Passing the Torch

Passing the Torch

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

Passing the Torch

Pretty much all the honest truth-telling there is in the world is done by children

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Summer 1964, a northwoods lake.

“Get up! Get up!” my mother whispers.

My eyes flash open. Confusion clouds my brain. Where am I? Is something wrong? I quickly look around.

I’m sandwiched between frayed woolen blankets and the sagging mattress of an old metal bed on the porch of our family log cabin. Looking almost exactly as it did when my grandparents built it in 1929, it sits high on a hill surrounded by the pine and musty fragrance of the woods.

Through sleepy eyelids I take in the dark-green porch swing, the birch leg table, and the smoky glass of the corner kerosene lantern reflecting the stillness of the lake below.

Having escaped the steamy cornland of my home for a few summer weeks, I believe I’m in heaven on Earth. My face feels the coolness of the early morning air. I relax and curl deeper beneath the blankets’ warmth.

“Get up!” my mother’s voice whispers again. “You must come now. The sunrise is simply glorious!”

The sunrise? Get up to see the sunrise? Who’s she kidding? The last thing this fourteen-year-old wants to do is leave a warm bed to go see a sunrise, glorious or otherwise. It’s 5:00 A.M. and freezing out there.

“Hurry!” my mother urges.

Being careful not to let the screen door slam, she sets off down the forty-nine long steps at a determined rate of speed to the lake below.

In the twin bed opposite me, my seventeen-year-old sister Nancy stirs. She pushes back the covers and plops to the floor. Not to be outdone, I make a supreme effort and struggle out of bed as well. In our thin cotton nighties, we grab my father’s WWII pea-green army blankets from the foot of our beds and wrap them tightly around our shoulders.

As our bare feet touch the cold porch floor, we are thunderbolted awake. Our pace quickens. One of us misses catching the screen door. It slams. Like a couple of water bugs hopscotching across the lake in avoidance of fish jaws, we gingerly pick our way over slippery rocks and prickly pine needles down the forty-nine dew-covered log steps to the lake shore.

When we feel we’ve saved our feet from any horny toads or big black spiders that might be crazy enough to be up this early, we catch our breath and look up. Our mother’s silhouette is outlined against a rosy dawn, the first light catching the soft red of her hair. She is right. It is a glorious sunrise.

Across the lake a sliver of the most brilliant red crests the top of the shadowed forest. Hues of lavender, rose and amber begin to pulsate into the sky like a heavenly kaleidoscope. High above in the soft blueness, a lone star still sparkles. Silver mist rises gently from the smoothness of the lake. All is still. In the sacred silence, my mother, sister and I stand reverently together against a backdrop of tall pine and watch the magic of God’s dawning unfold.

Suddenly, the curve of a brilliant sun bursts through the dark forest. The world begins to awake. We watch a blue heron rise up from a distant shore and gently fan its way over still waters. Two ducks make a rippled landing near our dock while the black and white beauty of a loon skims along the edge of a nearby island hunting for its morning food.

Breathing in the chill air, the three of us draw our blankets closer. The soft hues of the sunrise turn into the brightness of a new day and the last of the stars fades. My sister and I take one more look, race up the steps, and jump into our beds to grab a few more hours of sleep.

My mother is more reluctant to leave the sunrise’s amphitheater. From the renewed warmth of my bed, it is a while longer before I hear her reach the top step and gently close the porch door.

Summer 1994, a northwoods lake.

“Get up! Get up!” I whisper to my adolescent sons sleeping dreamily in the same old metal beds of our family’s cabin porch.

“Come see the sunrise! It’s awesome!”

Amazingly, I watch as this fourth generation of cabin snoozers rouse themselves from cozy comfort. They snatch the WWII pea-green army blankets from the foot of their beds and stumble out the porch door. It slams. Gingerly they maneuver slippery rocks and prickly pine needles down forty-nine dew-covered log steps to the lakeshore.

Their seventy-four-year-old grandmother is already there. Her red hair, now streaked with white, reflects the first light.

She greets her grandsons with the quiet of a bright smile, gathers her blanket closer, and turns toward the east to observe once again God’s dawning.

My sons’ faces watch intently as the rich colors of the sunrise soar up into the sky like the brilliant plumage of a great bird. It isn’t long before the flap of a blue heron’s wing or the melodic call of a loon awaken the lake with activity.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” I whisper.

The boys nod in silent agreement. Their grandmother smiles at them. Before long, they grab the tails of their frayed blankets and race back up the steps to the welcomed warmth of their beds.

My mother and I stay a little longer. Standing close, we watch the swirls of pearl mist rise and the sky bloom into the shades of a morning rose. We are rewarded this morning by the graceful glide of an eagle high overhead. The gentle rays of the early sun warm our faces.

Eventually, we turn to begin our slow climb up the old log stairs. Halfway up, I catch my breath and look back to see how my mother is doing. But she is not there. She has changed her mind, and through the treetops I can see her, still on the lakeshore, lingering in the light.

Marnie O. Mamminga

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