By some mistake of fortune, I was born American and in the nineties rather than English before the stock market collapse. I’ve never been able to find anyone to blame for this slight miscommunication, so I’ve been forced to make due—however unwillingly. But that’s never stopped me from wishing that I could attend an English boarding school in 1923 and spending each of my summers living on an island in a lake with my siblings, just as the Swallows and Amazons do.
Ever since I can remember, my family has dropped everything to spend a couple weeks each summer at a lake in the Adirondacks. We take the necessary amount of planes and visit the mandatory number of relatives before hijacking Grumpa and his car for the six hour drive up from New York City, until we are coasting down the Boys’ Camp driveway, my brothers and I poised, holding the door handles, ready to punch the doors open as soon as the car comes to a stop so we can run across the lawn and down to the lake and dip our fingers in the water and thank Heaven that we’re back.
Lake Nehasane is in the middle of nowhere and it’s stuck in the sixties. You have to climb a mountain to get cell service. The refrigerator is the same one that was there in 1963 and the vacuum cleaner is still an Electrolux. Stuffed heads line the walls of the living room and stacks of unrecognizable board games from the sixties and seventies lie everywhere. Our time in Nehasane is spent forgetting that the outside world exists. There are nearly always tears when it comes time to pack up and leave.
It was here that Swallows and Amazons was first read to me and I first became acquainted with the adventures of the Walkers and the Blacketts in England’s Lake District. I immediately saw the connection. I didn’t have my own Rio or my own Wildcat Island (ours is a sadly island-less lake) or my own Swallow, but for a child with a hyperactive imagination, those were hardly obstacles. Nehasane’s main house was soon Holly Howe Farm, our miserable little Sailfish a passable stand-in for Swallow, a reluctant younger brother made a bearable first mate, and there were almost certainly friendly pirates somewhere along Nehasane’s shores. And so I became a Swallow. I befriended the Walkers and Blacketts, sketched maps and battle strategies, prepared to take up arms against Captain Flint, and even struggled through Robinson Crusoe because it was Titty’s favorite book. I read and reread the books. Lived them. But eventually the re-readings grew further and further apart and, suddenly, I hadn’t thought of them in years.
Then, this summer, my mum asked what my youngest brother Fletcher should read for summer reading. I automatically said Swallows and Amazons and didn’t think much about it until a couple weeks later in Nehasane, when I found my old, worn copy of Swallows and Amazons lying in my mum’s suitcase. I’m not sure how it happened, but suddenly I was curled in a ball amidst half unpacked clothes remembering exactly what it was like to be a Swallow.
The next day, I sat Fletcher down after breakfast and told him I was going to read to him. After a good number of bribes including my share of s’mores that night, he agreed, and I introduced him to Roger and Titty and John and all of the others. I have never seen Fletcher so engrossed in anything in my life. He has never been much of a one for reading. He’s nine years old now and at the stage where he’s expected to be reading chapter books of his own volition and a greater struggle mankind cannot imagine. But something changed with Swallows and Amazons. He begged me to read it to him around the clock. He asked me, when we went out for a row, if he could be the lookout like Roger was. He called me “captain” a couple times. I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to him than while reading him the book that was my childhood. And I think he knew it too.