The summer I was 15, we lived in Maine. Dad was sick of his desk job. He considered going back “into the field,” mapping for the USGS on location. My brother, sister & I hoped he’d return to surveying outdoors. He was so much happier & nicer doing that type of work.
So off we went, driving North. Aunt Bernice and Uncle Tony would leave Baltimore to join us halfway through the summer.
It was a long drive but Dad, as usual, made stops along the way to teach us American History on the spot. Boston was really cool! Old cobblestone roads, great food. “The British are Coming!” My brother Bob, Kathi & I joked that the saying meant The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks & The Animals.
Finally, Dad pulled the car into the camping area of Acadia National Park. He and Mom wrestled with the Army tent our father had bought at a military surplus store ages ago.
“Go ahead & look around,” Dad didn’t want us around to hear him cursing. He also needed some peaceful time after 2 days in the car with 3 kids.
We headed out to explore. I was 15, Bob was 13, Kathi was 10. Perfect ages to get along great. Bob brought along his new Polaroid camera and soon got great shots.
We found a cool beach shack with a juke box, a bar and tables for eating. We looked at the menus, then headed for the sea, its salty scent leading us to a gloriously beautiful rocky coast. We were wearing cut-off jeans, baring our long legs. We stood on a high hill, observing the waves as Dad had taught us, to be aware of currents and possible rip tides.
“All clear!” Bob yelled.
We ran to the small sandy area surrounded by dark stone cliffs. All three of us shrieked as icy water hit our legs. Within minutes, we were swimming against rough waves, diving down to touch a sandy, rocky bottom and leaping up like Flipper, making dolphin sounds. Bob could even swim backwards, body out of the water to his waist, just like the TV creature.
We frolicked for what we thought was maybe an hour, then lay on the sand to dry off. We hadn’t asked permission to swim so weren’t sure we’d get into trouble for having wet clothing.
“Time to go,” I announced, eldest Elder & Rule Keeper.
We climbed up the cliff, picking our way through tide pools. Bob had a great sense of direction, so we got back to our campsite easily.
“Where in hell have you been? Your mother needs kindling. Pronto!”
Bob, Kathi & I headed out to gather fallen, dry tree branches. It was a piney forest, so sap would catch well. Each of us got arms full of twigs and branches. We dumped our finds near the rock circle which would be our oven for the summer. Dad got a fire going and Mom went to the ice chest, taking out hot dogs she’d bought in Boston. The ice wasn’t even melted yet!
“Can we make s’mores?” Kathi asked. Yes! I was happy she asked. Mom never said no to her.
“After dinner,” Dad was grumpy from desk job worries, the long drive & us kids not coming home at his imagined curfew time.
We hunkered down, sitting on rocks—Mom on the ice chest on top of a pillow. The hot dogs were great. We drank chocolate milk and ate potato salad Mom had made before we left home in Virginia. I always burned my fingers on s’mores but that pain was worth it—what a delight.
We kids went to bed as soon as Dad told us it was “lights out.” We wanted to be up early for more exploration. I had a notebook for drawing maps. Everyone had a blow up mattress covered with sheets and blankets. The pillows were cool and fluffy. Despite a bright full moon, insomniac I fell asleep right away, breathing in the pine scented air.
The next day, we met a park ranger who told us about evening lectures in an amphitheater. He also offered to talk to us about the tide pool ecosystem. That was a definite yes from all three of us. We agreed to meet him after lunch.
Bob, Kathi and I hiked all over the park, through dark woods and then, sweaty, we swam in Monument Cove. There were no other people at this time, so we had the place all to ourselves, diving down and circling around underwater. I loved swimming under the water where it was always quiet.
We wandered up to the tent and got lunch money from Dad. $1.50 each bought us burgers, fries and coca-colas for an early meal since we’d had our breakfast at sunrise. Bob, as usual, had his own money so he put quarters in the juke box. We each chose a Beach Boys’ song, perfect for summertime. We danced together, laughing as we made silly moves, doing The Watusi, The Swim and The Jerk.
Time for tide pools! We ran all the way to the rocky cliffs, arriving just as the park ranger did. He explained how the tides are affected by the lunar movements (something Dad had long prior explained) so tide pool viewing was best at full moon times. We squatted down on our haunches to view the tiny sea life inside each pocket of stone-held sea water. There were wonderous sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and amusing hermit crabs! It was magical.
“Thank you!” We kids exuberantly shook hands with the happy young ranger.
In spite of the old OCD desire to take notes on everything, I really enjoyed the science lesson. Visions of becoming a Marine Biologist, traveling up & down the coastline in a VW bus fixed up with lab equipment filled my mind. I sat down on hard stone & drew my idea in my spiral notebook, noting how much a used VW van might cost, possible outlay for lab equipment, sinks, a stove & etc.
“Time for dinner! Ya’ll get a move on!” Bob shouted before running toward camp.
After a tasty meal prepared by Mom, Kathi and I carried a pot to the bath house for water. We set it onto the fire until the water was bubbling and then put each dish in, soaking them all before letting the water cool enough to scrub everything clean.
Then we headed out for a hike. Bob had taken off 10 minutes before us, saying “No girls allowed!” Which was dumb, since he’d spent the whole day with us. But maybe not so stupid, if he was sick of Kathi & me by then.
“Let’s go find the ampitheater and see if there’s a slide show going on yet.”
“It’s still pretty light out, Kathi. I don’t see how they’d be able to do a slide show at this hour.”
“C’mon. I want to see the Greek plays.” Kathi had read Golden Age of Greece plays with me when I was taking AP English in ninth grade.
Dashing down a dirt trail, following wooden markers toward the amphitheater, we raced. When we got there, it was much less grand than our vision of an Athenian center. Nevertheless, I ran to the stage, getting there two steps before my fleet-footed sister.
“Friends, Greeks, Countrymen—lend me your ear!”
“That’s not a play. That’s goofy. Let’s do The Frogs.”
“I can’t remember lines we had to memorize so far back. We read that almost two years ago!”
“OK, I’ll do it.” Kathi hunched over and spoke in a loud cackle. “Must I bear this load myself?”
“No, great Dionysus, let me help you.” I bent over, pretending to take some of the bundles off my sister’s back.
Then we both dropped our imaginary sacks and hunched down, hopping like frogs.
“Koax koax!! Brekekekex koax koax. Children of the marsh and lake!”
Suddenly, I noticed the most gorgeous guy in the entire Universe. He was sitting at the top of the bleachers with a lovely girl about my age. She had long straight black hair like Cher and huge dark eyes. The boy was a natural blonde, not surfer bleached hair. He was staring at Kathi and me.
“You’re doing The Frogs, aren’t you?” He walked toward the stage.
“That’s all I know of it. I can never remember anything. But my sister can.”
“How old are you two?”
“She’s sixteen and I’m fourteen,” my ten year old sister lied. I shot her a harsh glance.
The girl approached us shyly. “Are you doing a show here tonight?”
“Gosh, no! We’re just goofing around. We came to watch the slide show or whatever the ranger does.”
“I’m Louise. That’s Yuri.” She gave him an adoring look.
“Yuri! Are you from Russia?”
“I’m Dixie and that’s Kathi.”
I stuck my hand out to shake and Yuri took it. Louise looked confused. Yuri and I were unable to take our eyes off each other.
“I’ll go get us seats.” Kathi ran off, leaving me tongue-tied onstage with the Ukranian hunk.
I turned to Louise “Do you guys want to sit with us?”
“OK.” She didn’t look too happy about that but she sat down on the plank anyway.
The ranger gave a talk about the natural beauties of Acadia, including types of trees, sea creatures and constellations. All I could think about was the thumping of my heart. That cute boy was sitting only one person to my right. It was wicked to think of another girl’s boyfriend! Focus on the lecture, idiot.
After the talk, people began meandering off toward their campsites. Kathie whispered in my ear, “Get him!” and then ran off, leaving me alone with Yuri and Louise.
“Well, I guess I’ll head on home.”
“Which campsite is yours?”
I said the number and started walking, Elder-fast. He rushed to catch up with me, leaving Louise behind.
“Do you want to hike with me tomorrow?”
Feeling awful for his girlfriend, I said, “I’m going swimming with my brother and sister.”
“Maybe after swim? Or I swim with you?”
I whispered, “What about her?”
“She is only friend, we met yesterday.”
I pondered that in my fifteen year old, fast-beating heart. Love conquered all!
“OK, come to our campsite early and we’ll all go swimming.”
Yuri showed up just as Kathi and I were cleaning the skillet Mom had used to fry bacon, eggs and grill toast for breakfast.
“Who the hell’s this?”
“Dad, gee! That’s Dixie’s boyfriend.” Bob snickered.
“He is not my boyfriend! We met at the Park Ranger talk last night. I told him he could come swimming with us today.”
Dad stormed over to Yuri, who preemptively put out his hand to shake.
“Good to meet you, sir. My name is Yuri. I study at university.”
“Too old for her. She’s fifteen.”
“With all respect, she is safe in my hands.”
In my hands! What a thing to say. Oh my gosh, Dad would never let him swim with us!
“Behave. I might show up at any time. You kids be home by noon for lunch.”
We ran to the small beach and tugged our cut-offs and t-shirts off, tossing them willy-nilly onto the sand. We frolicked wildly in the crashing waves, tossed about, sometimes crashing into one another. Yuri’s blonde hair contrasted with his tanned skin. I could barely stand to look at him during the brief moments when we surged up out of the sea at the same time. The water was cold but my body shuddered with excited heat.
After over an hour of swimming, we all ran to lie down on the beach. Kathi said “Cover me up!” She loved it when Bob and I piled sand on top of her. We scooped up wet sand and made her into a sexy mermaid. Bob took a photo for “posterior-y.” We dug her back out again and washed off in the ocean.
“Time for lunch,” Bob said, looking up at the sun. It was directly above our heads. How had the hours passed so quickly?
Yuri walked beside me, toward our campsite.
“Dad is really strict. I am not allowed to date. He’s mean.”
“Good to have protective father.”
“Yes but sometimes I get tired of it.”
“Soon you will be adult. Not long wait, three years.”
It was true, in three years, I would be 18. An odd thought. Going from age 12 to 15 had seemed a really long time, though. Would I even get into any college with my low grades in AP classes?
I realized Yuri was talking about his college courses while I’d been daydreaming.
“What’s your favorite subject?”
“I study history of politics.
“You mean from the Greeks on up to Krushchev?”
“What do you know of Khrushchev?”
I was embarrassed. I knew next to nothing. “He’s a communist. He came to American and said ‘We will bury you.’ He met Marilyn Monroe, too.”
I mixed Hollywood gossip with history.
Yuri laughed. He took my hand. “Silly American. Much more to learn.”
“I know all about the Czar’s family. They got shot. That wasn’t fair.”
“Hard story from peasants’ lives to wealthy people. No one understand if they don’t live it. But killing is wrong, yes. Why we come to America. Freedom.”
We were near our campsite. “You’d better go. Dad might get mad if he sees I’m still with you.”
“Can you walk tonight? Meet at bath-house?”
How exciting! A secret meeting in the dark!
“Yes, OK. After dinner, we’ll have to go there to wash dishes. I’ll tell Dad that I’m going for a walk with Kathi. She always covers for me.”
Oh, that was the wrong thing to say. It made me sound like a hussy who snuck around.
“Yes, it’s good.”
We had dinner at the campsite, my heart shuddering. I was unusually silent until Kathi and I began carrying the plastic tub full of dishes toward the bath-house.
“You have to convince Dad you want to go for a walk with me. Yuri asked me to go out with him.”
“Out? Like on a date? There’s no movies or anything around here.”
“I guess more like in Grandma’s time, when guys walked girls around town.”
My sister agreed. We always stuck together. After we’d scrubbed the dishes shiny clean, we went back to camp.
“Gee!” drawled Kathi, “I’d sure like to walk off that huge, tasty meal with a long walk!”
“Me, three.” Oh dang, Bob would chime in. The pest!
“OK but you people be back here by 9:00 sharp.” Dad gave us his obsidian glare.
Bob scuttled behind me like a reporter, “Dixie Pixie. Where are we going?”
He knew very well that Yuri and I were in love.
“Get away! I’m walking alone with Yuri.”
Bob rubbed his eyes with his fists & pretended to sob,
“Oh, nobody loves me! Dixie’s in love with Yuri!”
Kathi diverted Bob by suggesting they go to the shack to dance.
“There’s cute girls down there.”
Bob began singing the Beach Boys’ song.
All summer, Yuri and I swam, walked and talked, feverishly avoiding anything other than hand-holding. He was a sweet young man with high morals.
The last night of our time in Maine, Yuri stood with me under a beautiful, fall pine tree.
“You give me address and phone number? I call. We write?”
He drew from his pocket a small notebook and pencil. Using my most florid penmanship, I wrote my name, address and phone number. I wondered if this was his “little black book.”
He put the notebook back in his pocket and leaned over to kiss me. I shivered, afraid of my first real kiss. Suddenly, a bush nearby shook.
“Get the Hell back to the campsite!”
My father. How embarrassing. I wished it had been a bear!
“You stay away from girls this young!”
Yuri stood stock-still, dumbstruck. Oh, he’d never call or write me now.
Dad chased me back to the campsite, yelling,
“College guys want one thing!”
Aunt Bernice, who had called my hair “burnished gold” that day, told Dad to calm down,
My gosh, Bill. They’re kids. Dixie is as innocent as can be.”
“You didn’t see her! She was about to kiss that guy!!”
I crawled into the tent, mortified. Dad’s moods could go from fascinatingly up to furiously down in the time it takes dry pine needles to catch fire.
Two days after we got back home to Great Falls, there was a letter in the mail for me! From Yuri at Oswego U!!
Our time together in summer was majestic. I shall never forget you. Please write back. I see your beautiful face before me as I lay on my single bed. My window is open and I glimpse stars. Books stacked on my desk insist I study but my mind is only on you. Love, Yuri.”
He wrote so much more poetically than he spoke. I spun in a circle and ran inside to deposit the bills on the kitchen table. When Kathi got home from Mary Beth’s, I showed her the letter.
“Hubba Hubba, he really does love you!”
Yuri and I wrote each other two letters a week or more that Fall & Winter. Three days before Christmas break, he wrote,
“I am coming to visit. I will hitch-hike. See you Christmas Eve.”
Frantically, I called his dorm phone. No answer. We were heading to Grandma Elder’s for Christmas, leaving the next day! Yuri would arrive and find no one at home, after an insanely cold and long journey from Maine to Virginia.
“Dad, I can’t go to Georgia. Yuri’s coming to visit!”
“You’re out of your mind if you think I’d let you stay home alone with that guy.”
“But I tried to call and nobody answered. The college must be off for break already!”
“Too bad. He’ll think twice about being so foolish next time.”
I ran to my room, flung myself onto the bed and Diva sobbed loudly for an hour.
Dad tapped on my door,
“For God’s sake, you don’t have to cry that long. You are too young to go steady.”
“I’m not going steady! He’s nice. And smart! I thought you liked smart guys!”
I didn’t mention RW. RW and I had been walking around Great Falls together since before we’d gone to Maine. I loved RW but Dad hated him, his Catholicism, such a poor family, his drunk of a father. I knew my father would favor Yuri over RW any day.
“I’m sixteen. You told me I had to start dating by age sixteen!”
“Dating. Not staying in the house alone with a college kid.”
So I wrote a long letter to Yuri, using my new print-writing. A teacher had told me my fancy Victorian script was too ornate for her to read, so I taught myself to print again.
“Dear Yuri,I tried to call but there was no answer. We are going to Georgia (in America) for Christmas, to see Grandma and my Aunt and Uncle and all our cousins. I am so sorry but I did not get your letter until today and we are leaving tomorrow! Please don’t be mad at me. Love Dixie”
When we returned home after nearly two weeks in Hinesville, there was a letter in the mailbox from my Ukranian boyfriend.
“Dixie, Your handwriting changed. You can tell a lot about a person by their handwriting. You are selfish and spoiled. Left me cold in Virginia at your door. So different from nice, beautiful girl I met at Acadia. This is goodbye.”
Kathi read it and sighed, “Guys are impossible to comprehend. It’s not your fault we had to go to Georgia! Forget him. RW will always love you.