We pulled the pop-out camper across the state line, past the hog farms, around the country church, through the crumbling cemetery, and down the winding road to arrive at Starve Hollow Lake, as we had done many times before. This campground attracted each of us for a different reason; Daddy liked the solitude, Mom appreciated the trees and paved path to the showers, my brother enjoyed the fishing, and I looked forward to the jukebox and beach. We had been there in good weather and storms, on holiday weekends as well as off-season, on every day of the week, but had never seen a crowd anything like this one.
Tanning bodies covered the beach on a crazy quilt of multi-colored towels and blankets, their Coppertone adding a twist to the lake and concession stand aromas. While the friends who had come with me fished with my brother, I watched the new crowd from my standing-to-tan-both-sides position near the jukebox, wishing more of the new people were closer to my age. It looked like the hippies who lived in a converted school bus at the far end of the campground might be the only people around who shared my interests, and none of them were out.
He came along and shattered the monotony. I noticed the reactions of the crowd before I spotted him. Divers stood still on the wooden island located outside the safety markers. Castle building and body-burying ceased. Frisbees and beach balls came to abrupt halts, and burning bodies popped into sitting positions on the quilt pieces. Every head turned to follow as he strutted from one end of the beach to the other, confident but seemingly indifferent to the attention.
When we gathered back at the camper for our Coleman-stove dinner, he monopolized the conversation. Mom said she had never seen anything like it off screen. Daddy teased about her drooling. The fishing crew reported they had noticed from the middle of the lake, and stopped to see what had brought beach activity to a stand still. I was glad to know I hadn’t imagined him.
Loathing the open-air shower room as much as the enclosed sink area where strangers spat in sinks and crowded around a single mirror, I rushed through my shower that evening and told my friends I would wait for them outside. While they did hair and make-up, I sat on a picnic table near the now deserted beach and watched the sun set. He returned for an encore, and I was the only one left to see.
I pinched myself when he broke stride and walked toward me. My heart stopped again when he asked if I was going to be there a few minutes and I discovered his voice was even more attractive than his appearance. I managed a nod. He gifted me with an explanation about how he had decided not to swim earlier because of the crowd, and now that he had the lake to himself, he was afraid to leave his watch and wallet unattended and go in.
Lulled by the music in his voice, I held out my hand to collect his valuables. He promised he wouldn’t be long and followed his words with a grin that could have melted Antarctica.
My friends joined me in time to watch the last rays of sun highlight his body as he bobbed in and out of the water. Despite their urging, I refused to peek inside the wallet and put a name to this perfect specimen of masculinity. Later, when he introduced himself, I wished I had. The name he had given sounded as fake as John Doe, undeserving of its holder.
Envious of each drop that trickled into tanned, muscular dreamland, I returned his personal items and made room for him to sit at the table while he air-dried. His name remained the only thing ordinary about him. On a short break from years of seeing the world, he had stopped to visit an aunt who owned a nearby farm. A friend awaited him there. He would love to join the campfire and music my family had planned, if we would ride back with him to pick up the friend and his guitar.
The four of us crowded into his aunt's truck and rode to the farm. A small plane parked beside a dinner bell in the side lawn seemed out of place with the wrap-around porch on the house and the barn in the background. My curiosity about it kept me from reacting to the smell of hogs in the distance.
While he changed into dry clothes, the aunt served cookies and lemonade and explained that the plane belonged to him. After refreshments and pleasant conversation, we headed back to camp. The aunt walked us out, hugged each of us as though we were family, and handed me a folded copy of the local paper. A souvenir, she called it, and I was happy to have something to remember her with.
His friend and one of mine rode in the back of the truck with the guitar. I kept the souvenir with me until we were back and I tossed it in the camper.
The music outlasted me that night. Neighboring campers had brought lawn chairs and blankets to our site. Many of them were still present, as was my mother’s smile, when the fire died and I finally dozed off in my chaise lounge.
I didn’t think of the newspaper again until we were packing to leave two days later and my dad asked if I wanted to keep it. For the first time, I opened the paper and saw his picture on the front page, with a different, more deserving name attached. He had been in town to headline the concert line-up at the Jackson County fair, billed as one of the largest fairs in the world, and held the day before.
I’ll never know for sure that he is the same man I’ve seen in concerts and movies since, of if he just looked exactly like that man and the aunt found that amusing. When I’ve had the opportunity to ask, he just flashed that same melting grin in response.