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Stafford: Deerfly ruled at Norway Lake

WATTON, Mich. — It was a day off, and my wife was sleeping in.

So after watching a little tennis, I drove to my friend’s place so my quart-size coffee cup could slop its contents in the car.

He spotted me coming down the street and was backing up into his driveway so he could jump in for a ride to the auto supply store.

On the way, I got a rundown about plans to paint the cab of the ‘34 pickup he’s rebuilding.

I didn’t have to speak on the way back, which was set aside for a rant about how half the amount of the second-best paint tape costs twice as much as a full roll of the good stuff used to.

It’s just like everything else at a time when the liars say there’s no inflation going on, but the packages are getting smaller while the prices are remaining the same, if that. Bunch of robbers wearing suits.

So we were back in the garage by the time he told me his dad had called.

That was good news, because it doesn’t happen all that often.

His sister had called too. And while that isn’t such an unusual thing, the combination reminded me it was the Fourth of July.

For the patriotic, the holiday means independence and firecrackers; portraits of George Washington and the three guys with the fife, drum and flag.

In that spirit, I did follow “Cowboy” Jeff Brantley’s advice during the Reds game the night before and re-read the Declaration of Independence.

Once I got past the fancy stuff at the beginning, the Declaration began to read like a list of grievances cobbled together by tenants against an absentee landlord they’d come to hate. If you strip all the holiday bunting and fireworks away, that’s likely a fair parallel.

But the Fourth is a family event, too, though not in a way that moves us to buy greeting cards.

In its family form, the holiday reaches out with a tide-like force, as if the moon also managed to move the water around in our brains in a way that activates the human instinct, first felt among by knuckle-dragging forebears, to make potato salad.

Over the course of a lifespan, repeated exposure to that force and loss or thinning of hair sets the stage for the time when the force conjures up fond memories spent in the company of baked beans, marshmallows, picnic tables and brats (both the children and the sausages).

When I got back home, I called my mom to tell her how, standing in my friend’s garage, remembering our family Fourths, I’d begun to tell him stories about Norway Lake.

Norway Lake is south and west of my grandparents’ old place on Michigan 28, an hour plus west of Marquette.

It’s an inland lake accessed by former logging roads that are are made of gravel, dust and dappled sunlight held together, in my memory, at least, by the tar lingering in the scent of thousands of pine trees.

In the same way, I remember holidays spent at the lake as a Cracker Jack amalgam of cream soda and orange pop, marshmallows and the circus peanuts my grandfather so loved — of spice cake in a cellophane wrapper, the smell of coffee, hot dogs cooked on campground grills and my cousin, Glen, who was born on the Fourth, frying up the biggest hamburger I’d ever seen on a cast iron skillet he brought along just for that purpose.

The roots of trees tried to trip us up all over the campground, and pine needles were everywhere but the sand of the beach, a place we had to dash through because that we weren’t the only creatures who’d arrived for a holiday feast.

Deerfly bulked up like Barry Bonds seemed to be carrying cutlery with which they sliced into us with delight and vigor. Only the cold of water and our lung capacity kept us from staying submerged during the whole swim. In that time before hypothermia was mentioned, the only warm sensation we experienced in the water was one of which we were slightly ashamed.

Though the horseflies clearly preferred the tender flesh of the back, my creepiest memory is of them gnawing on the back of my scalp.

A couple of years ago for my parents’ 60th anniversary, my brother and I rooted up some old Kodachrome slides of a Norway Lake Fourth. Some of the folks at the picnic table are wearing jackets against the summer cool.

Looking at them all, I can feel the cool of the shade and smell the scent of pine.

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