Back To The Lake

There is a sweet little cottage for rent next to my brother’s house in Lakewood, and for the past two weeks I’ve watched as renters have arrived with their coolers and rafts and their happy lake dreams.

What I love most is that they arrive with their memories.

Two weeks ago a gentleman and his wife showed up from North Carolina. She’d rented the cottage for her husband for their anniversary. He’d been sharing his childhood memories of the lake with her for as long as she could remember, and she wanted to do this for him-bring him back to the place that lives in the pockets of his childhood recollections.

Everyone I’ve talked to from that cottage seems to be here to reclaim some perfect summer day, and they share the same vivid memories: The Fourth of July flares and fireworks, fishing from a dock at dusk, the rollercoaster at Midway and corn on the cob boiling on an old white stove.

Sometime after their childhood they stopped coming here. They grew up and found jobs in other states, or the family cottage was sold. But sometime, in the midst of their busy lives, when they grew restless or found themselves in middle age, or some kind of wind rustled the shades of their complacency, they thought about the lake and wished to return.

They wondered if it would still be the same – if the waves still lap upon the wall with that particular sound, or if the sun sets behind the hills late in the evenings in June, or if the path to the candy store still meanders through the fields of Queen Anne’s lace. They hope there are still rickety docks with their American flags blowing in an afternoon breeze or that the Lenhart Hotel still has painted rocking chairs.

And once they get here-once they find their way back and unpack the car and stand on the dock of their rented cottage, they see that things are much the same and that their memory hasn’t failed them and that what is good and simple still remains here.

Thomas Wolfe said that the years flow by like water and that one day men come home again, but that our attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail.

But I don’t think so.

I think we go away so we can come back again. We come back to see ourselves through the lens of the past, but mostly we hope to find those things that punctuated our younger years with joy.

Childhood memories are powerful things.

And the lake never disappoints. It remains unchanged in the ways that count. You can be 10 here again, as if no time has passed at all since the last early morning you stood at a dock in Stow and lowered your fishing pole into the shallow water. The sounds are the same, the mornings still quiet and shy.

When I came back, I looked for the willow tree I once sat beneath with a cute boy. I remembered pixie sticks and bazooka bubblegum and spider webs as big as dinner plates on a white fence. And I longed to hear a thunderstorm come rolling in, sitting on the porch with a slice of watermelon and a dog eared book.

It’s easy to become complacent about where we live, but I’m reminded of its specialness every time someone pulls up to the rental cottage next door.

They’ve come back again, I think, hoping to reclaim something sacred, hoping for one last day at the lake.