Some summers we went to New Hampshire to visit my cousins. My memory of those visits has faded. Except for the lake. My aunt and uncle lived on the lake. And for my nine-year old self, nothing else about those visits matter. The lake was what it all was about.
Off the shoreline, maybe 20 yards, was a diving platform. Do you know the kind I’m talking about? It’s one of those square wooden ones maybe the size of throw rug—I’m looking at the one in our dining room. Not very big. You could probably get only about five or six people on the thing. It was sitting on buoys and held fast by ropes or something like that to the floor of the lake. Everyone thought pushing people off was the best entertainment. It often was much like the king of the hill game. Being the smallest and the youngest kid, I was never king.
But in one activity off that platform I had few rivals.
By far the most captivating activity off the platform was diving for chalk. It was a boyhood adventure. Here’s how it went. You’d swim out to the platform, climb up on it, and dive in. You swim to the bottom maybe 6 to 8 feet. On the bottom you felt for clumps of chalk. I was possessed by the work of harvesting chalk.
The chalk was moist and squishy. Holding your breath for as long as you could, you moved your hand across the surface of the bottom. It was muddy and soft. The water was murky from the agitation. Visibility was zero. Your hand was your guide. Feeling the bottom, your hand would come across a change of texture. With a little more attention, you pulled up a clump of clay-like substance. Chalk. It was white. Being at the limit of my capacity to hold my breath, I would put my feet on mushy bottom and thrust up like superman. Once on the surface I’d throw the wet chalk on the platform and wait for it to dry. I don’t remember what we did with it once it dried. I doesn’t much matter. After taking several deep breaths, the adventure repeated itself time and again all afternoon.
I really don’t know why harvesting chalk was so captivating. But it was.
The lake was called Lake Merrymeeting.