When I was a little girl, my grandparents bought a piece of property on a lake in northern Wisconsin; three cabins in the woods right on the water. It was an investment for them, a place to retire during the summer months and for the family to use for vacationing and fishing trips. The cottages had once been part of a resort that was built in the 1930’s and when it was purchased by my family in the 70’s, it was in a sad state of disrepair. Over the years, many hands across 3 generations have continued to fix it up and take care of it. Walls have been knocked down and repositioned, roofs torn off and laid anew, fresh coats of paint have been seen on more than one occasion. Owning the property is a labor of love for so many people in my family, because those little cabin walls hold the sacredness of our collective memories within them. To me, they represent the blissful, carefree, never-ending summers of my youth. A piece of my childhood is locked firmly into that ground, on that lake, in those trees.
I’ve driven on those back roads a hundred times as a child. My stomach knows the rolling of each approaching hill and the cadence of its descent. The scent of pine and birch trees, dew dripping leaves and wet moss send me back decades, riding in the back seat of our family car with the windows rolled down to catch the breeze on our forearms. We often traveled at night and by the time we’d wake up in the morning, we’d be turning the corner at Dow’s, just minutes away from the cabins. Our excitement would peek, knowing that we would soon be seeing our grandparents waiting for us by the big red bobber, waving their arms to greet us. We would run down to the lake to see our fishing poles stuck into the pipes of the pier and the yellow fishing boat parked at the dock. I loved how calm the lake looked in the early morning, like a dark sheet of glass. I wondered if the ducks had had their babies and if we would be feeding them stale hot dog buns from the middle cabin. We’d run into the cabin to find everything just as we had left it from the last trip…the sun hats and beach robes still hanging in the closet and the board games on the shelf. On each bed was one of Nanny’s handmade afghans and the same striped sheets that we’d slept in year after year. In these moments, time stood still and there was nothing like it.
After highschool, my trips up north became less and less frequent as my life took me in many different directions. But whenever I was home during the summer, I would do my best to make it to the cabins. No matter the year or the person I was with, I still felt exactly the same as I did as a young girl anxiously awaiting to see my grandparents and make my first trip down to the water to look at the lake. Walking into the cabin, the screen door slamming behind me (as it has done at least a thousand times or more over the years), I would look around to see all the pieces of my childhood in place. All was right in the world.
Riding in the car on our way to the cabins this past week, I couldn’t contain my excitement or emotion as I looked behind me at the two little faces sitting in their carseats. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I so desperately wanted to tell them how I felt and what this trip meant to me. But they are still too little to understand and I knew that their own experiences were about to happen, their own memories were being made. And so they were.
I watched my boys swim in the lake and run down the hill with their cousins, pick bark off the trees and look for walking sticks and feed the ducks (not so stale) bread…just as I had done with my own cousins so many years before them. I heard the elation in my son’s voice as he screamed up to the cabin, “Mommy, I caught a FISH!!!” I ran down to the pier with my camera in hand to see a beaming little boy hold up his first catch, his Daddy next to him smiling with equally as much pride. In that moment I knew exactly how he felt when that bobber went under the water and he reeled in his first fish. The joyful voices of our family members carried through the air. I could hear my brothers laughing at my cousins, who were laughing at our kids, who were laughing at their uncles. (The big boys played in the water just as much as the little ones did and probably had just as much fun.) My grandmother sat in her chair at the top part of the hill looking down on us all and she would just smile and shake her head at the craziness unfolding in front of her. Sitting next to her with Calvin in my lap, I could only imagine how special it must have been for her to see all of her grandchildren frolicking about with their own kids. It must have felt like just yesterday that she was sitting there watching us all as children do the same exact thing; the passing of time so seemingly uninterrupted.
When it came time to say good-bye, she and my grandfather waved from their spot just as they always have, watching our cars back down the dirt path and onto the road. I held on to her extra tightly, not wanting to leave her or this magical place. I still had so many things I wanted to tell her, so many things I needed to share, but all I could do was say, “thank you and I love you so much.” Thank you for this little piece of the world that you helped create for our family, for preserving it for the future generations, and for making my childhood so memorable.