Last week, we traveled to Michigan to gather with my family members to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. My parents spend half of the year, including the summer months, at a cottage in northern Michigan. The cabin holds lifetimes of memories, stories told and retold, expanded upon with little additions, much like the cabin has been.
My grandfather built the original tiny cottage for his wife as she was dying of cancer at a very young age. My father spent time here as an adolescent, helping to build it with his father and uncles, hauling water up from the lake, running around with other boys vacationing with their families, and getting into trouble. Years later, he brought my mother to see the cabin and she fell in love with it. Eventually, every summer, my mother, brother, sister and I stayed at the cabin from early July through Labor Day. My father would join us when he could get away from work. As kids, our days were long and unencumbered. We slept late, wandered through the woods, hunted turtles, swam in the lake, made fudge and played games late into the evenings.
Over the years, my siblings and I have returned to the cabin with our families, to form new memories. It is rare that any of us are there at the same time, so this past week when most of us were able to gather for at least a few days, inevitably the stories, pictures and home movies came out. As I listened to my family reminisce, I realized that our memories are as varied as we are. Even the experiences we shared as a family are remembered from our unique viewpoints. What the cabin is for me is not the same as what it is for my sister or my nephew. Nevertheless, we all share the common bond of that place.
As I walked down to the beach on our last night at the cabin, I smiled to see an old friend who has been there long before my grandfather’s time: a large, white birch tree near the water. This tree was my special place as a child. I would sit on its crooked base and watch the boaters and fishermen on the water. As I touch its beautiful white bark, I consider that it had been there when my father collected water from the lake for his mother to use, and years later when my brother proudly put in his rowboat, earned by working for a man on the other side of the lake. It was there when my father and a much younger me launched our canoe to paddle back into the lagoon, and later, when my sister’s girls played on the beach. More recently, the tree marked our dock as we headed home across the water after my son learned to water ski. This week, it quietly observed my great nephew’s first cast of a fishing line. I don’t know how long that tree will continue to stand on its eroding shore. I hope it lives long enough for my grandchildren to sit in its crook.
And so, I share with you my reflections from the week. Make memories where you can. Envelop your family in them and breathe their piney scent whenever you have a moment to reflect. Share the stories, and add a piece here and there. Roast a marshmallow, make a s’more and lick the chocolate off your fingers while telling a ghost story or two. When the next generation comes along, if they’re lucky like I am, they will feel part of a shared special place that their children will also grow to love.
Originally published on July 20, 2014 in The Vail Daily.