When I was in about third grade my parents bought a lot in an area of southern Michigan called the Irish Hills. It was a hilly region full of spring fed lakes that was the summer playground for families in the Detroit area. It took about an hour to drive there from my home in Monroe which made it a very doable drive even for a weekend getaway during the school year. They put up a small cottage that grew over the years—indeed my mother’s additions were probably a subject of note to many of our neighbors Despite the nooks and crannies mom erected it became a retreat host to fond memories of hot lazy summer days spent swimming for hours on end (and some nasty sunburns) and quiet nights full of the sounds of nature and reading books late into the night by a light under the covers of our beds. At first my parents didn’t have any TV there–they wanted us to spend our time enjoying the lake–but eventually even they realized the benefit of having limited access to television on days when violent thunder storms would make outdoor living impossible. But, for the most part, we spent our summers frolicking in the lake–with its pristine water that often as not was as warm as bath water.
The tiny lake was called Middle Lake because it was connected to two other lakes through channels–Washington Lake on one side (where the boys scouts summer camp was) and Mars Lake on the other side (where the girl scouts summer camp was). Over the course of the summer it was amusing to watch the convoy of row boats full of young boys from Washington Lake heading to the girl scouts camp on Mars Lake for an afternoon of games and I’m sure more than enough tomfoolery.
Unlike some of the home owners on Middle Lake we didn’t have a sandy beach in front of our cottage. The lake area in front of our cottage was covered in a blanket of water lilies that decomposed over the years turning the lake bottom into a mucky goo that was host to a number of unpleasant things–including the dreaded leeches. It was a tremendous effort to make a beach where none existed—first pulling out all the lilies, then laying a protective carpet of heavy duty tar paper down to slow regrowth which was then covered by mountains of sand. The first year my father did the heavy hauling carrying out bucket after bucket across the beach area to create a small (and somewhat sharply inclined) beach that enabled us to walk into the deeper area of the lake. After the first summer my parents took advantage of the icy cold winter and poured buckets of sand spread out on top of the ice so when the spring thaws came the sand would settle down pretty evenly across the beach. But each year it was a battle to reclaim our beach and I have vivid memories of lugging even more sand, fear of the leeches and lots of pulling out sea weed and lily bulbs in our spring ritual to reclaim our beach. As my sisters and I left home and our parents (especially our father) aged over the years you could see they were losing the battle against the water lilies and increasingly more of the beach was reclaimed by the rightful owners of our beach front.
Twice I lived in the cottage with my children when their father and I were doing our graduate studies at Michigan State. Although the cottage was really meant for summer living my children carry fond memories to this day of their time spent there. Rustic or not they loved it and despite the chilly winters we experienced for them it was one of the few places they can call home in the US during their primary school years. No one has lived there –even during the summer–in almost two decades and our discussions about getting rid of it makes them sad–signals an end to an era of their lives.
But time marches on and the cottage quietly nestled there among the weeping willows, lilacs and wisteria bushes planted by my mother—beckons a new generation of children to come play and frolic during their summer vacations in her welcoming arms.