By Jian Ping
Beaver Lake, WI
I was invited to talk to a women’s book group in Hartland, a suburb of Milwaukee by Karen, my friend Mary’s mother. Last Wednesday, Mary took time off from work and gave me a ride to her parents’ home. As we got closer, she took a scenic drive and showed me Beaver Lake—her parents’ home is located along its shore. I could see the glistening of water through the thicket of trees between the lake and the road. Beaver Lake, on which Mary had spent endless hours cruising and water skiing, appeared larger than I expected.
Karen came to the door to meet us. She wore a burgundy silk top and her hair was tied back with a matching red ribbon. She looked much younger than her age. Two of Mary’s relatives, Peggy and Ross, were there as well. We chatted over a table of veggies, cheese and crackers in the living room. I soon learned that one of Peggy’s sons and daughter-in-law were published writers. Later, Mary’s father Bill returned home from his golf outing, declaring his winning of $11 for the day. “Better than losing 50 bucks,” he said, laughing. He took us to his clubhouse along Beaver Lake for dinner, and I enjoyed a hearty meal of lamb chops, my favorite, and lots of hearty laughter over our conversation—it was home away from home for me, and later, I joked with Mary to ask her mother to adopt me as her Chinese daughter.
Soon after we came back to the house, Karen and Bill retired for the night. Mary and I sat in the screened porch and read into the night. All I could hear was the singing of cicadas. No squeaking of speeding tires or the hamming of traffic. As I commented to Mary how quiet and peaceful it felt, I heard the ruffling of the bushes next to the window. Mary smiled, saying it must be their neighbor’s dog. Sure enough, a thin, furry face of brown and white popped up above the screen, but disappeared after a quick peep. “He will be back for a biscuit in the morning,” Mary said.
I sat alone in the dark for half an hour after Mary went to bed. The flood light lit the backyard, highlighting the green lawn and the leafy bushes. I swung back and forth on the cushioned, comfortable chair, savoring the undisturbed beauty of the night.
Early in the morning, I sneaked out of the house for a run. The sun was about to rise and the morning air felt fresh and cool. I followed a paved trail and ran around a nearby newly developed subdivision—all enormously large houses, some still under construction, as if there was a competition for size. When I made my way back 50 minutes later, I ran directly to the lake behind the house and was pleasantly surprised to find the water warm. I decided to get into my swimsuit and take a dip into the lake.
I ran into Mary in the hallway when I entered the house. “Join me for a swim,” I said, feeling excited by my discovery.
Mary smiled, saying she’d rather swim later when the sun would be high and the water “really warm.” I couldn’t resist the allure of the water and quickly changed into my swimsuit. “Please come get me if I’m not back in an hour,” I told Mary.
Beaver Lake seemed to be asleep. Nearly every house along the lake had a private access to the water, complete with a boat and a dock. But there was not a single human being around. I jumped into the shallow water and swam toward the middle of the lake. Through my goggles, I could see swarms of small fish dodge from my intrusion and disappear into various vegetations at the bottom. As I picked up speed, my body warmed up and got used to the water temperature. I selected two boats across the lake as my benchmarks and swam back and forth, a long stretch. It was so wonderful to press forward or backward without worrying about hitting the edge of a swimming pool or flipping around every half a minute or so. As I was about to make another round, I heard Mary calling me from the shore. I could hardly believe an hour had passed so quickly.
Karen was sitting at the breakfast table when I came down after a nice shower. “It’s only 65 degrees out there,” she said. “Don’t you feel cold?”
“Not at all,” I said enthusiastically. “It’s so beautiful and lovely!”
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit www.moraquest.com and www.mulberrychild.com