By John Hubbuch
My family and I have been going on vacation with the same five families for more than 25 years. We always go the first or second week of August. We always go to the same place, Watervale, which is near Frankfort, Mich. about 300 miles from Oak Park.
Like nomads in search of an oasis, we gather for a special week before resuming our quotidian lives. We come from all over — Oak Park, Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Portland, San Francisco, Steamboat Springs and Washington D.C.
We span four generations. Mary's mom Sally is the oldest. My granddaughter Ava is the youngest. We live in little houses or at the rustic inn. There are no phones, TVs or Internet. Cellphone reception is episodic.
This time and place has become special for most of us. The reasons are multiple. There is the peace and beauty of the physical setting. Yellow sand, green forest and blue water create a natural tapestry that Gauguin should have painted. You can walk along the Lake Michigan beach for an hour and see no one.
The sounds of the el, cars, radios and lawnmowers are replaced by birdsong, waves and wind rustling through trees. At night the orange glow of an urban sky is changed over to a sea of luminosity. You rediscover shooting stars and lightning bugs. By the time the week ends, you realize that the Romantics were right: nature defines us and brings out our best. We perhaps should not stray too far from the elemental — water, earth, fire and sky.
Vacations like ours are special for another reason. Once a year you do things that you don't do any other time of the year. You should, but you don't. Vacations get rid of your excuses. Climb a sand dune. Look for petoskeys. Make s'mores. Play more golf in a week than the rest of the year. Eat a cherry fritter that is larger than your head. Pick blueberries. Catch bugs and minnows. Rent bikes. Sleep later. Wear your bathing suit most of the day. Take a nap. Watch the sun slip below the distant horizon. Make a fire.
Life is best lived small.
And coming together in the same place at the same time reminds us that life is a current that carries us inexorably forward. The reminder is especially vivid for those of us with grandchildren. Playing with Lily in the sand in the same identical spot where I played with Chris, Nick and Phil evokes a flood of wonderful memory, even if it is ever-so-lightly clouded with the thought that at 62, this won't last forever. There will come a day when I won't be able to climb Baldy or carry the kids over the hot sand on an August afternoon or stick a wedge at Pinecroft.
But in the end the chill of a distant, uncertain future is warmed by a late afternoon sun sitting on the deck outside the inn. I'm holding 4-month-old Ava. She's just finished nursing, and her bright dark eyes are taking everything in.
Off in the distance after much coaxing from Gigi, Uncle Nick, Aunt Brooke and her Mom and Dad, almost-3 Lily is summoning the courage to jump off the raft with her Dad holding her. At long last they jump, and as they surface, Lily teeters on a laugh-cry fulcrum. The cheers of her loved ones, my loved ones, tip the balance to a radiant smile. All is well. I really don't think life gets much better than this.