If you had asked me that morning, I don’t think I could have told you what Possum Kingdom State Park looked like. I knew from family lore that I had been there, that we all had, on several occasions. I have so many memories of camping with my family throughout my childhood, so I didn’t doubt the validity of the claim. But I just couldn’t conjure the place in my memory. It was so long ago.
“If this is supposed to be Possum Kingdom, where are all the possums?” Dad asks, laughing at himself. We groan. We’ve heard that one before. “They’re nocturnal,” my sister says matter-of-factly. “That’s why you never see them.”
As we drive through the gates to the park, the memories begin to creep in. I recognize that camp store, and the playground out front. I’ve swung in those swings. I’ve walked on these paths. Driving past the cabins, I remember so vividly that early morning when a deer came down out of the hills, came right up to me as I stood so still in the fog, holding out a handful of Fritos. I thought I’d never forget the moment that deer ate out of my hand. But I haven’t thought about that in years.
“You fed a deer Fritos?” My brother the nature expert exclaims in condemning disbelief when I recall the memory. “Why would you do that?” Like an eight year old city-slicker should know better.
As we come upon the swimming beach at the lakefront, I’m flooded with the memories of swimming in that opaque brown Texas water with my siblings and cousins. So many times we swam in that lake, camping with the family for the weekend or even just on a day trip. The park is only a 45 minute drive from town, after all, the town where my mother grew up, the town we’re visiting again this weekend for my cousin’s wedding.
It’s only 90 degrees today. Warm, but not unpleasant in my shorts and t-shirt. I stand by the shore as I watch and listen to the children laughing in the lake, squealing as they push each other under. Familiar sounds. Mom lays out the blanket she got from the trunk, and we place our things on top, marking the spot as ours. Then we wade out into the lake. We didn’t bring swimsuits, or a picnic, or even anything to drink. We just came on a whim. So now we’re standing here in our bare feet among the muck and the reeds, letting the water cool our toes. We’re all together. Mom, Dad, Zach, Katy, and me, the firstborn. We stand there at the mouth of the lake together quietly remembering the times we’ve shared in that same spot many years ago.
People say places change. But nothing looks different. Everything feels the same as it did the day my bathing suit snapped in the back and I just covered up with a t-shirt and kept on swimming. We haven’t been here since Katy was probably eight or nine. Twelve years at least. Her own memories are vague, but she knows where she is. We all do. Our bodies know and recognize this place.
We make our way to the blanket where we lay down on our backs at odd angles, heads together, staring up at the bright blue sky and the hot sun. We tell stories. We laugh. We remember and smile. It’s so nice out here we could all doze off I’m sure. But the afternoon is waning and Lindsey will be getting married at the church in a few hours. We should leave. We need to shower and get ready. But I wish we could stay here forever.
People say people change. But we feel the same to me. We’re five adults now, but in my mind we’ll always be Mom, Dad, and the three kids. It’s a bittersweet feeling, laying on that blanket and listening to the sounds of my family’s breathing and laughing. These are my people, the ones I am so connected to by blood and DNA and personality traits and history and memories. I live far away now. I forget what it’s like to come home. We are inextricable from each other. It’s a rare thing for us all five to be together, without spouses, or partners, or extended family, or friends. Just us. Us as we’ve been together a thousand times in restaurants, at home, camping, road tripping. Just us as we are right now in this moment. And it can’t last forever. It makes me sad. And yet I’m also so very happy.