Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Life between the lakes, part 58



A week-long vacation goes by faster than any other time of the year.  But when you spend it with people you love, it accelerates at lightening speed.

My family and fictive kin just finished our cabin reunion on Muskallonge Lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was the first time in many years this particular group was able to gather at the same time.

The cabin was alive with new life, as the 5th generation experienced it for the first time. We had kids in the water, a clothesline full of towels, my brother’s awesome cinnamon rolls, deep fried bacon, Charlie’s now famous flapjacks, a little bit of sunburn, very few curse words and the celebration of birthdays, including mine on July 8.

I am told there was a beautiful cake, candles, bad singing and celebration for my birthday and I don’t doubt it.  I was taking care of Jack and Needa on the other side of the lake at the time and missed it.

That’s how this family rolls.

In the cabin, we all squeezed ourselves onto the couch at various points of the evening as old stories were remembered, new ones were told and laughter was in abundance.

Some of the best sounds of the week were the simplest and most common.

The echoed slap of a wooden screen door followed by the rusty springs vibrating.

The lonely call of the loon before sunrise.

The distant whine of an outboard motor as a fisherman headed home at dusk.

The squeals of joy from the children, that go on and on and on.

The high decibel of merriment from the teenagers playing a game of spoons.

The billowing belly laughter from the adults, knowing that in this one week out of the year, our laughter almost shattered the glass. 

Every year at the cabin, we live one moment to the next. Before we know it, the week is winding down. On Friday night there is a tacit sadness among the adults, knowing it is time to pack the bags.

Collectively, it is at that point we realize we didn’t get to do many of the things we wanted to; like one more swim, one more look at the lake, one more bonfire or one more heart to heart conversation in an attempt to mend a misunderstanding.

A larger sadness creeps up on us as the cars are being loaded the next morning as suddenly, we are face to face with the dreaded goodbye.

One by one they depart for home. Grand Rapids, Troy, Wyandotte, Milwaukee, Texas, Iowa, Virginia, Kansas. . .it doesn’t matter where they are going because I get the same lump in my throat whenever they depart.

The last carload drives away and the cabin is quiet.

Why is it that a place that makes you so happy can make you so sad in an instant?

I’d like to suggest the oldest answer in the book:


Say it loud.

Say it clear.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Life Between the Lakes, part 57



All quiet.

Waiting on the sleepy feeling.

At dawn, it’s love at first sight.

We’ve waited so long.

Summertime is here.

There is a small field in the forest next to the cabin. It is the clearing where flowers grow, kids played, fishermen told fibs and we said goodbye to loved ones as we spread their ashes around the place so many of us love and cherish, almost as much as life itself.

The field saw whiffle ball games, balloon tosses and was a place teen aged girls, giggly on Boones Farm Strawberry Wine, talked about Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy.

I know; I was there.

It was fun and easy.

Life was so easy until our lives changed.

From the clearing at the cabin there are no city lights and they sky remains light long past midnight. The brilliant white illumination of the Milky Way in July and August is raw and untouched; vivid and inspiring.

In 1975, I celebrated my tenth birthday at the cabin, surrounded by family and fictive kin. Birthdays at the cabin were a big deal. With three creative mothers, the day was well organized with games, outings, fun and food.

Our alarm clock was a scratchy Sousa march from the Brunswick Victrola. If we weren’t downstairs before it was over, we got polka after polka, followed by cold pancakes or cold oatmeal.

We quickly learned to respect Sousa.

After breakfast we would all pitch in with chores. This was a log cabin, void of electricity or plumbing located in the thick of the Upper Peninsula and we needed to be ready for anything. We burned paper, carried garbage to the dump, collected kindling, chopped wood, helped our mothers with meals and dishes and helped our Dads by staying away from whatever they were working on.

Baloney sandwiches and Orange Crush fueled our afternoons. Reese Peanut Butter Cups and Bit-O-Honey, made them better. Games of wiffle ball in the side yard were friendly but competitive. Shooting pop bottles in the dump with BB guns was a challenge but it was harder with a Wrist-Rocket slingshot.

We either smelled like Coppertone, Bactine or OFF. We pooped in an outhouse, bathed in the lake and drank water hand pumped from the well. The fishing was always good and we all discovered adolescent freedom in a fourteen foot Alumicraft boat with a 5 horse outboard motor before we could drive a car.

Those were days without college, kids, the internet, politics or bills. Our big treat in July was heading to Papa’s house up the hill and watching the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on TV in early July.

Years passed and one by one, our elders left us but the memories didn’t. And today those memories serve as a subtle and sobering reminder that our generation is next in line.

The world is so different now. We all have changed. My extended family doesn’t make this pilgrimage every year, which makes this gathering special.

For one week out of the year, we can return to a place that rarely changes and we all get to hop into the same time machine.  The summer of 2021 is really here now. My family and fictive kin arrive in a few days and it will be the first time in many years that we will all be together.

Any way you look at it; the week will be full of hugs, beer, tequila and smores. But most of all, there will be laughter; because that is one area in which we excel in creating and inducing and carrying out.

My family often asks me how I remember all these cabin stories.

The answer is: “I remember them because I love this place so much. And I have never stopped thinking about it.”

Life Between the Lakes, part 56, Father's Day edition



These were my first steps in June of 1966 in front of Fort Michilimackinac on our way to the Upper Peninsula.

At the cabin, my dad taught us about accountability out on the water, before we could even drive a car. The sweet smell of a gas-oil mix emanated from his Sea King Five Horsepower motor as a bruised puff of smoke was a heavenly smell to us.

He bought it from Montgomery Wards in the 1950s and kept it in perfect running condition. It was a thrill it was for us to be able to feel our first taste of freedom in a twelve foot Alumicraft boat driving around the lake without supervision before we had a driver’s license. 

From the time I could walk, I had a fishing pole in my hands thanks to my dad. This is why we loved the cabin so much. Fishing has always been highly prized in our family. Landing a keeper was a bonus that heightened our excitement and made for more than just the fishing stories we’d tell our friends. Hearing tales from Dad about those elusive lunkers who fed in the evening among the lily pads and reeds at the west end of the lake was the stuff that dreams were made of.

At the cabin, our fathers’ adventures made them legendary and rightly so, because today we are still remembering details of our youth. From my dad’s crispy bacon and Mapleine to his buddy Ron’s flap jacks and salty oatmeal, they are all a permanent part of our collective memory. We also remember how they could fix or build anything, even with primitive tools.

My parents came from a time when people, by today’s standards, seemed more sensible. It was when they looked after what they had a little more carefully and approached life a little less cautiously. It was at a time when store bought items would not break so easily, when people would not throw things away so carelessly. Though I never became a father I learned what it was like to be a great one by admiring my own.

Our family grew up without the frills many others had. I wore my brother’s old clothes. My brother and sister and I worked for an allowance and obeyed our parents. If we went out to eat it was for a special occasion.

My Dad was a veteran who worked two jobs most of his life. He taught vocal music and English at the high school level and painted houses in the summer. But he would always plan his time so we could be together at the cabin, even if it meant coming home to finish a job and then turning around to head back up north a few days later.

My father spent his time on earth wisely, and when I sat bed side with him on his final day we knew where we stood with each other. Our family had no regrets when he passed except wishing that he could have spent more time with us.

Today my siblings and I recall the joy our father had doing what he loved to do, especially at the cabin and the Wisconsin cottage. Though now that he is gone we understand that his real joy was sharing it all with us.