It seems like weeks since I’ve written, and it has been a while since I offered anything of substance.
We had a vacation. A very brief one, but vacation nonetheless.
My husband and I and our (almost) 11-year-old granddaughter traveled to southwest Michigan to attend a reunion for my dad’s family. To a lake where my uncle has owned/rented a cabin for decades. He has been a part of this lake and cabin… sorry, “cottage” is what they call it… his whole life.
In 1948 when my uncle was 17 or 18-years old, he and my grandfather helped build this cottage. My grandfather was in charge of construction. It’s built on land belonging to the family of my uncle’s childhood friend. My uncle spent many summers at this lake with this family so it was natural for him to be part of the construction. This section of the lake is named for that friend’s family as their ancestors settled it. Make sense?
In the 1970’s my uncle took over the rental. Four generations of his family have now enjoyed summers at the cottage. The cottage and lake are everything you’d hope them to be. Perfect and picturesque.
I had never been to the cottage. In fact, I don’t believe my dad was there but one or two times in my lifetime. Last year I found a Facebook group for the lake and joined. Shortly after I saw that there was a new book about the lake. A long-time lake resident had compiled history and current stories and published a book. YES of course I ordered one! What a great book! Original founders, settlers and history along with many stories of current families. Near the end of the book was OUR story! It took me nearly a half an hour to read the short article through my tears. You see, I had no idea of the cottage’s history. And this was the first photo I’d ever seen. It was a very emotional thing for me.
THE MIGHTY FACEBOOK
I was finally beginning to find some of dad’s family on Facebook. Not long before finding the lake group, I had set up a group for just us. My dad was the oldest of seven children. Only three are still with us. One uncle (cottage owner) and two aunts. My aunts are on Facebook and told me that they were organizing a family reunion at the cottage.
I left home when I was seventeen. I haven’t seen most of this family since before then. My dad passed away in 2003 so I did see many then. But that was very brief and a funeral lunch isn’t exactly time enough to visit and get caught up.
We traveled on Friday to meet everyone at a local VFW for a catered dinner. I knew it was going to be emotional, but… wow! To walk into that room and see aunts, uncle, cousins, and extended family was overwhelming.
As I hugged my aunts I caught a glimpse of one particular cousin across the room. As she came up to me and we hugged I couldn’t stop the tears. I hadn’t seen her since I was a little girl. She is just enough older than me that we really had nothing in common. Yet here we were, after reconnecting on Facebook, embracing as though we’d always been best friends.
This dinner was a wonderful time of fellowship, stories, family trivia, and tribute to those no longer with us. My uncle and aunts sat at a head table. Just the three of them at a long table with chairs enough for those who are gone. As my uncle stood behind each chair he talked about a specific missing family member. Very moving and very fitting.
As I said, I’d never been to the lake and was anxious to see it. After Friday’s dinner, we make a brief visit. I told hubby that I couldn’t go to bed that night without seeing it. Didn’t want to wait one more day.
To get to the cottage you drive through a quiet wooded portal into another world. Yes, I said “portal”. It’s a long, bumpy, winding road through the woods. As my uncle said, it “…looks like no one should live there…”.
Then there it was. It is, indeed, a perfect little lake. We arrived as the sun was beginning to set. My granddaughter went right down the steps and to the water. She was also anxious, and her love of nature took her to look for critters. As she walked along the water’s edge I told her not to go too far. But she was quickly out of our view and had to be called back. The serenity of the lake and my first look at the cottage was surreal. All my life I’d heard about this place and now here I was. We just stood and soaked it all in and snapped a few photos. We didn’t go in. It didn’t seem right until everyone was there.
We all gathered at the cottage on Saturday. Some who were not at dinner on Friday came. I recognized a cousin’s voice before I saw him! My uncle’s children, their children, and their children. Four generations. My granddaughter, whom I call “Wilderness Woman” was itching to get in the water. Fishing was her priority. Soon my cousin offered to take her fishing out on the lake in a kayak and off they went. They brought back a couple beauties.
Strange how, even though we’d not been together since I was a kid, it all felt so right. So familiar. Family is like that I guess. Much laughter, many stories, many old photos. It was determined that the trait that pushes the family men to tease is, in fact, genetic. It was all familiar, but I also learned new stories. Stories of the cottage, of the family business, of my own father. I heard about an emotional side of him I sadly did not know.
HILARIOUS SUNDAY ADVENTURE
Some of the family left on Saturday evening or were leaving first thing Sunday morning. We had planned to stay Sunday as well. It was late in the afternoon. Many of those who had stayed had now left. Others who stayed were getting pretty tired. The kids were off swimming somewhere. A boat approached the cottage’s dock. It was the woman who had written the book about the lake! You see, I had emailed her and invited her to stop by. I owed her a big thank you for the book and for giving me a piece of my family’s history.
It took me only an instant to realize that she’s quite a character. Southern. Animated. A little exaggerated. A little louder volume than most. But kind and lovely! After a brief visit up to the cottage she asked me if I’d been on a tour of the lake. When I said I hadn’t, and told her the only boat wasn’t really reliable, she exclaimed “Whaaaat?!” and instantly invited me onto their boat. The look on my tired family’s faces as I told them I was going with her was priceless. I trusted her and her husband so off I went. My own hubby stayed behind as he wasn’t feeling well.
Our first stop was to pick up my granddaughter from where she was swimming, but at the last second she decided she didn’t want to go and off she swam like a mermaid.
We cruised around the lake towards their house as she told me about each house/cabin and gave me quick stories of their history and owners. All of which appear in the book, but it’s better first hand. We docked at their house to allow her grandchildren to get off the boat and to get a new tank of fuel. In the few minutes that took a very dark rain cloud came over us and it began to rain. Hard! So we had to hold out in one of their little cabins. The rest of her family went to the main house while she and I stayed on the porch of the cabin. Rocking and talking. She may be a little over-the-top but she’s a wonderful woman. So hospitable. So kind. So knowledgeable of the history and stories of the lake. It took her about a year and a half to write the book. It takes a personality just like hers to visit each family and ask the right questions.
At one point she talked about her own history in a southern Indiana/Northern Kentucky area. I stopped her and said, “Wait a minute…” and told her that my mother was born there! Same town! I thought she’d jump out of her chair with excitement at the revelation that we had this in common. A great moment that still makes me smile.
The rain was about over, so we continued the lake tour. It was brief as the rain really had not subsided. What I saw and heard was from beneath a large umbrella. God bless this couple for their hospitality and willingness to befriend a stranger so easily. It was a crazy adventure and I loved every minute of it. I’ll always have a lake friend.
Sunday evening I said my final goodbyes to the family who remained. My uncle had left while I was on my lake adventure. Just my aunts, a cousin and a few of the extended cousins remained. Everyone was so tired, it was a long weekend for them as hosts.
We left Monday morning but not before taking a drive around the lake roads to see what we could see. Other homes, cabins, and views. I kept saying “that one’s in the book” and made the comment “that one’s for sale” more than once. 🙂 Then, one more drive through the quiet portal in the woods that leads to the cottage. Only a couple of third cousin kids were at the cottage so we didn’t stay but a few minutes. Just long enough to say goodbye and take one last look at the lake. Sigh…
Back through the wooded portal into the real world and on the road home. Looooong road home. Even though it’s only about a five-hour trip, we were all anxious to not be traveling. We took a short side trip to let grandgirl dip her toes in cold Lake Michigan and eat lunch and then continued home.
In the days we were gone our garden thrived, growing a ridiculous amount. My daughter had stayed at the house with the dog, but he was beside himself with glee to see us. Our granddaughter was exhausted but had an experience of a lifetime. She was in her element for sure and enjoyed every moment at the lake.
My hope is that I have more chances to return to the cottage and that this will be the beginning of a renewed family tradition.
I live on the Mississippi River. A small town right on the river. I have all my life. It’s wonderful and charming, but… There’s something about lake life that trumps river life. It’s cleaner. It’s quieter. It’s less aggravation to allergies! 🙂
It was a brief visit, almost like a dream. But I will always cherish the memories.
A nice welcome to the VFW Friday evening.
Aunts and Uncle as he speaks. He stood behind each empty chair and spoke of the family member it represented. Very moving.
The wooded portal to another world. Leads to the cottage and the lake.
Grandgirl’s first look at a lake I’ve heard about most of my life.
The cottage. See the tree growing up through the roof? The porch was actually built around the tree. The holes must be expanded as the tree grows.
Sun setting on Friday
Old water pump. Never did find out if it still works. Charm.
The tree from inside the porch. You almost run into it when you come in the door.
From the lake. Lovely. Private. Quiet. Perfect.
We had a brief rain delay on both Saturday and Sunday. Even the rain was awesome.
Grandgirl with the catch of the day on Saturday!
This little guy stayed at the lake.
I know I’ve rambled on, so thank you for allowing me to share this journey with you.
Please remember to find me on Facebook!
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