned around and returned my site. If I remembered correctly, where I was camping was near an old, secluded part of the lake.
The swamp path was still there, and still not used much. I quickened my pace, believing that not many people knew about this. I emerged from a thicket of juniper bushes and birches, onto the rocks that separated the beach from the woods. My heart sank when I saw three blankets, four people sitting on them, each one reading. It took me a moment, though, to realize that the four were women, each at least 20 years my senior.
“Good afternoon young man,” a gray haired woman said to me. Her voice was very pleasant, no shock in her tone. She looked to be in her mid to late 40s, her pony-tailed hair length reached the middle of her back. I saw her blue eyes had a twinkle; her smile was warm and welcoming. She put her book down on her blanket and stood. “I’m Alicia,” she told me, walking. She put her hand out. I took it.
“I’m Chance,” I told her.
“What an unusual name,” another said. She was older than Alicia was, perhaps by as many as 10 years. Her hair, too, was gray, but cut very short, almost military length. There was something about it, how it played against her body that made me inhale deeply. “I’m Norma,” she said in introduction. I smiled and nodded.
“How did you pick up a name like Chance?” she asked. “You don’t need to answer it, I’m just being nosy.”
“Norma, please,” a third woman stated. She was rising, and I moved to her blanket to introduce myself. “I’m Marian.” She was the shortest, stood perhaps 5 feet, if that. She was perhaps in her mid-40s. She had soft red hair, cut to her shoulders. Behind her glasses was a pair of crisp winter blue eyes. She smiled and accepted my hand.
“I’d like to know how you were christened Chance, too,” a fourth woman said. She didn’t move from the blanket she shared with Alicia. Her long, gray hair was wet, pulled into a ponytail. She looked at me with dark brown eyes, and her book was face down, waiting for her to open it. “I’m Frances, but everyone calls me Franny.”
I stood silent for a moment, looking for a way to gracefully leave the beach and give them some privacy. I noticed their tans, more specifically; I noticed that they lacked visible tan lines. I knew the reason they were here. “Please, why don’t you join us,” Alicia offered. “There’s room for you.”