“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Black Lake” Chapter 98
By Bruce Williams
It’s funny how you can become intrinsically linked to a body of water. The Pacific Ocean is like that for me in a way—I’ve been in its waters and on its beaches in Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii, but its vastness precludes any true intimacy. Growing up in Olympia, I spent a ton of time on Black Lake—my grandma had the big white house up on the hillside, and I spent a lot of Friday and Saturday nights sleeping over. When I was really little they’d ensconce us on the sleeping porch, and grandma would pin a sheet up for privacy and to keep the bugs out. I loved sleeping out there in the cool summer air with all the sounds of the lake—until a bat thumped into the sheet and my sisters went screaming back into the house.
When I got older we’d ride our bikes all the way over from our house. I forget now how long it took to get there, but I’d spend the whole day at the beach with my buddy Permann. We’d swim out to the stump and take a leak off of it—we thought that was a hoot. Grandma would feed us and fawn over us, often flabbergasted at our tomfoolery leading her to exclaim, “Lands!” “Egads!” or “Heavens!” or some other mild utterance. When I got into high school, my friend Jeff Snell (“Beefer”) moored his boat down below at the dock for the summer and a few of us would ski until dusk after two-a-day football practices. I’ve probably never been in better shape in my life.
When my grandma got sick, my sister Linda took a leave of absence to take care of her. After she passed, the house stayed in the family—at first co-owned by my dad and aunt, then purchased and remodeled by Linda and her then-husband Matt. My aunt Nancy had bought the house next door some years before that, so the combined beach head was considerable. My wife and I had our wedding down there, up against the huge tree I used to sneak bong hits behind as a teen. There was a dead deer in the ditch out on Black Lake Boulevard on the day of our wedding, and I scrambled to get Animal Control to come have the carcass removed before the bride showed up and began thinking we were jinxed. Even the impromptu hydro races on the lake that day died down so that we were able to hear our vows. We’re still married, so…
I always thought Mount Rainier looked like a big basset hound’s head across the water. The trees have grown up so much on that side that it’s getting harder to see its peaks. There’s eagles roosting in all the highest trees. My aunt still lives next door—she’s losing her memory, so that same sister is living there now, too…next to her ex with the kids (now grown) going back and forth as they flee the nest. I was out there last Friday—riding the jet ski, floating on a tube and getting dumped over by Jack. We brought the dogs and with Linda’s two there were four in all—tearing around and jumping recklessly into the water. I sat with my mom and step dad…he requires naps and blood transfusions now, and gravity is working a number on my mom’s poor back, but there they were—dining on fried chicken and an assortment of salads and enjoying all the chaos and scenery.
The lake used to be higher. It’s one of the only lakes I’ve heard of that has a river running out of it due to its underground springs. My grandfather bought the big white house for $2000 in the 1920’s, and he used to brag to anyone who would listen about all the carp he could land out of it. They’re not much for eating, but there’s trout and bass in there as well. My dad got tripped up by his cat while fishing as a kid, and came up and told his mom (my grandma) dripping wet that, “Bobby pushed me into the lake.” On the Fourth of July we’d shoot illegal fireworks acquired from the reservation out into its coffee-colored depths—competing with the other exuberant displays around its small perimeter, and there would always be sirens summoned to the nearby Salmon Shores Campground—some drunken mullet suddenly a few fingers short going forward.
Mostly I remember my grandma there, making pancakes for us on her kid-sized cast iron stove, her Sun tea and almond coffee cake, the cheese-filled hamburgers, her Lawrence Welk and Golden Girls. She had hot pink shag carpeting in her bedroom and a Steinway in her living room. Even as a kid I could tell that I absolutely delighted her. Maybe it’s not just the lake that I’m so tied to after all.