SI Vault
Dolly Connelly
July 08, 1963
Nostalgia glorifies the vacation days of our childhood, but surely none were ever more delightful than those spent on Jervis Island, as remembered
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July 08, 1963

Muley's Enchanted Summer

Nostalgia glorifies the vacation days of our childhood, but surely none were ever more delightful than those spent on Jervis Island, as remembered

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In the wondrous '20s a pair of small, sleek steamers, the S.S. Yale and Harvard , plied the waters of the Pacific from Los Angeles Harbor to Victoria, B.C., Canada. The Yale and Harvard left a strong impression on the people of the West Coast. There are some so filled with nostalgia for the old coastwise passenger ships, their college-boy orchestras and leisurely runs, that they would chuck all the jets for one last week-long sea journey off the brown hills of California and the greening coast of the Northwest.

We—John, Frank, Jeanne and I—were different. We left strong impressions on the Yale . In fact, we kept the dining salon emptied and our fellow passengers in a continual state of mat de mer in the calmest sea on our annual return journey from Jervis Island in the late summer. We brought with us our collections of sea shells, gathered from the beaches of Jervis in rusting coffee cans and spread lovingly out on the dining table while we waited for service. There was nothing really wrong with our collections, except that we failed to remove the temporal inhabitants from within their shells.

Thus, when we wrenched off the lids of our coffee tins, the odor of putrefied mollusks so permeated the salon that adult diners turned pale and reeled brokenly for the doors. Our parents, completely ignorant of the havoc we were wreaking, awaited the second sitting and a peaceful meal without us.

This artless joy in things of nature, in combination with a mild sadism directed against constituted authority, was the keynote of our childhood. Now, practically everybody has hilarious memories of his prepubescent years, but few have enjoyed the peculiar childhood circumstances of John, Frank, Jeanne and me. In the first place, we were brought up in what was then so wild and free an expanse of southern California that we thought the whole world was ours,—a healthy attitude. Also, as the second and final foursome of our parents' brood of eight children, we came along at a time when they were so mellowed by experience that nothing—absolutely nothing—could take them by surprise. They had learned something that most parents never learn: you can't win when four lean, lithe, imaginative children join forces against you.

The archfiend, John, is gone, struck down with the shine of youth still on him. The last time I saw him, John stood in the middle of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and called out to me, as I passed in a car, a sad cry for all the long-lost joys. "Mule-y!" he bellowed. "Maud the Mule!"—a family name I won through a marked resemblance to the companion of Happy Hooligan, the little man in the comic strip who wore a soup can for a hat. It is typical of the family's blithe individuality that, actually, I have no official name. By the time I came along—the seventh child—our parents had run out of people to honor. The fine glow of choosing the euphonious combination had grown dim. I was called—to indicate my temporary newness—Dolly, and as our country births went unregistered, nobody ever got around to doing anything further about it. I came when called, didn't I? So our rank was formed of John, Frank, Muley and Jeanne.

When we were all in the magic age—say on the downside of 13—our untrammeled lives suddenly expanded all the way from the baked mustard fields and watermelon patches of San Gabriel in California to the cool beauty of an island off the mainland of British Columbia. Father—an easy mark for anybody who smelled of campfires—purchased an island in the Sabine Channel of the Strait of Georgia from a French-Canadian cozener named Paul Lambert, who wandered into his office one day with a lot of fuzzy snapshots of salmon and a persuasive way of incarnating a kind of life for which Father's very soul yearned. Paul Lambert could not have picked a better victim. Father always saw himself not as a member of the gray-flannel-suit clan but as a kind of natural superranger in tune with the wilds, an innate fisherman, hunter, mountaineer, woodsman, who would have been right at home at Walden Pond except for the slight handicap of a wife and eight children. Lambert was thought transference in the flesh.

Paul Lambert went through life with a lush, moist-lipped leer for the ladies, his shirt unbuttoned over his curly-haired, convex chest down to the navel, long eyelashes and a strong mon Dieu accent. Black, curly hair grew in little tendrils on his neck, too. He wore round knit caps on the back of his head, with shiny curls fanned up against the red wool all around, and high boots that laced practically to the crotch—altogether a fine figure of a man.

Father spoke of him enthusiastically as "one of Nature's Noblemen," a title that set my mother against Lambert, sight unseen. Being a Nature's Nobleman in our family meant that you needed a bath and ate with a knife but Father appreciated the real you anyway. Father was tremendously impressed with le voyageur el ses fables and bought Jervis Island from him for approximately twenty times what it was worth. He then hired Lambert, the self-styled pioneer, to build a family lodge, a dock and assorted buildings on the island.

Shortly thereafter most of the family traveled en masse on the Yale to Victoria, and thence by various means—island railway, fish boat—to Jervis Island. We little ones took one look at Lambert, waiting on the dock all gussied up like William S. Hart, and knew him for a phony. We called him "P. Lambo," ridiculing his pronunciation of his name (Pool Lombare) even to his face—a circumstance that sent him into towering Gallic rages. Mother shared our general opinion, reached not so much by instinct as from listening to Father laud the virtues of P. Lambo. Mother had long since learned that when Father was really nuts about somebody, he was being had.

I remember Jervis as an island approximately the size and shape of Australia. Actually, it is only a very nice little channel island measuring maybe two miles by one, neatly wooded, with small sandy coves and big gray rocks and a permanent population of huffy crows. There is an Indian burial ground, too, in which we were not allowed to dig.

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