Yes, this is my story, shared in as much length and detail and illustrated so profusely because it is written especially for family as well as dear blog readers. But read on -- and learn about a very special place, one that touches the heart.
More than once, when I've said I'm going on vacation, someone will say, "But you're retired! It's always vacation!"
True enough, but not completely. At home, I have obligations. Dentist, doc or hair appointments, maybe some contract work, board meeting or volunteer activities. Most of these are things I welcome but it's safe to say that without my calendar at home, I am hopelessly lost, a bird adrift.
When I come north, the house is small, easy to keep up. So most of my time is spent reading, doing art, walking, swimming, road tripping. It's a vacation. But there's still the beach to weed, tasks to do.
But recently I took a vacation from my vacation. It was Rick's family reunion at Minisa, a cabin on Michigan's Torch Lake that was part of the family history on his mother's side. The cast of wonderful characters that I would be spending time with included three of his four brothers and some of their wives/kids/grandchildren (from Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana and Utah), along with his aunts and cousin families from Arizona, Ohio, Minnesota, Maryland and Virginia. Our ages ranged from seven weeks to more than seven decades.
And it was an incredible week.
Why was this a vacation from my vacation? Well, because it was totally unstructured. The only rule was dinner at about 5:30 (probably more because of the little ones than the adults!). Usually one of the kids rang the dinner bell and I think the whole lake knew it was dinner time at our house!
Everyone had a hand in making a dinner. And in cleaning up. Many hands make quick work, it is said, and that saying was never more true. And really, who wouldn't want to clean up after menus that included barbecue ribs, lasagna, grilled pork tenderloin, pancakes, chili, and more. Every bite was fabulous!
Rick and his brother Randy slept in tents, niece Olivia in her hammock, the rest of us in Minisa and it's "ice house" cabin next door. People came and went as their schedules permitted. Cindy commuted from Traverse City, brothers Dan and Tim sailed over and went back to the boat at night and I did a couple of road trips home overnight to feel the Lizzie Girl. She was glad to see me.
The rest of the time we bobbed in the lake, hunted Petoskey stones, took a trip to the nearby winery, went shopping in nearby Bellaire, Alden and Elk Rapids.
There were breadmaking lessons by Rick and his guitar practice brought dancing times for Andy!
We read books in the sun and by the fire, played in the lake and had the most wonderful conversations. We got to know one another again and reconnected.
There were two birthday celebrations -- and lots of cake!
It was never a problem finding someone with whom to engage in a board game! And of course there were s'mores!
Amy, Jay and Molly seemed to be duck whisperers! (I think the ducks knew a good thing when they saw it!)
Oh, and did I mention swimming in the lake? (Yes, I know I did!) But we did it often on this warm week. At first the water is bracing! Then refreshing. Then perfect!
At times there were 20 people. At no time was there conflict or argument. There was plenty of reminiscing, piecing together family history, recalling old stories and providing current updates. We laughed. And when it was time to leave, we cried.
When I was a kid, every time I left the cottage, I would cry for about 20 miles, despite my mother's gentle reminders that we would be back next year. But when we left Minisa, we all knew that there would be no next year.
The property, sitting on a valuable piece of Torch Lake, has been sold and the new owners plan to tear down this remarkable building for -- what? A McMansion? Maybe. At least something usable over all four seasons.
It breaks our hearts.
Minisa was built in the 1920s, a marvelous log cabin with a fireplace so large that the smallest members of our party could have easily walked inside. It is like a living history museum.
While the entire structure is not original, the updates have been well within character. The bathroom looks like it could be that old, apart from the fact that it now has "real" plumbing. The towel bars and stair rails are handcrafted from birch logs. If the kitchen cupboards aren't original, I sure couldn't tell.
Checkout the old water tank in the corner of the bathroom! The log walls. And that half-circle of white in the lower right-hand corner is one of those classic tubs with feet!
The furniture is cottage mishmash. Perfect for gathering by the fire (which we did on the first cool evening), cozy and comfy for reading. The mantle holds family photos and sailing trophies.
The china is a mix of old and new and there were some wonderful pieces. In the kids room a hefty collection of children's books. Quilts for every bed. Eastlake furniture in some of the rooms, other equally antique furniture in others.
And everywhere, wonderful nooks and crannies filled with family history and treasures. What is in the dresser drawer? We discover old medals, family inventory records, beautiful pieces of jewelry. And it has been accumulated over decades -- nearly a century. Not all has monetary value and some bits are purely for use. Yet every little bit, fascinating.
The porch was the gathering place. Its wide roof covered us and offered shade from the hot afternoons and its comfortable Adirondack-style chairs and a table that seemed a mile long all contributed to this being the heart of the home, the place where conversations continued into the late hours.
And from the porch, you saw the lake. Crystal clear -- looking down through the water was like looking at a shore.
And, in the water, those long conversations continued as we bobbed around on floaties and noodles, sharing stories, learning about each other. Mermaids proudly displayed their shells and no child was ever unprotected in the lake with a cadre of grown-ups taking care to make certain they were safe.
It was a week of hugs...
Lots of laughter.
A week of introductions to the youngest member....
...and moments of quiet reflection.
It was perfect.
Until the first Minisa reunion four years ago, Rick and his brothers hadn't seen their cousins in decades -- and the MD/VA cousins hadn't seen the MN/OH/AZ group either. What we all learned then is that time is fleeting, the senior generation is physically vulnerable, the connections are valuable and priceless. And there is a new generation who will remember Minisa only through fading childhood memories and who will never have the opportunity to reconnect with their cousins at this special place.
Each of us wrote our memories in the Minisa log book. A treasure of memories added to those of families we have never met but all with at least one thing in common -- a love for this place.
Could this have happened anywhere? Yes, there will be places with beautiful sunsets. And yes, you could gather at a central spot with lots of people, eat good food, swim, talk. But it wouldn't be the same.
It will never be the same.
And so, on the morning of departure, the last of us to leave saw lots of sad faces as we said goodbye -- not just to one another.
But also, to Minisa.
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