For some of you, this this is a familiar scene. After a day of swimming, walking around the lake, maybe a few holes of golf, some attempts at getting a Rainbow out of Doc’s, you’ve exchanged your grubby clothes for something a little nicer. If you haven’t put your shoes on yet (you’ll need them for the walk up to dinner), you can feel the decades old, scratchy, straw mat on the bottoms of your feet. You sit on the couch, with its faded orange and green upholstery, which Grandma was so proud to have selected in the 1970s. A hummingbird might beat its wings at the feeder, hanging from a tree behind you. No one is swimming right now, but laughter is carried in the breeze from a couple cabins down. Elbow’s water sloshes against the bottom of the Pel Mel. The cheese is from Kugel’s, your beverage, or its ingredients, purchased at the Pig when you last went into Crivitz. It’s Thursday, so after cocktails you’ll head up for Prime Rib; Thursday has been Prime Rib night as long as anyone can remember. The toughest decision you will have to make in the next hour or two is, mint chocolate chip or Mackinac Island fudge? You share all of this with some combination of your siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. You are not alone.
It is the opposite of quarantine.
I took this photo two summers ago, and a print hangs in my kitchen. Lately it has been reminding me that after a big disruption, though things may never be exactly the same again, they can get very close.
The scene I described is a compilation of forty years of memories. While I was growing up, my family would travel to Wausaukee every couple of years. As an adult, I chose to go each summer. It is where my grandmother would gather us for family reunions. My siblings, cousins, and I learned to fish, first on Elbow Lake, and later at Doc’s Pond, Springer, Lily, and the ultimate, Pond 2. We swam from our dock to the float, or attempted the diving boards at the Main Dock. The first time I saw a Bald Eagle was while I was walking around the lake (I hardly ever did that walk with a pair of binoculars, which my ornithologist grandfather could never understand). We knew where to find the ginger ale when we were younger, and to always have limes on hand when we were older. Pancakes, the clang-and-bang, ice cream twice a day, the row boat Nancy and Grandpa built by hand, Sunday basket, the tarpon mounted over the living room door – these were constants year after year. There was a time I couldn’t imagine life without them.
Then came the sale of the cabin. The place my cousins and I had gathered together the most, and was always a topic of conversation at other times, was no longer available to us.
August 2018 was my third trip back after the sale, and the first time staying again in our former cabin. There was a new hunting trophy over the fireplace, new linens on the beds, and the hot and cold water knobs had been switched to their proper sides in the shower. However, Margaret and I were home. We still made our beds before, or right after, breakfast as had been insisted upon by our grandmother. If it was raining when the bells called us to a meal, we grabbed a bumbershoot from the same corner of the porch they’ve stood for decades. Memories of those who were not with us were certainly on our minds. But we had new adventures, too, like hiding the gnome. It wasn’t exactly the same, but it was very close.
This is how I imagine life, post-quarantine. We can go back to our places, be with our people, and reminisce without glass screens in front of us. There may be differences from last year or the year before, but we will still enjoy these things. We may keep the masks around, like the pick-up sticks in the cabin closet that nobody has played with for decades. But Thursday’s Prime Rib will be served in the dining room, and will not have to be distributed Sunday basket style.
Margaret and I had talked about another trip to Wausaukee this summer. It doesn’t seem like the world will have righted itself enough for us to travel to the Midwest from our respective coasts, but we know that some time in the next couple of years, we will once again be able to revel in the continuity.