Perhaps some of you might be surprised to know that my love of Lake Superior birthed on the shores of Lake Huron. Shall I share about my first love down in lower Michigan, that long arm of the Great Lakes reaching up?
During our recent book tour, Terri Bocklund sang of genius loci, the spirit of place. How the spirit of a certain place can draw us, inform us, dream us. (Visit her blog, here, to learn more of her love of Lake Superior.)
The rising spirit of a lake, or prairie, or mountain, might ignite our heart and create music through us. Or stories. Or deep connections which refuse logical arguments.
The boundaries between place and person might blur, as each gifts the other with precious beauty, creativity, delight.
So shall I speak now of Lake Huron, my first love?
My grandparents owned a cottage high on a bluff above this sandy lake in Forestville, Michigan, where I stepped in a cake on my first birthday. (Family photos declare this is true. A tiny Kathy steps in a pristine cake, shame on her, causing peals of laughter to echo decades later.)
We called a friend of my grandpa’s “Fred Petunia”. He ate a petunia petal in front of us kids one lazy summer afternoon while the waves pounded the beach and we lounged in the hammock, drowsy-eyed and ready to be entertained.
He announced the nourishment of petunias and we stared aghast as the petal fell into his open mouth and he swallowed.
No magician could have entertained us so! No Internet could have mesmerized us thus. We thought it unthinkable–that a grown man might eat a flower.
My grandpa sharpened silver knives on a grinding stone behind the cottage, whetting them with water, sharpening them just so.
He carried out the compost from Grandma’s kitchen with the dull knives and we stood, fascinated, as he worked the pedals of the grinding stone bike. Later, we wandered back on the property to a bridge he built and he told us tall tales, none of which I can remember.
I remember his hand holding mine.
I remember Grandma in her apron.
I remember the Weekly Readers which arrived in the summer, one each week, which I devoured whole, delighted in this world of words.
I remember the garter snakes which writhed on the hill down to the lake at certain times of year, scaring us to death, except for my brave brothers who pretended they didn’t care and sometimes waved a snake in an unsuspecting sister’s face.
I remember the ritual of the Flag. How Grandpa and Grandma reverentially carried the American flag out to the flagpole overlooking the lake. How we stood in silence as Grandpa pulled the flag up. How it meant we were THERE, at the lake, with the flag waving in the wind, signifying something more than our small presence.
I remember the foghorns of the freighters in the depth of night, consoling us, healing us, wrapping us with a sense of security in the cedar-smelling walls of the cottage.
I remember family movies of us buried in sand, only our heads and toes showing, our parents so young and laughing, so innocent.
And don’t you remember dancing to Oklahoma! musical on the huge 78 rpm records in the corner, feeling a delight larger than your eight years old? Don’t you remember that feeling that the world awaited you in grand magnificence like Oh What a Beautiful Morning and Surrey with the Fringe on Top?
Then I’m nine years old and our beloved dog, Buttons, all yippy bark and crazy energy, up and died on us here at the cottage, the safest place in the world.
He swallowed a fish bone from down on the sandy beach one fine July morning and choked and died.
Just like that, our Buttons perished.
I wept so many tears that Lake Huron flooded, or so it seemed to this third grader.
I wept so many tears and could not imagine a worse fate until early the following summer when They said, “We’re selling the cottage.”
And they sold the cottage, they sold Lake Huron out from under my freckled face, my sandy swimsuit, my wandering along the beach.
Years later, settled along the shores of Lake Superior, I still dreamed of Lake Huron. I dreamed of the loon-call of the freighters. I dreamed of Fred Petunia, the Weekly Readers, the grindstone, my beloved grandparents.
Night after night I dreamed, until one night, how many years ago? the dreams ceased, gently, like the softest of waves on a midnight eve.
Last week I visited my first love again. Oh, how he laps the shore with his Huron waves. Oh, how he still sings with birdsong and flowers. Oh, how Lake Huron still calls a portion of my heart with his rowboats and sandbars.
Do you have a place which still calls you, a first love of the earth, a place which you call home, even though you may have whispered goodbye oh-so-many years past?
Tears are on my cheeks and I resonate like a tuning fork to your words, Kathy. Many years ago, I was a year ’round resident of Mackinac Island where waters of Lakes Michigan and Hon meet. There we counted the years by summers and winters. I had five winters on the Island, working in the old Medical Center there. Even now, I still feel that sense of relief here in my cottage at Higgins Lake, when the fudgies have gone and school has begun and soon I’ll be dreaming of crossing the ice again to Mackinac.
Thank you so much for sharing these precious memories here. I’m sitting here, stitching a gift for my Dad (a pretty pattern of deer in the woods) while listening to music from the 1940s. Hearing this music, stitching this picture and reading your words fills my heart with many cherished memories of family, northwoods and my favorite place on earth–Lake Superior ❤
Thank you for bringing more memories to my heart and for sharing your memory treasures too ❤
Oh, this is lovely, Kathy…such sweet memories presented perfectly! Thank you!
How I love this journey with you, delighting in memories of your special place — your first love — touching all the senses, and feeling the emotions of childhood. Rich, poignant, wonderful stories. Ones to return to, again and again. My first love is on Lake Michigan and also involves grandparents, and their teachings and doings while enjoying the great outdoors — cottage and sand dunes and fish and lots of love. Thank you, Kathy, for this today…
Oh, yes, my place was my grandparents’ front porch….or the haymow in the wonderful
barn…..or riding a the lead cow back with my grandpa walking beside us back to the barn
from the pasture……oh yes……warm wonderful memories…..
And! I have the threshold from that wonderful farmhouse which I carry with my on my car
key chain, so I touch it every day!!!!!!!!!!!!! almost everyday!!
Your posts are like poetry my friend. I am sorry about your dog. and the cottage. Glad that Superior is there for you now.
For some odd reason I have few memories of my childhood — and not because it was troubled or filled with trauma — quite the opposite. I don’t remember stuff well. But I remember feelings. So not a geographical place, unless you consider a large bed a geographical place. I am an adult. 50 years old and my parents are lying on their bed watching “Murder She Wrote” and I have made us all tea. And I lie on the bed. And I love them so very much. And oh, how I wish I could lie with them, chatting, sipping and laughing, one … more … time.
The east shore of Bantam Lake (here in CT) is where all my cottage-memories reside. I never realized Bantam Lake was my wellspring until I’d come back to it after being away for many years. I burst into tears of joy from coming home when I put my foot into the water.
…enjoyed hearing your childhood voice surfacing through waves of words, splashing emotions and memories, that show us who you are! ❤ love it!
Lovely memories of a place and the people that nurtured your heart. Treasure them always, Kathy, they are priceless.
My memories are all stirred up these days as I clean out the family home of 34 yrs knowing it will belong to someone else to make new memories in. This is the second family home I have had to clean out and leave … it is hard to leave a place that is a part of you (your “home” through so much of life). My memories are still with me, somewhat faded … I don’t dare visit as I do not want reality to peek into my memories, I want them untouched by the years I have been gone.
Oh how my eyes filled with tears over the loss of Buttons. It sounds like the memories made there are what makes it your first love. I’m sure you can guess my first love … my home in suburban Chicago where all of my grandparents and best friends lived nearby. People needn’t call first in order to stop by. A call through the back screen door “hellooo” …. and mom or Grandma would lay out goodies that had been set aside just for those ‘pop in’ occasions. Pictures and stories of that little village outside of Chicago are spread out all over my blog.
Enjoyed reading about your first love with such wonderful memories there, aside from the great loss for you eight-year-old-self. Thanks for sharing Kathy’s Lake Huron with us.
that’s supposed to be ….. for YOUR eight-year-old-self. 😛
Here I am again, and had another thought. Maybe some day you’ll be entertaining your grandkids at Lake Superior in much the same way. 🙂
I LIKE that thought, Lori!
Oh my goodness. The dog died from choking on a fish bone! How awful and …… I shall not dredge up what coulda-shoulda-wouda.
Great photos Kathy. Loved seeing the shore line of the lake. Beautiful, especially the rocks.
Well perahps I have a place that is deep in my heart but my Daddy had the woodland bulldozed so that he could grow cotton there and then years later he wished that he had not. I can’t bring myself to forgive him of that even all these years later.
You have such a great power over words because you brought me to tears with this one; for all your childhood delights and memories and for all your losses and for your looking back with such clarity.
You live in such a beautiful part of the world
You paint a beautiful word picture. The photos are quite stunning as well. There are many places that touched my heart as a child. All of them have water. I don’t know if I could find a first.
What a lovely stroll down your memory lane, Kathy. Imagine that! A grown man eating a flower! And I love the picture of the fossilized rocks.
I love this thought: “The boundaries between place and person might blur, as each gifts the other with precious beauty, creativity, delight.”
Yes, Cape Cod still calls me, even though it’s not the same now that the house where my grandparents lived is sold. My grandfather used to raise the flag every day, too. The sounds from the sea and the traffic in town, everything sounded different and magical while we were visiting my grandparents. Every once in a while I hear a foghorn or the bell on a rocking buoy down here on Connecticut’s shore and it takes me back…
Kathy – You touched all of my emotions in this single post. From fond memories of the Weekly Reader (I lived for those to arrive!), to sweet Buttons choking to death on a fish bone.
Even though it’s across the globe, in my mind’s eye I still go to my favorite place — a snug shepherd’s cave in the Highlands that overlooks a meadow dotted with black-faced sheep.
Kathy- My family spent time at this cottage and we all had a marvelous time with your mom and dad and grandparents and my grandma(your great-grandma. When we were kids I would go with your mom and uncle Doug and spend time, at that time the boat house was the cabin! We fished every day and went on hikes and checked out the cemetary close by. What memories. In the 50s when my son was just a baby and my husband had just returned from deployment to Japan (he was a Marine) More fun and memories. with your family (mom and dad) and my mom and grandma Caswell. I cherish these memories and I am so glad that you wrote a blog about a memory that we both have and can share.’
Hey, Kathy! Happy Labor Day (and the ushering in of autumn)! So nice to be back, but I have a lot of catching up to do.
My first love was the swamps and beaches of coastal Mississippi, where both my grandmothers lived. We still had MawMaw’s house until Katrina knocked it over and it had to be condemned. I always return to that innocence of childhood whenever I revisit the coast. xo
These stories were so familiar to me I could smell the freshwater sea on the wind, feel the sand between my toes. Memories are charmed beings, aren’t they?
Oh yes Kathy, I do, my beautiful Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney. I stayed away for seventeen whole years, afraid to return, afraid that my memory may have played tricks on me and that magic didn’t exist in the mountains in the way that my memory described. But three years ago, I did return….and a year ago I made another trip back……and with each visit I leave yet another small piece of my heart. I call the mountains “home”. Thank you so much for sharing your first love with us Kathy. You have put my feelings for my first love into the perfect words for your first love.
Beautifully written. Yes, I know that place called home.
I can tell by your enthusiastic blog and photos that you love our state and its lakes. And thanks to your photos I feel like I am walking along those lakes, if only via the Internet.
This is so beautiful, Kathy, that it brought me to tears. And has left me speechless. Or wordless. Or some such thing.
My heart-home is Swakopmund, my little village between the edge of the wild Atlantic ocean and the harsh desert dunes of the Namib. It is no longer a village now, but in my memory, I still walk barefoot down its sand and gravel roads, window-shopping at all the small stores, hungrily munching fresh crisp bread rolls from the best bakery in the village, loving the taste of the salty air and the cool of the morning mist, and greeting all the people I meet – everyone knew everyone in those days. Happy days.
Such tender memories you share. “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” comes to mind. I suppose my first love then was a barn half-full of bales of straw (to stack into forts and tunnels), and row upon row of towering cornstalks, and pathless woods where mushrooms grew. Thanks for taking me back 🙂
Thank you for all the comments. I SO enjoyed reading all your stories about your childhood memories. So very precious. Brings us back to another time, doesn’t it?
As with everyone else, you have taken me back in time as I catch up on missed blogs. I have no lakes in my childhood, but fondly remember my grandparents dairy farm in eastern Ohio, which delightfully a cousin now owns. We have a birdhouse made from reclaimed wood from the old dairy barn. I had long forgotten the Weekly Reader. But I believe it was the original “you got mail” moment in my life! You really got my mind a goin today. Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures and snippets of your childhood, and taking me back to mine for a spell.
Such a very sweet story. For the last 8 years or so I’ve been returning to that place for me each summer – Hills Beach in Maine. Saying goodbye over and over again after our brief one week visit each August gets no easier for me as the years go by.