Sunny and Dry

IMG_1159Colorado is in some sort of crazy weather pattern.  As nasty, cold and snowy as it has been back east, we have been ridiculously warm and dry.  We enjoyed the sunshine tremendously as we sat in the bleachers watching the Alpine World Championships.  Vitamin D, anyone?

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Truly fab and preferable to shivering, toes frozen, next to a race hill during a blizzard.  Been there, lived that.

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Now that the ski racing world has left our valley, we look around and notice that the snow is melting away and leaving us with brown dirt everywhere, rather than the pristine white we love so much during the winter months.  The bit of snow we got over the last couple of days was just a tease.  The sun is back, melting it all away.  We look at Boston and think, we’ve got use for all that snow, send it this way!

An up-side to all this warm sunshine and dirt:  maybe we’ll get to stay here this summer.  Typically, I start to get a little cabin fever (or is it valley fever?) as we slog our way through March.  By that point, I’m over winter, the tourists, the dirty car, the muddy boots and wet floors.  My better judgment goes out the window and I start to plan a whole bunch of trips for the summer.  I map out travels to the beach, the lake, anywhere that feels better than the end of winter here. By June, I always regret that I scheduled all those trips away from here.

Memories of Summers Past in Our Lovely State

Memories of Summers Past in Our Lovely State

Summer in Vail is pretty spectacular:  warm days, chilly nights, biking, hiking, fishing, golfing, concerts, evenings on the deck.  Let’s hope that this streak of warm, sunny days is enough to hold my March madness at bay.

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Visiting

My grandfather died in his mid-70’s quite suddenly.  It was June of 1978, just before their 50th wedding anniversary.  My grandmother was lost without him.  She hadn’t driven in years, she didn’t pay the bills or oversee their investments.   Mom stepped in to help that summer and we spent a lot of time with Grandma at her home in central Michigan.  I was a gangly 10 year-old, looking more like a boy than a girl.   My siblings were mostly grown.  Much of the time, it was just the three of us:  Grandma, Mom and me.

Grandma and Mom dug through closets and boxes and papers, while I mostly hid my nose in a book.  We ate chicken, salads and the homemade cookies she kept in her freezer.  She decided to lose weight and joined Weight Watchers.  In support of her efforts, a new yogurt machine turned out white goo.  She would spoon in some jam, turning it into nasty fruit-flavored slime that we would eat with air-popped popcorn in front of her black and white TV.  We went to town for lunch at the slanted-floor diner and sometimes drove all the way to Graying for groceries.

While we did a lot of touristy things to get Grandma out of the house, “visiting” was our most common pastime that summer.  “Visit” could be a noun, a verb or an adjective, with a special emphasis on the “t” in “Visiting.”  We would go Visiting, or we could be on a Visiting trip.  Every so often people would stop by for a Visit. Sometimes they called ahead to let Grandma know that they were coming.  Sometimes they just showed up, car tires crunching up the driveway, stopping on their way from somewhere to somewhere.  I would be introduced to Cousin Somebody, and then we would sit in the screened-in porch, drinking tea, while they talked about their trips, the weather, my grandpa’s passing, and family members’ comings and goings.

Sometimes we spent an entire day driving miles from home to home, Visiting.  To keep my Grandma occupied, we went up to my father’s family cabin in the Upper Peninsula several times.  Inevitably, the trip included a stop at a distant cousin’s or family friend’s house for a Visit.   We returned to our home in the Detroit suburbs, and took Grandma Visiting the relatives who lived in that area.  I can’t tell you how many “davenports” I sat on, waiting for the end of the Visit.  If I was lucky, it was a glider and I could push it back and forth in the August heat, creaking in concert with the drone of cicadas.  If I was really lucky, our host served rhubarb pie.

I sort of wish Visiting was still a thing people did.  It seemed a kind of homestead soil, grounding people together, lives intertwined with shared stories.  The connections were mysterious to my 10 year-old self.  These vaguely familiar people whose houses held threadbare furniture, unique smells and pictures of those I had never known.  Stories of cousins killed in the hay fields, uncles taken ill at a young age, or great grandfathers who lived into their 90’s.

Visiting.

A Week at the Cottage

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.

 

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