It’s almost vacation time again.
Every year in late July, my family, my dad, my siblings, and our kids all get together for a family vacation. We spend a week straight living in a (sometimes far too small) cottage on a lake in a rural part of Michigan.
Our requirements: two bathrooms (we’ve learned a few lessons over the years), a beach, and enough beds to accommodate all of us. That’s pretty much it. And to be honest, it’s all about the beach.
We go to a different lake, a different area of the state each year. One year we stayed on Mullet Lake, which connects to various other lakes through a network of rivers that are easily negotiable via a rented pontoon. The house wasn’t at all as advertised – the bedrooms were closets and my husband and I had to sleep on bunk beds. I didn’t get much sleep because I was afraid the bed would collapse at any moment. Not because I’d gained an excess of weight that year, but because they were that rickety.
Not to mention the kitchen sink that kept backing up and the fact that the owner hadn’t cleaned before we arrived.
But the water was crystal clear, the weather was utterly perfect, and those cruises up and down those rivers created priceless memories. That particular vacation was also the one that inspired me to start writing again after I’d stopped while in college.
One year we went earlier than usual. A whole month earlier. We should have known it was a mistake – heck, we joked about it. Summer doesn’t really start in Michigan until July Fourth. Everybody knows that. Yet we took our summer vacation the last week of June.
And froze our collective asses off. Which was probably for the best considering the lake we were staying on was questionable at best. The cabin was cool, though, and plenty big enough. We played a lot of cards that year. Talk about family bonding. Plus, that particular vacation fell on my daughter and my niece’s birthdays, and they thought it was loads of fun to celebrate in a log cabin.
Then there was the year we rented two cabins side-by-side. Each evening we came together for dinner at the picnic tables we lined up between the two dwellings. One evening when it was pouring rain, we sat at a long table on the covered, screened in porch attached to one of the houses, and taught the kids how to play Up and Down the River (also known as Crazy Bridge). I was reliving my own childhood that evening; the summers I spent at my grandparents’ house or their cottage on the lake. One of my fondest memories, frankly.
Another year we stayed in a house on a spring-fed lake. That lake was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom no matter where you were or how many feet deep it was. That was also one of the hottest summers on record in Michigan. It was 90 plus degrees every day. And the house did not have air. No worries, though – that lake was freaking cold. (Spring fed, remember?) And utterly perfect. Had it been less than 90 degrees, we wouldn’t have spent nearly as much time in the water.
To top it off, there was a sweet spot off the end of the neighboring dock, and the kids and my dad caught a mess of pan fish one day. Best fish fry of my life. There is nothing quite so satisfying or delicious as scaling and then eating fish you caught only hours prior.
One year we went to the Upper Peninsula. Yes, I know, who the hell goes that far north and expects to lounge on a lake all week? Pity, in truth, the weather was so cold (even in late July), because that was a gorgeous lake with an equally gorgeous view. Which we didn’t see much of because we spent our time huddled around the fire pit. All day long. But that was the year we rode a boat through the Soo Locks, ate the most amazing whitefish I’ve ever tasted, visited Drummond Island, and wandered around Tahquamenon Falls. We hardly spent any time in the water, but damn, that was a fun vacation.
Last year, the house was nice, the location perfect, but the beach was what felt like half a mile down a dangerously steep, zigzagging incline – and then the owners hadn’t kept it up so it was pretty mucky. Oh yeah, and then my brother dropped a canoe on my sister-in-law’s head. And the kids went exploring the woods at dusk and my brother and I panicked when they were gone so long, so then the adults fanned out, tromping through the undergrowth in the dark, calling their names, probably making the neighbors wonder at our collective sanity levels.
But we were all together (including my niece and nephew who live in another state and whom I don’t get to see very often) and across the quite small lake was a lovely sandy beach. It was easily accessibly via a canoe or kayak – or even a 1.5-mile trek around the perimeter. Probably the most steps I’ve ever put in on a vacation.
The best part, of course, is spending quality time with the family. Hanging with my brothers and their significant others, my nieces and nephew, my kid, all of whom have managed to have fun even when the cottage was way, way too small or there was a line for the bathroom. Even when the weather didn’t cooperate.
Damn, I can’t wait to make this year’s memories.
Tami Lund writes books, wins awards, drinks wine, and spends 51 weeks a year dreaming about the next summer vacation. Check out her website for your reading pleasure: www.tamilund.com.