Someone at Smith Mountain Lake Misses You by Margaret Dupree  Smith Mountain Lake was formed when the Appalachian Power Company flooded a valley and made a dam for electricity. It’s two rivers, the Blackwater and the Roanoke. It is forty-five minutes away from Roanoke, Virginia. It is the largest lake in Virginia. This is all true. I know these things because I have been told them since I could ask questions about my summer home. Nanny says there are still abandoned houses at the bottom of the lake from when they flooded the valley. She also says that Denny’s wife remembers walking down the valley hills and taking a younger boy to school. I remember when she told me these things. I was little and scared of the dark water and all the things that could be lurking in it. I would cling to her as she floated on a few pool noodles and waved her hands around in the water. She would perch me carefully on her knees as she floated, and tell me all about the bottom feeders and the houses that could be at the bottom. Her clarifying what was deep in the green water didn’t lighten the color, but in some ways made it clearer. I used to picture perfectly preserved houses sitting at the bottom of the valley. I could practically see the bottom feeder fish swimming around stoves and dining room tables. I am sure that the picture I made in my head is exaggerated. The stories I made about the bottom of Smith Mountain Lake are not as exciting. Then again, most of my childhood Lake stories are warped and blended by powerful imagination until the real details are left simply for speculation and debate. There are certainly stories with definitive proof. The horse shows and Halloween costumes in old photos testify to their having happened. Those stories are real but quick. They don’t require nearly as much telling or attention because if the teller gets lazy with her story, she simply refers to the photo and uses it as the main vehicle for the tale. The stories that are unique and magical, even if pulled far from reality are the ones that are the most commonplace. A nightlight, a tiny Nutcracker, an old alarm clock radio, a cuckoo clock, a pile of old magazines, a pillow, a pineapple statue, a spirit, old photo albums tucked away on a shelf and, of course, the place itself tell a story. All of these ordinary things spark a strong burning curiosity. What makes each thing so special? I wonder why the phrase “Shh… It’s sleepy time down South” became such a keystone for my childhood. It is probably because of the glowing Greenbrier nightlights that are garnished with the sweet saying in all the major bathrooms in the house. My grandmother does not pull me close to her at bedtime anymore, but when I walk into my bathroom and see the soft pink glow of the nightlight, I can almost hear her whispering the phrase into my ear as she brushed away my short brunette hair from my sunburned face. Why does she not pull me close anymore? Is it because I’m too old? I hope not. I love when she came in to make sure I was tucked in safe and sound and patted my leg and ran her pointer finger along my cheek, and took my arm and traced her perfectly manicured fingernails across the crook of my arm and told me that it was indeed, “sleepy time down South.” I wonder if she looks at the square nightlights when the grandchildren are not there and thinks about us and all the times she has tucked us in and whispered those words to us. I know that whenever I cannot sleep, all I need to do is simply remember that “it is sleepy time down South” to forget about the buses and alarms that permeate my city apartment windows so I can slow down my mind and start to dream. Why is it so hard to try and make other people understand Raymond Moist– the little Nutcracker who guards the upstairs and keeps the children safe at night? What I mean by that is that a magical nutcracker is not a weird concept to me. I was always told that I was safe in the big old Lake House because I had a little guardian running around on a horse protecting me. He was a guardian against the monsters under the bed, in the closet, around the couch, or on the porch. He came to us on happenstance I suppose. One night, when my grandparents were sitting on the side porch, they saw a little boat pull up to the dock. Out of the boat came a little family. A mother, a father, and little Raymond Moist. Raymond’s parents asked my grandparents if they could look after him. My grandparents said they would, and that in return he would have to protect the house at night, and the parents agreed. That’s how the story goes at least. I like to believe that Raymond guards everyone from anything that scares them or anything that goes bump in the night. He makes the dark less scary, the silence less terrifying, and when I turn the final corner to go to my room, there’s a silent understanding that he is there, and that I can sleep soundly without worry. He rides around on his trusty steed from the moment when everyone goes to sleep. Sometimes I wish he was here with me because I sleep better at the Lake than anywhere else, and I know it is because of Raymond. I wonder why the only place where I can listen to jazz and not want to scream is my grandparents’ bedroom at night. Maybe it is because when I was little and I crawled into bed with my grandfather–before my grandmother had ascended the creaky, wooden, partly carpeted stairs –he would turn on the local jazz station on his alarm clock radio and put the sound machine on low. The crackling radio, the smooth voices of the old southern radio personalities talking about the soft jazz they were playing created the perfect environment for me to snuggle into the sheet tent that my grandfather would make for me. I used to wonder about the face on the tree for years my grandmother would pretend “had just grown out of the tree!” I would interrogate my grandmother about it, and she would never give in. She would only say that she knew as much I knew, that one day it had just appeared. Only this year did she admit that Poppy had picked it out somewhere and thought all the children would enjoy it. It’s a sweet thing, mostly because between the two of them, Nanny does all the picking and deciding while Poppy nods and reads the paper, quietly chuckling at the little comics and “hmm”ing to the articles he finds interesting. However, Poppy picked the face out at a gardening store or out of a magazine, and wanted it on the big black walnut tree in the middle of the upper yard. He has never said a word about it, but I look at it differently now, like it’s his way of keeping a watchful eye on us. I constantly wonder about the cuckoo clock that I gaze at from the soft couches in the living room. The bird was on time and reliable for many years, but now he is off. I used to sit on my uncle’s shoulders as he would make me watch the bird pop out to help me face my fear of its echoing “coo coooo.” Over his life, the cuckoo has moved around the living room. First above the upper front porch door, then in between my room and my grandparents’ room. He now rests on the wall near the old dolls, play clothes, and stuffed animals, which have accumulated from children who are now theoretically too old to play. He comes out of his little house on the twenty-sixth minute of every hour. Is the twenty-six minute just where the minute hand stopped years ago when someone wasn’t paying attention? Did the hand never seemed to find the energy to move again? No one knows. My grandmother says he doesn’t cookoo on the hour, but I beg to differ. Somewhere in the cuckoo’s mind, he knows what time it is and likes to pop out and tell us. Maybe he just does it for the children when we are there because he knows that even after all these years, we still care if he pops out to say hello. I wonder sometimes why there are so many old magazines. They range from ones about Princess Di to conjoined twins in small town USA. I wonder about the National Inquirers that end up on the coffee table next to Star magazine. I know my grandmother hates National Inquirer and that she doesn’t care who is in Star magazine, but maybe it is the habit of buying them for everyone that makes her pick them up when she is in town. I wonder about the Hello! magazines too. There have been lots of those drifting around lately. I should ask. I always found it curious that the pillows on the porch couch have never changed. I don’t want them to change because seeing the Winnie the Pooh pillow and an old beige pillow with little stick figures and animals dancing around a tree on it are so ingrained in my memory that if Nanny changed the pillows, I think I would be quite upset and want the old ones back. I wonder if that is why she keeps them around. Maybe it is the picture of me asleep on the old porch couch with my head rolling to the side of Winnie the Pooh that makes her keep the pillows. I know she loves all of the photos she has taken, but that one might hold a purpose. I wonder about the granite white pineapple that sits at the base of the stairs before the walkway onto the dock, and more so about why I was convinced it was Big Bird when I was younger and why to this day it still sort of is. What it is like for Big Bird to have to sit through the cold Virginia winters? Maybe he thinks about me or my brothers or cousins and thinks about when we will come back. Does the howling wind and the deep snow and ice make him miss the lazy summer days that pass over the mountains to the lake and sit on the water’s surface? Perhaps the silent snow makes him miss the falling walnuts, the buzzing crickets, or the mourning doves in the morning. I hope he does because when I was little I used to miss him when I wasn’t at the Lake. Then again, it is just a pineapple. Are ghosts real? I have always wondered about that. Probably because of Denny. Denny, the man who died long before my grandparents bought the house. He died in the room that used to be where my parents stayed when I was young. I’ve been told that my grandmother once met him, and that he was a kind priest. I wonder why I was so scared of him, or rather so scared of his spirit that on a lazy, hot July afternoon I would refuse to go down the seemingly long hallway where his room is. Why would I run from the first floor kitchen to the side porch as fast as possible to avoid looking down the hallway? Like the gopher that moves from the basement to the patio trying to escape my grandmother’s hawk-like eyes as she makes sure nothing is disturbing her hydrangeas. I wonder why my parents’ wedding photos are still among the binders of photos. I wonder if I am the only one who looks at those pictures– the ones with my mother in them. I wonder if my grandmother ever does. I think she misses her. Does anyone ever look at the little airplane and train on the coffee table upstairs and think about how my mother painted them on there one summer? I wonder if Aunt Katie ever places her glass of ice water down on the table and sees the pink flowers and thinks of my mother. I hope they do. I know she thinks of them, and about the Lake. She won’t admit it. No one ever admits that they miss my mom. I do. I miss my mom at the Lake. We don’t go water skiing anymore, and my brothers and I can no longer climb into bed in Denny’s room and split my mom and dad right down the middle of the bed and make enough noise until they kick us out or get up themselves. I’m constantly curious about the Lake. I wonder why there is a cross with Jesus on it when the last thing you could call my grandparents is “crazy Christians.” I wonder why I was so perplexed by the light fixtures that have a compasses on them, and how after years I still haven’t checked to see if they are pointing in the correct cardinal direction. I wonder why baby pancakes taste so good. They are Eggo mini-pancakes (the size of a golf ball, perfectly round, probably filled with awful things) that come frozen in a box of fifty, but they are always so delicious and I can probably eat twelve at a time. Why can I never find them anywhere except in the first-floor kitchen freezer at the Lake? Moreover, why can’t I bring myself to describe a room or the feeling, but instead can only bring myself to describe the little, perplexing, details? I wonder about the Lake House’s future. Will it go to Uncle Nathan or will it be lost to the ages? Will I ever possibly describe the seemingly ineffable traits that the Lake holds? Most of all, I wonder if– unless anyone is looking for the memories, the feelings, or the quirky little details– anyone would ever know about the Virginia creeper-covered house that is tucked behind the curvy driveway and old, gray horse gate.