Oliver of the Adirondacks

by Dashiell Walraven

Chapter 50

Lizzy stood by the lifeguard chair and stared up at me as I sat and surveyed the water.

"What?" I asked, giving her a sidelong glance.

"You, you big lug," she said, pointedly, "Look at you up there with your Foster Grants and little red speedo, I think you're trying to drive me crazy."

"Nah," I teased, tugging at the elastic of the little swim suit, "It's just the uniform that comes with the job." As was my habit, I undertook another silent count of little heads bobbing in the water.

Lizzy tugged at her own red suit, straightening the white cross printed over her hip. She and I traded off on guard duty during the busy swim season. Dad had paid for all of us to get Red Cross Water Safety certified. Neal couldn't do it because his asthma kept him from meeting the swim requirements. There were two others from town who worked during the weekends to give us time off, Ted Rodgers and Selena Rodriguez, but we only occasionally saw them.

Ted, an amiable, buff-looking college student in his junior year, took the job mostly to keep his father off of his back about working. Selena was nice enough, she had huge knockers and barely fit into the suit. We noticed that the men-folk among the renters, made it a point to swim when she was working the chair.

"Besides," I shrugged, "Isn't Ted more your type?"

"I must say," Lizzie mused, "He does fill out that speedo quite nicely." I laughed at her as she made a show of running a finger along her collarbone and pulling her hair aside. "But," she continued, "That's pretty much it with Ted. Not much going on upstairs." That much was true, and I nodded my agreement. She motioned me down from the chair, but I sat their stock still; my count was off.

"Hang on a second, Lizzie," I said, scanning the water, I hoped it was only because she distracted me. She was suddenly all business.

"How many should we have Oliver?"

"Sixteen," I reported, "seven girls, nine boys." I put my whistle to my lips and let out long shriek to signal the kids to stand up and walk out of the water. There was a collective groan from the children, but they started to comply. I looked over to Lizzie, who was counting heads now too.

"Shit Oliver, I only see fifteen!" she said, a little panicked. Looking at the children wading in, I saw a shadow beneath the surface about twenty feet from the shore. I grabbed the rescue tube as I launched myself from the chair. "I have all the girls Oliver," Lizzie shouted as I pushed my way into the water, "You're looking for a boy!" I got out to where I thought I had seen the child, but the sun glare off the water meant I couldn't see beneath the surface. The water was up to my chest, so I began to flail with my arms and step around the soft bottom in an attempt to feel for the child.

"Dammit!" I swore, turning around and trying to peer beneath the water. Finally, I stuck my head in and opened my eyes. There, a shadowy bundle lay just beyond my feet. Taking a deep breath, I ducked down, and groped around. Finding a little arm, I seized it and pulled the boy to the surface; he was limp and blue.

Dad, who had heard the alarm whistle, was walking down to the waterfront from the lodge. When he saw me dragging the kid from the water, he began to run towards us, all the while yelling for my mother to call an ambulance. I put the kid down on the beach, just past the water, and turned the limp little boy on his side to clear his airway. One of the girls screamed.

"Oh my God," she exclaimed, "That's Willie Schmidt!" After she said that, I recognized the tow-headed boy, a rough-and-tumble eight-year-old, whose mother was a first time renter. The girl turned and fled before Lizzie could corral her. I had no doubt Willie's mother would soon be on scene.

Turning Willie onto his back, I tilted his head and tried to blow rescue breaths into his lungs. I was met with a large flow of water from his mouth and nose. Spitting into the sand, I turned Willie once more onto his side, tapping him forcefully between his shoulder blades. The fluid abated to a trickle and I tried ventilating him once more, that time with much better success. Feeling no pulse at his neck, I started compressing his chest with the heel of one hand. The minute I started doing that, the other kids seemed to understand what was going on and there began a wave of sobbing and crying. With no response from little Willie, I looked up at Lizzie; I felt like I wanted to cry.

"Keep going Ollie," she encouraged me, "You've got to keep going." I did keep going. It seemed like it took forever, but was probably only 4 minutes or so. My dad was at my side by then, rubbing my back and speaking words of encouragement.

"C'mon Willie," one of the kids in the crowd bleated plaintively. It became a rallying cry for them. Slowly, and with more and more fervor, they began cheering on Willie, who looked like a rag-doll beneath me. Finally, after an eternity, little Willie gave a cough, vomited and began breathing on his own. Willie's color improved immediately, his eyes fluttered and he stared up at me.

"Willie?" I asked, "You in there buddy?" I thought I recognized what Willie was going through, having had the disorienting experience of waking up from a seizure before; I felt it had to be similar. Willie blinked at me, looking very confused. Just then, his mother came shrieking his name as she crossed the lawn, and bolted down to his side. As soon as she fell down next to him, tears streaking her face, Willie turned to look at her, and slowly started to cry. She gathered him up into her arms and swayed him as they both bawled.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and looked to see my father positively beaming at me.

"Son of a gun, Oliver," he grinned, "you did it! You saved that boy's life!" I shook my head, it felt full of cobwebs. Looking, I saw Lizzie, comforting the kids. Parents were starting to run to the waterfront, their worried faces becoming relieved when they counted their children among the unharmed. Neal came down too, he had been helping my mother in the kitchen.

"Let me check him," I said to Mrs. Schmidt. She nodded, pulled Willie's arms from her neck and set him into my arms. I brushed his hair back from his eyes, they still looked somewhat distant, like he wasn't all there. "You okay, Willie?" I asked him. He kept looking around, I could tell he wasn't comprehending much of anything yet. I wondered how long he'd been submerged. It could not have been more than 3 or 4 minutes, I was fairly vigilant about keeping my counts going. In the distance, I heard the wail of several sirens. They were on the other side of the lake, it would be a good ten minutes before they actually arrived. I continued to try to stimulate Willie back to full consciousness. I took a moment to look him over for any injuries, but he didn't have any that I could see.

"I don't understand," Mrs. Schmidt wailed, "You're such a good swimmer Willie, what happened?" Willie looked at her, but he didn't answer. It was clear he could hear her, but he didn't seem to be making much sense out of what she said; he looked puzzled. "Oh my God, he's drooling!" she exclaimed. I looked at his slack-jawed countenance, and wiped away the drool with my thumb, only to have more flow out from his lips. Willie burped noisily, it sounded wet and ominous.

"I think he might vomit again," I said, turning Willie over to rest him on my hands. The kids, who had been inching ever closer to him, scattered like cockroaches as Willie heaved and retched up more water, and what looked like breakfast, into the sand. I looked over to Lizzie, she looked positively green; she never did well with kids barfing. I felt warmth spread across my leg.

"Eew gross," one of girls exclaimed, "He's peeing all over Oliver!"

I cursed silently to myself, not because I was getting pissed on, but because I knew things were not going well for young, Master Willie Schmidt.

"Where is that ambulance Dad?" I grumbled.

"It'll be here soon, Oliver," he reassured me, "Think you can keep him going until then?" I nodded, and kept up my efforts to stimulate Willie by rubbing his back and head.

"Stay with me Willie," I said loudly. Willie turned his head and looked at me, but the thousand yard stare was still there. Reflexively, Willie stuck a finger in his mouth and made a series of unhappy little moans. He looked and acted more like a four year-old than eight.

When the EMT's took Willie from me and dashed off in the ambulance, I stood there to watch it go, feeling very empty. Dad tried to usher Mrs. Schmidt up the beach, toward her cabin, when she turned on me.

"Why weren't you watching him?" She screamed, "You were supposed to be watching him!"

I stared blankly at her, not knowing what to say. A yawning pit of despair opened in my belly and I thought I might fall into it. She was right, of course, I shouldn't have let Lizzy distract me, and it was all my fault. I watched Willie's mother yell and gasp for air. Dad took her arm and moved her away from me, but she continued to berate me from over her. Slowly, I collapsed to my knees into the sand. Lizzie and Neal, who had witnessed Mrs. Schmidt's tirade, came directly to my aid.

"Oliver!" Neal knelt next to me, "Are you okay?" I didn't answer him, I just shook my head as I pressed my palms into my eyes. I wasn't crying, I was too numb to cry. Or was I? I'm not sure because with the way I was breathing, long, ragged sighs, I may well have been crying, but it was weird. My nerves buzzed and sparked, and felt agitated and twitchy.

"Neal, go get his Mom," she said quietly, "Go now."

I pulled my hands away from my face and rested them on my thighs.

"Oh my God Lizzie," I breathed, "I don't know what to do!" I stood and paced the waterfront. The crowd of kids had dispersed, their parents taking them back to their respective cabins. Lizzie stood close next to me and stared up into my eyes.

"Oliver, listen to me," she said sternly, "You just saved that little boy's life."

"But, I let it happen," I sighed, "it was all my fault. I shouldn't have taken my eyes off the water."

"No Oliver," she shook my shoulder, "Seriously, I watched you, you did absolutely everything right."

Neal came down with my mother, who was wiping her hands on her apron. Her presence was very much a balm to my jangled nerves. I still felt like I needed to bolt and run for miles, but less so when she showed up.

"Hey Ollie," she spoke softly to me, brushing my hair from my brow, "Let's get you back into the house and get you showered, okay?"

I looked down at her, and then realized I stunk of pee and puke. I elected to dip myself in the lake for a moment, just to rinse off; I didn't want to track that into the house with me. The water felt good, and seemed to wash away some of my nervous energy. Walking back to the house with Mom and Neal, I felt less crazed. Several people stopped me along the way, and shook my hand, thanking me for saving Willie. That was nice of them, but doubt still lingered in the back of my mind. The scene replayed in my mind over and over again as I tried to figure out what I could have done to prevent it.

Shortly before dinner, Dad came and told me that he'd received a phone call from Willie's mother at the hospital to say that Willie was doing poorly, and they weren't sure if the little guy was going to make it. My heart sank. The unexpected applause I got when I walked into the Lodge at dinner time, didn't make things any better. I sat with Lizzie and Neal, who did their best to be bright, talky and encouraging. I only picked at my food, and ultimately fled, retreating to my room to lay on my bed and wish the world away for a while.

That night, both Neal and Lizzie flanked me on the bed. It was a little cramped, but having them both there to comfort me, really helped my state of mind. Neither of them said anything much, they knew that's not what I needed. I did not sleep well, but in the morning, strangely, I felt much better. I kissed both of them, in turn, good-morning. They each smiled at me.

"Ugh," Lizzie said, "Sleeping in your clothes sucks, I feel absolutely weird and gross."

"Me too," said Neal, promptly dropping his duds without any thought of modesty whatsoever. Lizzie grinned and threw a towel at him.

"Go on into the shower then, Mr. Nudist," she chuckled, "before I am obligated to jump your bones!" Neal swung hips, waggled his dick at her and stuck out his tongue before dashing across the hall into the bathroom. I couldn't help but laugh, my boy was shameless.

"I guess I better join him," I shrugged.

"Yeah, you two have your fun, I'm going run to the Lodge, take a shower and get some clean clothes on," she giggled, "I'll see you at breakfast."

After Lizzie departed, I slipped into the hot shower behind Neal. We both cleaned each other up, but not much else happened. Having not eaten well the day before, I was close to starved. Mom had scheduled chocolate-chip pancakes for that morning, and I was not going to miss out on those.

Whatever relief I felt that morning, quickly evaporated when I walked into the Lodge and Mr. Schmidt, a huge line-backer sized fellow, recognized me and stood. The muscles in his jaw clenched, and his hands were balled into fists; I pulled up short when I saw this, bracing myself. Instead of hitting me, he let out a strangled sound and swept me into a crushing bear-hug. I'm sure my face must have telegraphed my confusion. Other adults stood around us, offering soft words of encouragement. Mr. Schmidt finally let me go and took my face in gentle hands and kissed me on the forehead.

"I just wanted to express how deeply grateful I am to you for saving my boy," he said, his voice quaky and tremulous. He didn't let my face go, but kept looking into my eyes.

"Is... is he okay?" I asked, worried for the answer.

"He has pneumonia from the water in his lungs," Mr. Schmidt said, "and it was touch and go for a lot of the night, but he seems to have turned the corner this morning."

"Thank Jesus," I heard my mother say; she was there among them.

"His color is much better, is breathing is fine and he was asking for something to eat. I think he's going to be alright."

There was a burst of applause, and much to my acute embarrassment, somebody started up with "For he's a jolly-good fellow..." I would have crawled under a rock had there been one nearby.

"Also, my wife asked me to send along her apologies, she was..."

"It's fine," I said firmly, "I understand."

"Well, at any rate," he continued, "she'll probably want to talk to you soon." I didn't relish the thought, the current attention from everybody didn't suit me very well. If the meeting were at least private, maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

"We have a genuine hero in our midst this morning," Mr. Schmidt said, turning to my father, "You should be proud of your son."

"Yes sir," my father smiled broadly, "of that, you may rest assured, I surely am."

Epilogue

I love the glassine look of the lake in the stillness of the early morning. After our run, Neal and I plop ourselves down on the porch of our home and enjoy the listening to the soulful cries of the distant loons. Soon, the great lodge down the drive will be bustling with children and their counselors, clamoring for their breakfast before hurtling off to their daily activities. For the moment, we are content to just be there, shoulder to shoulder, knee against knee.

I still find myself staring at Neal. Though manhood long ago filled out his frame, his angular face retains a handsome, boyish softness. His raven-black hair still stands out starkly against his complexion, so much so that people often insist that, at his age, he must be coloring it. I assure such busy-bodies, that he does not. Certainly, when and if his hair starts to turn gray, he won't give a tinker's cuss about it. Neal makes whatever he wears look good, whether it's our favored flannels, or the tuxedo he wore when we were finally able to be legally married in the State of New York.

Neal brings me tea in the morning, preferring coffee himself; I find my eyes wandering down to the delicious looking bump in this running shorts. He smiles, and shakes his head in bemusement.

"You're incorrigible," he says, his lopsided smile makes me smile too. We settle in next to one another in that easy familiarity of the long-married, even if only recently official.

A tall, willowy, red-headed young man of twenty-two, holding his own mug of coffee, strolls out onto the porch where Neal and I are sitting; he's right on schedule.

"Hey Dad," he says, bending over to kiss me on the top of my head as he waves brightly to Neal, "Good morning Poppa!"

"Good morning Coop," Neal chuckles warmly, "What's on your agenda for today?"

That's Cooper, our oldest, and our only biological child. It's a long story, and I may tell it one day, but the short of it is that Lizzie Talbot (nee Barnstable), having born a litter of her own five boys and one girl, offered herself up to us both as a surrogate. We found a doctor who allowed me and Neal to mix our sperm. At the time, Lizzie joked that it was the closest she'd ever get to bed either one of us. Luckily, the procedure "took" immediately, and after an uncomplicated pregnancy, Cooper came squalling into the world.

There could be no doubt which one of our swimmers caught up to Lizzie's egg, but to look at him, you would swear to see elements of the both of us. He favored me in height, his soft, red hair and freckles, but his athletic build, squared shoulders and piercing eyes could just as easily be from Neal. Actually, you could say that about the rest of our children; even though they are all adopted from disparate families, each one looks like they sprouted from the same family tree.

"I've got a staff meeting after breakfast, and then I'll be running the high-ropes course today." During his summers off from college, Cooper ran the camp staff like a seasoned professional. Most of them were recent, or near-to, high school grads working during the seven week summer camp season, and they did everything from cooking, to grounds maintenance, to cabin turnover, minor and major repairs to buildings and plumbing; in short, everything that needs to be done to keep a summer camp running.

At Cooper's insistence, we installed the high-ropes course amidst the tallest trees on the property, which included various (and vertiginous) horizontal and vertical challenges. Cooper had scouted several other summer camps to get ideas for Laurelwood, and high-ropes was one of those high-adventure options that appealed to him. The company that designed and installed the course, also trained Cooper and several members of our staff, on how to safely run all the various ropes, pulleys, turnbuckles, carabiners and safety harnesses. The company also sends experts to inspect the facility every year before campers even arrive. It is all very confusing to me, and while Neal is also trained and has conquered the most challenging elements, I could never bring myself to do it. The campers love it, so it was a good investment.

Camp Laurelwood was Neal's idea. After my father died, leaving the property to me, I briefly considered parceling it out, and selling most of it off. There were some very serious offers from developers who wanted to raze the place and either build some kind of chic mountain resort getaway, or build some ridiculously large estate on the lakefront. Some of the neighbors caught wind of those ideas and made a point of telling me how they felt. They need not have worried, I never gave any of those offers more than a moment's consideration. Instead, Neal and I took to renovating the big structures, such as the lodge, tearing down some of the oldest cabins, which sadly, included our little hunter's cabin, and building a series of seasonal cabins, as well as several more winterized buildings across the 120 acre property. Neal drew up the papers and, "Viola!", Camp Laurelwood was born.

Camp Laurelwood operates year-round, but is most active during the summer. We resurrected Christmas-in-the-Pines, but renamed it the "Adirondack Family Christmas", which somehow seems easier to sell. Lizzie and her brood come and help with that one. The camp is transformed into a cheery, snowy, Christmas village and a few years we started offering horse-drawn sleigh rides along the lake road and around a dedicated trail cut through the woods. It has become very popular. This, and various other retreats, sometimes sponsored by churches whose members often travel quite a distance, help to keep our little venture profitable. Cooper is full of ideas, and he already knows well how to run the place. When Neal and I retire in, perhaps, about ten years or so, he'll be more than able to keep the business going.

The twins, Hunter and Clayton, emerge yawning and stretching. We adopted them at the age of two, when Cooper was nine. Typical 15 year-olds, vacillating between brooding and goofy, they are nonetheless, a joy to both of us. This morning they are quiet, content to sit with "the fam" and be chill. Clayton is the hands-on, electro-mechanical savant of the family. He can tear down a motor and put it all back together again. Anything electronic is his playground, as evidenced by the neat bench kept on his side of the twin's bedroom. There, Clay has fabricated crystal radios, erector-set robots and repaired more than one household appliance.

Hunter's interests run toward the arts. A tremendous artist, he spends every spare minute working on a graphic novel he outlined and wrote. Each panel flows easily into the next as his hero, a beaten down boy learns about his amazing, as yet hidden, powers. Hunter's drawings of his wide-eyed moppet protagonist, remind me of the irascible Brian Coopersmith, after whom Cooper is named. The same Brian Coopersmith for whom the tree and bench in the middle of memory grotto is named. We call it "Brian's Tree"; campers and staff alike, go there to sit and reflect when they need a moment away from the bustle of camp.

Sadly it's true, our dear Brian is gone. Not in a grisly helicopter crash such as that which killed Peter Gilbert, or in an alcoholic stupor the way Eddie Parnell left us. Brian's ending was one of the saddest chapters it has ever been my honor to endure in this short life. It is a story for another day, if I can ever bring myself to tell it. I am grateful that my boys knew him and when the mood strikes me, I'll often regale them of tales of the sweet boy who lit up our lives every summer and Christmas at the lake.

I may go and visit with him in the grotto today, maybe after lunch.

Finally, our newest addition totters over, still dressed in his footy pajamas. Fletcher is carrying his favorite board book, one corner of which has been gnawed to soft, colorless gristle. His unruly mop of blonde hair points every which way, reminding me that I need to take him to the barber soon. Fletch entered the world, falling limply from his dying mother, thrust into my waiting hands while her obstetrician tried desperately to save her. My neonate team and I worked on him for several hours before he stabilized, finally turning from dusky blue to a hale and hearty pink, with a lusty cry. When he was well enough to be discharged, Neal and I took him into our home. We had not planned on adopting another child, but once little Fletch came to us, we could never have given him up.

I guess I forgot to mention that I am a doctor; is that terribly surprising? When Neal and I volunteered together for the Navy, our respective paths diverged dramatically. I took advantage of the terrific medical training offered, while Neal's schooling took him to running reactor plants of ocean going vessels, which shall remain unnamed. We both re-enlisted once, and then after the Gulf War, both ended up assigned to the Support base in Saratoga Springs where Neal served as an instructor for the training reactor, while I watched over the general health of the staff and family members in the medical clinic.

My medical specialty started out in neonatology, yes the Navy does have neonatologists, but has lately shifted to general pediatrics. After the local pediatrician moved away, I took over her practice and moved it to a purpose-built cabin on the outskirts of the camp. This building serves as the health center and main office for Camp Laurelwood, allowing me to stick close to home and the kids. Frankly, I am grateful for the more subdued pace of private practice, now that I'm a little older. The campers refer to me as "Doc Barrett", or mostly, just "Doc".

After leaving active service with the Navy, Neal returned to school to get his JD. He maintains a small law office in town, in a comely little colonial cottage near the center green. An unpretentious sign hangs out front that reads, "Neal Farrell, Esq., Attorney at Law". He enjoys keeping up with the locals' needs for "torts and wills and probate, oh my!" as he likes to joke. His father Ned, with whom he reconciled a few years after passing the Bar, lives locally too, having retired to the region to be closer to his only son.

Terry still lives on the grounds, keeping my mother company in the cabin I grew up in. They'll be moving to a new cabin we're building just for them, single level, no stairs to climb. Once they're moved in to the new home, we'll renovate the old place, and make it ready for renting to guests. The older cabins, with their sturdy log construction, tall, stone fireplaces and lofts, are always popular and never lay fallow during the busy, second half of the summer, after the camp program has culminated.

Fletcher climbs into Neal's lap, his eyes sparkling with mischief. He likes to take off Neal's glasses and put them on, the lenses making his eyes look even larger and more owlish than they already are.

"How about we wander on down for some breakfast for everyone?" says Neal. There is general agreement as Cooper swoops in and carries the protesting, giggling Fletcher off with him. As my family files down the stairs, towards the Lodge to eat with the campers, I pause once more to breathe in the morning air, gaze out over the property, and look at the water glittering on lake.

To be sure, I couldn't be any happier.

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