By Jennifer McGaha

September 5, 2022


In April of 1979, my mother, father, and I lounge on a jon boat on Lake Keowee in South Carolina. In the stern, my dad props his fishing rod against the motor handle, then pulls off his hat, wipes sweat from his bare head. In the bow, my mother guards the cooler. If you want something to eat, you have to run it by her. If you just start rummaging, she jumps up, yanks off her sunglasses: What are you looking for? Can’t you wait until lunch?

On the middle bench, I balance our weight. Twelve years old, I wear a red one-piece bathing suit cut straight at the top. I unsnap the top strap, lather my body and face with Johnson’s baby oil, then throw my legs over the side of the boat and stir the thick pollen covering the water with my toes. Hot aluminum burns my thighs. Sweat pours down my neck, pools on my chest. In the coming days, my nose and chest and shoulders will blister then peel, earning me the nickname “Patches” at school.

But I don’t care. I love the dank, fishy smell of the lake, the gentle rocking of the boat, the way the azalea blooms drift through the air and stick to my oily limbs, this final tranquil moment before life becomes complicated, before I almost forget how young I once was and the way the sun shimmered through the trees that day, casting long, thin arms across the murky water.

Jennifer McGaha is the author of two memoirs, Flat Broke with Two Goats and Bushwhacking: How to Get Lost in the Woods and Write Your Way Out (forthcoming from Trinity University Press). A native of Appalachia, Jennifer lives in North Carolina with her husband, two cats, three unruly dogs, ten dairy goats, and an ever-changing number of chickens. 


Image by Adrianna L. courtesy of Pexels

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