It's a dangerous night to be walking outside. Not for me, but for the tiny little frogs that dot the gravel road. I swish my overpowered Surefire flashlight across the dark gravel trying to avoid stepping on them. When I get close they freeze in their tracks, making them harder to see. This would be a good reflex if I was trying to eat them, but it's working against them tonight.
I'm walking down to the beach for old times' sake. It's 2am and I'm in Milton, Vermont. Calling it a beach is generous. Shale rocks densely scattered over green outcroppings of weeds lead up to murky water. There are a few docks and a few boats pulled up out of the water. They're not locked to anything - they're just sitting there.
I crouch, pick up one of the little green frogs, and watch him slowly climb around my wrist as I rotate it. I probably haven't touched a frog in ten years. Playing with frogs used to be my favorite thing to do when I was in Vermont. I liked to catch them in a bucket and then empty it into the nearby creek and watch them swim away. Sometimes we'd throw them in the air so that they'd land in the lake. That seems a bit inhumane now, but we didn't know better back then. We were kids. I lower my arm to the ground and nudge the frog off of my wrist.
Most of my childhood memories are a blur. I remember going door to door in my neighborhood selling tickets to the fair that I was putting on. The main event was a miniature golf course I dug in my parent's back yard. I had to shut the fair down a few days later because some of the other kids were eating all the candy prizes.
I remember Keely Schmidt, the girl I had a crush on in third grade. My undeveloped heart was broken when, on a ski trip, her best friend told me that Keely wanted to date my best friend. I think that, in title only, she was my girlfriend for a day or two.
But most of what I remember is Vermont. Every summer we'd make the four hour drive, which seemed like an eternity, from Andover, Massachusetts up to Milton, Vermont, where my grandparents lived.
At the same time my eight cousins would visit, too. Two girls and six boys. Mike, Greg, Jennifer, Mandy, James, Travis, Andrew, Brian.
My grandparents' main house had started as a trailer at some point, but my grandfather was a carpenter and he built a small house around it. It was built on top of a large hill looking over lake Champlain. Down the front of the hill, towards the beach, was a narrow sandy trail that we would run down at full speed.
Down the trail and up another hill was a cabin. It was built in 1929 by my great grandfather, who I barely remember. The tiny cabin had one bunkroom, a small bedroom, a bathroom, and a living room and kitchen combination. I'd be surprised if it was more than 500 square feet total.
My father lived there as a kid, evidenced by the half-built model car he left in the rafters that no one had bothered to move, and his name that he carved into one of the posts holding up the roof.
Sleeping at Camp, as we called it, was the ultimate privilege for us kids. We'd jockey for the more desirable bunkbeds (they were all about the same) and sleeping bags (they were too), and stay up late telling stories. The next morning, little adults that we were, we would make breakfast which was always toast. All of the real food was kept at the other house.
My grandmother cooked us everything that kids dream of : cakes, doughnuts, and fried dough, all from scratch. We had fried dough eating contests that Mandy always won. Macaroni and cheese was popular too, although I've never liked it.
We were allowed to be kids and get into trouble, which was undoubtedly the best part of the experience. Next to the house was a huge sand pit that we used as an overgrown sandbox. We made huge figure eights with banked turns to ride bikes around. We took all of the metal toy trucks and made a giant chain of them from the nearby electric fence to the house. Every one of us got zapped in the process.
We went into the cow pasture that the fence was containing and played capture the flag amongst the cows. One popular strategy was to herd the cows into the opposing team. Nothing was more terrifying than being on the receiving end of a stampede.
Once, when I was feeling ambitious I convinced some of the cousins to dig a huge hole with me. We dug and dug until four or five of us could stand up inside the hole. When it was time to leave camp for the year we covered it with plywood and a thin layer of sand and told everyone that we filled it in.
My father was very angry when he walked over it and realized it was still there. Apparently people drive tractors through the sand pit in the winter.
One summer our visit coincided with the hatching of snapping turtle eggs. When snapping turtles are tiny they aren't dangerous at all. We each ran around collecting as many as we could find and then built castles for them in the sand pit.
A nearby barn had a domed roof that went all the way to the ground. We climbed it and slid down.
At my aunt and uncle's nearby farm we found a litter of kittens once. To celebrate we spent hours in the hay barn stacking bales to make a life sized castle for them. That's how I discovered I was allergic to both hay and kittens.
As we got older, we slowly stopped going to Vermont every summer. We were too old to play in the sand and stack bales of hay.
Three hours ago I arrived at my grandparents house. I haven't been in a few years. Last time I was here I was desperately trying to make out what Katya was saying over the phone. It sounded a lot like, "Mystery destroyed your room", but there wasn't good enough phone reception to be sure. Before that I can't remember the last time I was here.
Not much has changed here since I was a kid. The gardens around the house are fuller. The sandpit is overgrown and has more plants than sand. The dirt road down to the lake is classier. It has gravel now. My oldest cousin bought the camp on the hill from my granparents. His little daughters now play there in the summer.
When I think back to my childhood the first thought that comes to my mind is, "Oh my God, I was lucky." It seems like everyone complains about their childhood, but mine was like something out of a 50s TV show. Every year we counted the days to going up to Vermont, and always left with new stories and memories that I still have today.
It seems like everything these days is either closely supervised by adults, confined to a computer screen, or both. That's fine for a lot of activities, but the freedom to run around and find adventure with my cousins is a feeling I'll always remember and look back on with a nostalgic sense of gratitude.