I take most of the blame for what happened. I knew that the lake was northwest of where Brenda lived and northwest of where Adam lived—we’d picked him up on the way. I knew this because in Maine, lakes are northwest of where you live while the ocean is southeast of where you live.
We swam, we barbecued, we talked, and we swam. When we were done having all the fun we could think of, we headed home. Owen and Logan had not yet had all the fun they could think of so we said our goodbyes and left them to their daddies. We headed home, but not the way we had come. On the way there Brenda had needed to stop at a store which turned out to be not only a bit south of our route but across one of those roads you can’t get across in Maine in summer because of the zip of vacationers going northwest to the lakes or southeast to the ocean. Adam, as driver, managed to do a run around the end of the road and drive back to the store, cars buzzing both ways. When Brenda came out of the store with the chips and sodas, cars were still buzzing steadily both ways. To get back on the road to camp, he drove down and around the other end of the road. That got us back on track.
Now, in the car going home we were drowsy with eating and swimming and with watching two little boys soak each other with a hose–and anyone else who came near. Hey, when has there been enough water in just one lake for two little boys. We had done our hugging and waving goodbye and were headed up the camp road to the blacktop. Brenda said, “If I still felt like talking, Adam, I could tell you the shortcut home.”
“I think I know that shortcut,” Adam said.
I sat quietly in the passive (passenger) seat.
At the bottom of the road he turned one way instead of the other and pretty soon Brenda found she needed to talk whether she felt like it or not. “Go left here and around by Thompson Lake.”
“You mean between Thompson Lake, don’t you?” Adam grinned.
Between was a better word for it. In a couple of minutes Thompson Lake was on both sides of us.
“This is the place where Lenny and Mitch drove into the lake in winter,” Brenda explained. “There were no guardrails then.”
I didn’t asked what became of Lenny and Mitch after they drove into Thompson Lake. I had just seen them at the picnic and thought the story could not have had a bad ending.
Adam drove between water and up around to the left, which was north. The direction was all wrong. Everyone knows that in Maine, when you leave a family picnic at the lake you have to drive southeast to get home.
I started to say we should have gone the other way, but I remembered that the other thing everyone knows is that you never, ever turn around. Once past the intersection you are committed. There is no more going back and taking the other road than there is going back to yesterday and marrying the other guy (or girl). So I sat in the passive seat and kept my own council.
“I think I should get out the map,” Brenda said.
“No, don’t look.” Adam was into the adventure of it now and didn’t want information to spoil his afternoon. He kept taking turns to the south but the road curved back to the north. Then the road obligingly curved back south. Adam said not to worry. He had an internal compass and he knew the average direction we were going.
Brenda, sitting in back of Adam, took out the map anyway. How was he to know? Besides, mothers never quite make the switch to doing what their children say. She was going to put some order into an otherwise random trip.
Adam drove this way and Adam drove that way, trending northeast, I was sure. When I mentioned this he admitted that missing the next turn could end us up in Canada, though there would be some rivers to cross.
I said, “You just came between a lake. Coming between a river shouldn’t give you trouble.”
“Owen and Logan would like a river,” he said.
By now Brenda had studied the map. “Turn left here,” came the word from the backseat.
“But this road is bumpier than the one we were on,” Adam said. He looked at me, waiting for Brenda to hear the taunt in his voice.
She didn’t hear.
I said, “Have you been teasing your mother like this for almost forty years now?”
He guessed probably, if we consider that he began teasing her before he could talk.
But she was focused on the way home and refused to be distracted, an ability she’d begun developing, oh, about forty years ago.
“Go straight across the next road,” she said.
“Now watch for a dirt road on the left.”
It was beginning to sound like she had her bearings. It wasn’t a dirt road. But in a few yards the pavement gave way to dirt, proving that either Brenda knew what was what or we were in Maine.
We continued northeasterly and, thanks to Adam’s internal compass—or perhaps to Brenda’s map—came out onto a paved road and to a familiar apple orchard stand open for business. We stopped. Brenda got some pumpkin donuts and some macs for pies. And we got everyone home from there. None of which could have happened except that the camp on the lake may have been southwest of home, not northwest as I had supposed. But, no. Couldn’t be. In Maine you don’t go southwest to get to a picnic.
Disclaimer: I have lately been reading Mark Twain, and no one so influenced can be much trusted with a narrative.