My sister and I spent at least a couple of weeks every summer at Grindstone Lake in Minnesota. We gorged ourselves on sugared cereals, cherries and grapes, Saltine crackers and shiny American cheese. We fished from the dock, catching the little “sunnies” and walleye. Hooking them and letting them go. We took the canoe out, usually sticking close to “our” side of the lake. We argued less than we usually did. Sometimes we paddled across the lake to catalog the other cabins, or to crash someone else’s float: a wooden deck atop four creaking and rusting oil barrels. We’d tie the canoe up to it and jump in, then sun ourselves on the rough wooden planks, wary “they” might come home and look out to see someone’s kids–not their own–playing on their family’s float.
We’d return to the cabin with wet bathing suit butts. (“Close the screen door! No sitting on the couch in a wet suit!” Our grandpa Al, who moved from his chair in the living room only for fishing or golf, frequently had to re-remind us of The Rules.) We’d go out in the mosquito- and taxidermy-infested garage to the big white freezer. Dig out another big Ziplock bag of ginger cookies our grandma Ruth had made, and bring them into the small kitchen with its avocado-green appliances and the wooden table around which we’d drink milk, eat more and more cookies, and play cards. Maybe later we’d watch the Price is Right, guessing how much a can of tomato soup or a washer-dryer set cost, and willing the poor fools to pick the door with the car or RV behind it.
The lake: in the early morning, a quiet and gray light upon it, the water was glassy and cool, waiting for the heat. By late morning the sun would be shining brightly, the orange day lilies by its side were moist and open, and the water sparkling and inviting us to wade. We’d find clams the size of our hands, and organize them into families, only occasionally killing them by leaving them on the dock too long. We’d swim out past the drop-off, where the sandy ground under our feet suddenly leapt into darkness, and the water turned ice cold and black. Turn around quick! Get back to the warmer water! We didn’t want the big fish our grandpa and uncles caught in the middle of the lake to catch one of us.
Twilight: the pink and purple hues of sunset, the cooling-back-down again, the buzz of insects coming out to get us. The spraying and re-spraying of Outdoor-scented, DEET-laden Off over our already bitten arms, legs, and feet. The rinsing-out of bathing suits. Perhaps a little walk to check for newly ripened raspberries by the mailbox? An early dinner inside prepared by our grandmom and aunts. White rolls with butter, some frozen corn or mashed potatoes, also with plenty of butter. (Though more likely it was margarine.) Ham or freshly-caught fish dipped in egg, flour, salt and pepper, then fried. More cookies for dessert.
It was crazy to arrive back at the lake now, at age 37, with my own two-and-a-half year old son, and a baby in my belly. Though my grandparents have passed away, the cabin is still well-used on weekends and maintained by my aunt Sue and uncle Freddie. It’s frequently visited by my cousins Abbey, Kyle, Matt, and Tia. It was as open to me as it’s always been. And while there was a new TV and couch in the living room, the swirly green-and-blue wall-to-wall carpet, which has hid decades of cookie crumbs and lake drips, remained intact. Alejandro and I slept in my grandparents’ room, which I’d never done before, since one or both of them was always there. But everything else looked, felt, and smelled the same as it had when I was little. There were even ginger cookies in the freezer, thanks to Sue.
I felt loved.
I’d forgotten what family feels like, my family, my mom’s family. Ali and I were accepted, whoever we were. I didn’t have to try to be anyone. In my modern life, in my pursuit of independence and identity, I’d forgotten what that was like! My uncle Loren and my aunts–Sinde, Sue, and Sondra–all engaged Ali, drew him out, laughed with me at his funny little phrases. My cousin Abran took him fishing, gave him his very own bucket of night crawlers. (Which as we all know in Minnesota, is truly a sign of love.)
And all I had to do for a week was to care for Alejandro–which wasn’t half as hard as it is here, when I’m working and constantly running around–and to show him the small things I remembered: the dock, the clams, the constant need for life jackets and bug spray.
He was completely happy, himself, and like me, surrounded by love and the gorgeous quiet green beauty of the lake. At night the baby moved in my belly as I lay in my grandparents’ bed next to my sleeping boy, and I knew I was blessed.
I saw my cousin Abbey get married on Saturday. She looked radiant and gorgeous. I watched her new husband put his arms around her as they danced. Everyone said they are right for one another. Having held Abbey as a baby, I felt even more blessed to have witnessed one more circle completed, as it should be, in Minnesota. Our grandparents would have been so proud.
Going back was exactly what I needed. I’ll never forget this week, this suspended moment in time.