Lake Robinson

It is a cold October morning on the porch in Wilmette, Illinois. As time begins to shift and the twilight settles into night, I am remembering an earlier day. I find myself in an old cabin in a downpour. The cabin belongs to my piano teacher and she has loaned it to us for the weekend. "Us" would be me, my mom, my dad, and my best friend Joe. The first thing our travel-dulled senses noticed was that the refrigerator was unplugged, and probably had been for some time. The stench of the putrid milk, cheese, and slimy lettuce was overpowering. When we finally found the switch and turned on the lights, we found that the floor was strewn with mouse droppings. The only toilet had to be flushed by filling it with a bucket of water from the bathtub.

The reports on the radio told us that the rain was not confined to our small corner of Wisconsin, but was spread out all over the Great Lakes area, and the greater Chicago area where we lived was getting two inches of rain an hour. Most of the major highways were likely to be closed. My father panicked. We left at dawn the next morning, not bothering to eat breakfast. We had to make sure the sump pump was on to keep the water out of the basement.

As we drove back in an old Dodge van, seating thirteen with plenty of cargo space, the deluge continued. Dad took the back roads to avoid the superhighways that were closed. The trip that had taken 3 hours to get us there took five to get home. A scant five blocks from home, we stopped for gas and Joe and I rode our bikes home through water up to our knees. Huge rooster tails streamed out behind us, further drenching the cars parked on the street.

Later that day, as we were relishing the fun of our whole world turning wet, the water level reached people's doorsteps and the sewers backed up. Joe was worried about his house next door. He was staying with us for the weekend and his parents were out of town as well. He called his two older brothers, who were staying at his grandma's house. They came over and unlocked the door to check the basement. What they found was three and a half feet of water, a very unhappy cat, and birdseed floating over the surface of the water. It sprouted about six weeks later in corners that had received insufficient cleaning. Bink, the oldest brother, climbed into a trash can and pushed off from the steps. He paddled with his hands to the other side of the basement and rescued the cat.

Meanwhile, back at our house, the water level in our back yard was rising rapidly. We were the low point of the neighborhood and the run-off from all over the block streamed into our backyard. In response to this problem, we blew up some air mattresses and paddled all over "Lake Robinson," which by that time was about two feet deep and twenty-five feet across.

As the forces of my mind's time shift back to the present, I still recall what was, perhaps, the most important event of that day. Joe got his first pair of Converse shoes. I had outgrown my bright red Converse All-Stars, and Joe's shoes were soggy with scum from the depths of Lake Robinson. It was love at first fitting. Now he swears by those canvas shoes and says, "They are comfortable and cheap; what more do ya' want?"

[Note from Mom: This is a very accurate piece of reporting. Karl was about 8 when this happened, I think. I remember one winter when Lake Robinson froze and we had an ice skating rink in our back yard for a few days. This essay is dated October 10, 1995, when Karl was 14.]