by Miv Schaaf

"Aren't we going to have the Hoffmasters over for dinner now?"

We were coming home from their cottage on the east shore of Higgins Lake. Marc and I had had a good time. We had not expected to because Mother had made dinner at the Hoffmasters' sound like an ordeal, too important to be fun, but to our surprise, once there we found they were ordinary people after all.

The dinner was hot dogs and corn on the cob and afterward their two children shed a few years, becoming as young as we, and ran down to show us their dock and rowboat and we played there until we had to go home. Their lake shore was flatter than ours and went straight for quite a ways before it curved out again. As night came in, the flatter shore flattened the sounds, too; the loons' cries pierced our minds, but didn't stab our souls as they did on our own north shore.

But it seemed that we were not going to ask the Hoffmasters for dinner. Impossible, clearly impossible; our cottage was too small, just not nearly as big as theirs.

Cottage too small? What did that have to do with it? Weren't we inviting them to see our private part of the lake -- the taller, paler, green moss by the cold stream, the birch tree that leaned way down over the sand, maybe even the blueberries that grew higher up when you went down almost to the west road? Wasn't that why they would be coming: to see a wider slice of life, another triangle of meaning? What did food and furniture have to do with it?

The kerosene stove was too little to cook a real dinner, Mother said, her profile paled by the black leather seat of the old Buick.

How about bacon sandwiches? No one could make better bacon sandwiches, and we could toast marshmallows; our fireplace was the best for toasting marshmallows.

No, no. One did not serve sandwiches at dinner. Funny, we had them for dinner all the time and always to cheers.

"But, but -- can't they come?"

No, it was impossible, impossible to have the Hoffmasters to dinner. Mr. Hoffmaster was, after all, Father's superior -- Mother never said boss -- and things had to be done properly.

"But then" -- only now the full weight of what we were denying them fell in upon me -- "then we can't show them our lake!"

"But it's the same lake!"

"But it's not the same!" For no moss grew quite the way ours did down by the pond, no cold stream gurgled in quite the way ours did, no path was like our path, changing as it went downhill from feldspar gravel through the raspberry bushes to blacker and softer dirt to juicy black mulch (going past the pond) to moss to wood chips to brown cedar needles to sand to -- the lake!

The stars hung differently over our hill. Why, we were denying the Hoffmasters a glimpse of life itself -- what matter that they lived in a bigger cottage with their own boat and dock, that they had real carpets and not grass mats on the floor, that they even had a regular stove -- we were depriving them of riches we could share. We were being stingy for no reason I could see.

"Can't we --."

"No, we are not going to, so we won't talk anymore about it."

My mother, forever unexplained, holds the spray of goldenrod Mrs. Hoffmaster has given her in one beautifully thin hand, the other restless as always on her knee. She looks ahead into the road that, fast as my father parts it with the yellow headlights, seals itself into blackness behind us.


Miv Schaaf, a resident of Big Lagoon, wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 15 years.

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