The first week of August, like so many other years, I boarded a plane for Wisconsin, set for a trip to Green Lake. One thing was different though. This was our last year.
My grandparents bought the house when my mom was only four years old, and the family spent each summer there as she grew up. In the winter, they’d go for New Years and ski down the sloping lawn and huddle on the frozen lake, ice fishing. When she was in her early 20s, my mom lived on the lake for a fall, relishing in the quiet and natural beauty. She and my dad visited before I was born, and after I was born, we spent a week nearly every summer on the lake, boating, playing tennis, swimming and sleeping soundly with the windows wide open. We brought friends, our boyfriends who became our husbands, and I saw my cousin’s children enjoying the same summers we all had gotten a taste of.
But my grandparents passed away a few years ago, and it was time to pack away the decades of objects and memories, to sit on the porch and stare out at the water for the last time. The house was quiet, and the boats were already gone. It felt like we were already in the past, staying there. But my sister and I shared a room, sleeping on twin beds again like we were kids, and we kept the windows wide open, listening to the stillness settle in as we drifted to sleep.
In the mornings, we loitered over breakfast, read magazines in the sun, soaked in the last bits of our time at the lake. My mom went through Granny’s desk and found her and all her siblings’ old letters from camp. Notes saved for 50 years, “Mom, please send my orange sweater. I’m doing really good at riflery. Don’t forget to send presents for my birthday. I miss you.” Precious mementos from a mother who loved her kids, for another mother to read with her kids. We found old photo albums, my grandparents’ wedding, my mom and aunts and uncle as tiny kids, parties set solidly in the colors of the 60s and 70s, memories forgotten and re-remembered, happily.
And even though we were saying goodbye, we were still getting to know our family and ourselves a little better, collecting more threads to weave into our story, one bigger than each individual. The morning we left, it rained, and the house was blurry through a wet rear window as we slowly drove out the long, winding drive for the last time, my mom choking back tears as she navigated the familiar forest road.
We said goodbye to a place, to the presence of people we loved dearly. But it isn’t the end. We have new memories, treasured mementos and each other, still a family, preparing for the next generation and new traditions to be looked back on decades from now with the same love we have for Green Lake.