Book Excerpt: The Stick Game

That’s it! The gold glow rising from the green depths – my quarry. I hold my nose and jump in. I hear two more splashes behind me, but I’m the first one down. Where is it? All I can see is green. Oh, wait, there it is! I reach out, feel its smooth wood. Got it! Clutching it like the Olympic torch, my fist breaks the surface before I do, but everyone sees. I got the stick!

I swim around to the ladder, climb up on the dock, dripping on the turf rug, and we start again. This time I get to take it down. Hmm, dive or pin drop? Pin drops take you deeper. Standing at the edge of the dock, facing the beach, I hold the stick in one hand, plaster my hands to my thighs for optimum aquadynamics, and drop, pointing my toes straight down. I feel the bubbles around me and when the water feels coldest, I let go. I float up and hang on the dock, looking up at the row of expectant faces. I pull myself to the ladder and climb up. It’s my turn to watch.

Donna’s whole body twitches. She spots it, dives; a few more kids jump after her, and she’s got it. Donna’s the best swimmer in our lake. She always beat me when we raced on Family Day, and I always admired how strong and swift she was in the water. The lake goes right up to her backyard, so she swims all the time, without a lifeguard. We live across the street from the lake. My mom always tells my dad we should have gotten a house on the lake, and he says “Oh, Viki, please, you know how expensive that would be?” and waves her away.

Everyone goes to the beach anyway. We walk down the road in our flip-flops, rolling my big inner tube in front of us, past Donna’s house, past Karen’s, past the people who live next to the beach but never go. We see the whole neighborhood there, grownups and all. Donna and her sisters, Cynthia, Rob, Alison, Dan. Cathi and I get there and we wade to our knees and then jump into the cold. But it’s not cold for long, and with the sun warming our faces, it always feels good to be in the water. When my cousins visit and we take them down here, they blow air out their noses and say the lake smells. It does. It smells like lake. Green, cool, and wet. We like it.

And then we swim out to the dock and play The Stick Game. We use an ice cream stick or an Italian Ice spoon, someone takes it down, and we go after it. Whoever gets it takes it down next. We play all day, or until we hear the bells.

“Jing Jing! Jing Jing!” Everyone runs for the edge, the front of the dock dips almost to the water but then everyone dives in and heads toward the beach. White wakes can’t catch up with us as we race for shore. We ransack our pockets or beg our parents and run up the ramp to wait outside the white truck on the sizzling pavement. We’re pretty cool from swimming but sometimes someone will order a Bomb Pop, Fun Dip, Bottle Caps, a Snow Cone and a Chocolate Éclair and the water under our feet will get hot, burn off and then we all jump from foot to foot, waiting for our Toasted Almond or Strawberry Shortcake and candy.

One by one, we walk down the paved sandy ramp, hands clutching bundles of ice cream and candy, we sit on our towels to eat. No one swims while the ice cream man visits or for a half hour after, because we’ll get cramps and drown. That’s when the moms put their babies in the water, in front of the yellow rope with the blue and white floats. Sometimes the grownups swim then. My dad swims across the lake and back. But we all sit on the beach, in twos and threes, licking orange push ups until we see that plastic Fred Flintstone or Yogi Bear or bite the chocolate off Nutty Buddies as we drip dry.

When our ice cream’s gone, we open our candy. Candy doesn’t count toward our half hour out of the water, so we eat while we wait. I have a purple ring pop and Cathi’s got giant Sweet tarts – the chewy kind. Chews

“What days are you going to the fair?”

“I think Thursday and Saturday. My dad wants to go to the movies on Friday.”

“We’re going Saturday too. Maybe you can come with us.”

“I’ll ask.”

At the fair, it’ll be me and Cathi or me and Alison, Rob will walk around with his friends, Cynthia with the stuck-up pretty girls, Donna and Corinne with their sisters. Same thing at school, except for Donna and Corinne. They’re in different grades, so they split up at school.

Then our half hour’s over. One by one, two by two, we throw our trash in the can and head straight for the water. When we get to the dock, Rob says he had a cherry Italian Ice, so we’ve got a new stick, stained pink. Spoons are the best sticks — fat and easiest to see. It’s his stick, so he dives off the dock and takes it down.

6 comments on “Book Excerpt: The Stick Game

  1. I love the imagery! Will we hear about the fair? I grew up right behind the firehouse, and we used to walk through the woods to get there…we went almost every night, and when I was little, I used to lay in bed with my window open to hear the music blaring, or sit in my brother’s dark room, and watch the lights from the rides moving, through the trees. Memories!

  2. Thanks, Erin. I do have a fair story in progress, but I don’t think it’ll appear on the blog. I’m not sure. But I’ll send it to you when I’m done so you can see it.

  3. Maria

    OMG!!!! too funny. and came out just at the right time. Family day is this Saturday Aug 28th. Nothing has changed in 30 years at the beach. Just the kids. They still play stick game, come running in for the ice cream man and yes DAD STILL SWIMS ACROSS THE LAKE. OH and still sits in the same spot on the beach.
    And for all Maria’s friends who think shes crazy. WE DID ALL THAT AND THEN SOME IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.
    How about the greased watermelon and taking it across the lake after done and putting some rum or vodka in it after family day.. We can go on and on about our childhood.

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