I’m up at the lake, barefoot most of the day, ready to wade or hop into a kayak at a moment’s notice. At night, I curl up atop a homemade quilt and read to the sound of lapping water.
Emilie Loring read all summer, too. Her shelves were stocked with aspirational reading, and she signed and dated each one as she finished it.
There is no shortage of books in our summer cottage. Some were my grandmother’s, some my parents’, and some were left behind by who-knows-who. I’ve been coming here since I was four, and I don’t think I could ever work my way through all of the stories here.
Emilie said that story ideas “come from everywhere.”
“I’ve been doing some village visiting and each family suggested a story.” Give Me One Summer
Her habit of turning real-life events into story elements started before her, with her father, George Melville Baker. This article appeared in the newspaper when Emilie was eight. “Bessie,” of course, is Emilie.
Later, her father wrote “Summer Days,” which wove the girls’ fair into a story about summer and two little girls who devise a plan:
Oh, how delightful it was to be leaving the hot city with all its noise and dust, and how sorry Alice felt for all the people she met who were obliged to remain behind. Although the morning was cool, the day which followed was sure to be warm and uncomfortable.
The ride in the cars was long and dusty, to be sure, but who cared for that when there was something so delightful to look forward to at the end?
And it did not seem so very long after all, for there was so much to talk about, and there were so many plans to make for the summer, that before they knew it the conductor called out “Sandy Shore,” and they were at their summer home.
There was the old stage waiting at the station. In a few minutes all were comfortably seated, and off they went.
Oh, what rejoicings there were to be at home again, for the children always persisted in calling their country place home, and their house in the city as a sort of place where they must work and improve as much as possible.
The children ran about from room to room to see if there were any changes, but first of all they had to pay a visit to the stable, where they found Wrinkles, the old mastiff, basking in the sun, little dreaming that his friends were so near. When he heard their voices and saw them before him, his joy knew no bounds. He jumped up, and nearly overturned them in his joy at seeing them again.
Then, when he was convinced of their presence, he would not let them out of his sight, but followed them about everywhere. Everything had to be inspected; every room in the house had to be gone into; every corner of the stable must be looked at; and the dear old hay loft, where so many happy hours had been passed, could certainly not be neglected. And what should they find up there but Mistress Tab, with five of the prettiest kittens you ever saw. And what did they all do but march down stairs after the children, and walk into the house to show themselves to Mrs. Grey.
Then the boats had to be examined to see whether they leaked after the long winter drying. They were discovered to be in good condition, and while Wrinkles ran along the banks the children roved about, having such a delightful time that they could scarcely believe it could be so late when supper was announced.
The days went on happily till the time arrived when Susy Lee was expected. Then of course Alice was doubly happy. Although she was not one of those silly girls who cannot find pleasure in the society of her younger brothers and sisters, she was of course delighted to have a girl of her own age to play with. So on the day that Susy came she was, of course, quite excited. She and Janet and Harry went about collecting flowers, so that the house might look bright and pleasant when the family should arrive.
So Susy came, and then began the good times in earnest. The children took long walks in the woods and lanes, with Wrinkles for a guide and protector, and many were the curiosities they brought back from their rambles.
One day as they were walking along over a road which they had never taken before, Susy suddenly exclaimed:
“See, there is a little house. I am so glad, for I am dreadfully thirsty. I didn’t say anything about it before, for it was of no use when there was no water near by, but now I can get a drink. Come.”
So the children ran on till they came to the hut, and knocking at the back door they waited quietly for it to be opened.
But no answer came to their rapping, so Susy lifted the latch and peeped cautiously in. She started back in a minute, however, exclaiming:
“Alice, there is a little girl in there sitting on the floor and crying like everything. What shall I do? Would you go in or would you go away?”
“Let us go in by all means. The poor child may be in trouble, and, if so, we may be able to help her.”
So the children opened the door, and Alice walked quietly towards the girl. At first she was so absorbed by her grief that she did not hear any footsteps, but suddenly, being conscious that some one else was in the room, she started to her feet, and, drying her eyes upon the corner of her apron, she exclaimed:
“Oh! I beg your pardon, miss; I did not hear any one. Can I do anything for you?”
“We came in search of a drink of water,” said Alice, “and seeing you in trouble we came in, hoping we should be able to do something to help you.”
“How kind you are,” said Sarah, for that was her name. “Indeed I am in sore need of help, but I do not see how I can get it.”
“What is it that troubles you,” said Susy.
“Why, you see,” said Sarah, “mother and I live here by ourselves since father died, which is going on five years now. Well, what with his long sickness and being out of work, we got into debt. After he died mother and I, we worked awful hard. We paid up a little each year until we got even again. But it wore poor mother out, for she did the bulk of everything, and now she has an awful cough, and is so bad she has to stay in bed nearly all day. All our money is gone now, and I can’t get food for her, and how can she get strong again without it? I could earn something if I could get out, but I can’t leave her; and my clothes are so ragged that I can’t bear to be seen. I thought I would cook a couple of potatoes, but I just took out the basket and found that there were only these bad ones left. I never lost my courage before,” she added, “for when we could work together we were bright and cheerful, but it is clean gone now.” And though the poor child tried to smile she failed, and, bursting into tears, she cried as if her heart would break.
“Sarah,” called a feeble voice from a little room near by, “Sarah, whom are you talking to?”
“Yes, mother,” said Sarah; “I’ll come in in one minute.”
So she took down a tumbler from a shelf, and after giving Alice and Susy some water she went into her mother’s room.
While she was gone Alice and Susy looked at each other for a few minutes in silence, then Alice spoke.
“Susy,” she said, “we must do something at once; it is too dreadful to think of.”
When Sarah came back Susy said to her:
“Cannot the neighbors do anything for you?”
“We have not any near neighbors,” said Sarah; “and besides they do not know anything about us. Mother and I only moved here a little while ago, and we don’t like people to know of our troubles.”
“Well,” said Alice, “there is one thing very certain, you must go home with me and get a basket of provisions. After you have had something to eat we can decide what to do.”
“Oh, thank you so much,” said Sarah, gratefully; “but—but—”
“I don’t see how I can leave mother alone. She has to be looked after all the time, and yet, oh, I should be so glad to see her eat a good meal.”
“I will stay with your mother,” said Susy, “and will take good care of her, too; so run along.”
Sarah put on her hat, and, walking along by Alice’s side, she told her about her past life. Her father had been a ship-carpenter. While health and strength lasted he had plenty to do, but when troubles came people became tired of helping them. Money was borrowed, and bills had to be run up, and at last came his death and the expenses consequent upon it.
Since then they had been trying in every way to pay their debts, and had gone on very well. Their house was larger than they needed, and they had at last resolved to move to an adjoining village, and into a smaller house. They knew that at Sandy Shore there were many families spending the summer, and Mrs. Thompson hoped to get washing or sewing.
But her strength would not hold out forever, and the poor overworked woman broke down at last.
Alice and Sarah walked quickly on, taking the road close to the beach because it was not only shorter but pleasanter. The clouds were gathering apparently for a storm, and the birds flew back and forth as if uncertain whether to seek shelter or to stay out and face the tempest.
Mr. Grey’s cottage was soon reached, and leaving Sarah in the kitchen, with instructions to the cook to give her a good meal, Alice flew into the house to find her mother. Of course Mrs. Grey was shocked to hear such a dreadful story, and at once ordered a good basketful of provisions to be prepared for Sarah to take home.
“Mamma,” said Alice, “I was thinking that Susy and I might raise some money to take care of Sarah and her mother. Don’t you think we ought first to call in a doctor to see Mrs. Thompson?”
“By all means,” said Mrs. Grey. “If she is not so ill but that good care and proper food may restore her to health, there will be great encouragement to provide what we can for her. If, on the other hand, she is not likely to recover, some provision ought to be made for Sarah, and the mother must be made comfortable while she lives.”
“If we only had more time,” said Alice, “we might get up a fair.”
“Why not furnish lemonade and cake,” said Mrs. Grey, “then invite all our friends in the place to come over. We can provide amusements for them. You have a good many out-of-door games, tennis, croquet, archery; get them all out and let everybody use them, but have it understood that each person must spend something in lemonade and cake. You might have a series of afternoons like that, and in that way you could aid a great deal, I am sure.”
“Oh, mamma,” exclaimed Alice, “that is just the thing. I must fly back and tell Susy.”
“Very well,” said Mrs. Grey. “You had better stop at Dr. Pool’s and ask him to go over and see the poor woman. And tell him I should be very glad if he could come here soon afterwards, and let me know what he thinks of her case.”
So Alice, after sending Sarah off with a message to Susy, to come to her house as soon as possible, “as she had something very particular to say,” ran in the opposite direction to Dr. Pool’s house.
Dr. Pool lived in a very pretty house not far from Mr. Grey’s, although it was quite a distance back from the ocean. There were some beautiful old trees growing near the house, and behind it there was a small pond of freshwater. As Alice drew near the house she saw Patrick just driving the doctor’s horses down for a drink.
“Good!” exclaimed Alice. “There are the horses, that means that Dr. Pool is at home.”
So Alice ran to the door, and rang the bell. It was answered by Nettie Pool, the doctor’s oldest daughter.
Netty was a lovely girl, and was a great favorite with every one. When Alice saw her she said, “Oh, Netty, I have something very particular to tell you, but first I must attend to business.”
“That sounds very solemn,” said Netty, laughing; “but do come inside while you tell me what that wonderful business is.”
“My business is with your father,” said Alice; “is he at home?”
Netty said he was in his office, so Alice went in and delivered the message from her mother. She told him exactly where the woman lived, and about all the trouble they had had.
“I am going over in that direction,” said the doctor, “in about two hours, and I will then call and see her, and let your mother know her condition.”
“That is beautiful,” said Alice. “Now I can go back and talk to Netty.”
The children had a long talk over their plans and Netty said she should be delighted to help them in it, and to have one of the lemonade tables.
“You might come back and take tea with me,” said Alice, “and we can talk it over. Why, there is Susy now; how nice that is! Let’s hurry on, and overtake her.”
So Susy was soon with them, and they had an opportunity to talk the whole affair over as they walked slowly home.
There was a great deal to be done in preparation for this “lemonade fête,” as the children called it, and for several days the three girls were very busy. There were invitations to be written, a big tent to be put up, the games, which had not been used since last summer, to be looked over, besides countless little things which always arise to be done at such a time.
But at last the eventful day arrived, and everything was ready. The three girls stood under the tent in breathless excitement waiting for their expected guests.
“Oh, I wonder if any one will come,” said Alice, “and I wonder how much we shall make! I do think everything looks lovely.”
“I hope every one else will think so, and will leave their money behind in proportion to their admiration,” said Susy.
“Surely some one ought to be coming by this time,” said Netty.
“There, there, look! I see those two little Brice children coming along,” said Alice. “I suppose they will want some cake. Come on, my young friends; come and get some lemonade. No matter if you do cry all night with colic, it will be tears shed in a good cause.”
“Oh, Alice, how silly you are,” said Susy, laughing. “I suppose Mrs. Brice is just behind, and has stopped to talk to some one at the gate. She will take good care that no colic follows this festive scene.”
“Yes, you are right,” said Netty. “See! there comes a crowd of ladies and gentlemen. Oh, dear, my heart is thumping so; I do wish it would stop.”
But although the three girls were having their fun all by themselves, they looked very demure to the people who came to take lemonade at their tables. They stood quietly waiting, with their fresh muslin dress, dainty white aprons with pink ribbon bows on the pockets. Soon people began to come in crowds, and there was amusement for every one. Those who liked archery found bows and arrows waiting for them; those who liked croquet had only to pick out their mallets and begin a game. The tennis balls flew back and forth, and even the older ladies found comfortable chairs in the shade of tents or arbors where they could chat away the afternoon. As for the little people who came there was no end to their fun. They played “oats, peas, beans,” and tag and every sort of delightful game.
But the best of all was to see the cake and lemonade disappear. Again and again the plates were filled with cake, and the pitchers with lemonade, only to be emptied and refilled.
When the pleasant party was about to break up, Dr. Pool stood up and asked the people to give him their attention for a few minutes.
So every one listened, and he told them the story of poor Mrs. Thompson and her brave struggle with poverty. “My little friends tell me,” said he, “that they have made ten dollars this afternoon.
“My kind little friends, Alice and Susy and Netty, have confided to me that they would like very much to take upon themselves the support of this family. You see, if we can just keep her mind easy and give her good food for a few weeks, she will get up and be as strong as ever, I think. But she is in a bad way now, and unless care is taken of her at the present time it will be too late.
“It has been suggested that we should have one of these delightful lemonade parties every Saturday for a few weeks, and so raise money enough to keep Mrs. Thompson until she is able to support herself.”
But suddenly a scream was heard, and everyone ran in the direction of the sound, and what do you think they saw?
Mrs. Martin had come in the afternoon, but being obliged to go home early, she had left her two little girls, promising to send the nurse for them. The children consequently played around, enjoying themselves immensely, until looking up suddenly they saw their nurse approaching.
“There’s Elise,” whispered Nannie. “Oh, I don’t want to go home.”
“We’se better hide,” said Freddy.
“I don’t see any place to hide,” said Nannie.
“Let’s dit up on dis fence,” said Freddy, “and turn our backs, and she will never see us.”
So the children climbed up, and sat very still with their backs turned towards Elise.
Of course they were discovered, and the scream of disappointment followed. They insisted that it was too early to go, and that they wanted to stay. But at last they were coaxed into going pleasantly, and then one after another of the party said good-bye, and the lawn was soon cleared of guests.
It must have been so fun to grow up with a father who wrote his children into stories in which they were the stars. When Emilie wrote family events into her own stories later, I wonder if it brought her closer to her dad and those early memories.
I’ll think more about this later, but right now, the lake is calling, and tonight is the second of three nights of fireworks over the water. Enjoy the Fourth, and happy summer reading!