By Cindy Wiggins Tapia

My summers would’ve been less a hell had my parents been Ward and June Cleaver, or had the Army Corps of Engineers built the dam and its Lake Lanier reservoir higher on the Hooch–say,  in Union County…

When the bell rang at the end of the school year, I fled the building like an inmate breaking out of death row.  

I dreamed of attending the 4-H summer camp at Rock Eagle, but was content with the odd week in Tennessee, picnics and swimming at the Buford Church of God Campgrounds in Doraville, and what fun I could dig up around Btown.

Susan Dollar and I made good use of the library’s reading club, and the board games Mrs. Foreman kept handy. We haunted the cosmetic counter at Jay’s, flipped through comics at Garner’s, bought popcorn at Fambro’s–or ice cream cones at Simpson’s down the street–and dreamed on toys at Allen’s Five and Ten.  

Other days we wandered around my backyard, eating grass, talking about boys and the end of the world, or regaling the hood with football cheers. We wove potholders and peddled them door-to-door for twenty-five cents a pop. Mrs. Foreman always bought a couple, and I know Mrs. Cain bought at least one. We blew the money on Cokes, Baby Ruths, and Doublemint gum at Shoemake’s.  My dream was to open a candy stand on Hill Street. We’d buy nickel candy bars and sell them for twenty-five cents each.

Then came the used speedboat and the tent, and my family spent every weekend and two weeks during Fourth of July on Lake Lanier. I spent those days floating around a cove, pretending I was on a sailboat, talking to an invisible guy, or crouched down somewhere in fear and loathing.

We lived in a dump; daddy drove a junk, but they traded the V-hull boat for a brand new W-hull, bought a camper, portable oven for biscuits, griddle for pancakes, and every kind of doohickey, doofer, and doodad they could max their credit cards out on. It was like being homeless with hardware–or amid props for their violent fight scenes.

One bout sticks out. We camped out with friends on an island off what eventually became West Bank Park. We girls ate and went to sleep to a hoedown of picking and drinking and woke to a screaming nightmare.

Mama had caught Daddy walking on the beach with another woman and flew into a rage. She slung mud on them to get even, as you do. And for kicks and giggles, she threw an innocent man’s guitar in the lake. Finally, Daddy got muddied up enough, cranked up the boat, and lit out with the guests, leaving Mama, my two sisters, and me alone on that little island.  

He came back later that morning, tied the boat down, and flopped on the beach, fast asleep in a pouring silver rain.

“Cindy, go wake him up. I hate his guts, but I don’t want him to get pneumonia.”

“No!” I said point blank, glaring down through the bushes at him. At that moment–and for years to come–it did not matter to me what happened to him. I was a traumatized ten-year-old fresh out of cares for my own daddy.

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