The Last Weekend

Photo property of Alterra Coffee Co.

There are quite a few things I should be doing other than writing here. I really should not be doing this. I can stay up late tonight, though, if necessary. Right?

Or maybe I should be doing this. The last hurrah of summer, before reality strikes at 7:45 a.m. tomorrow. Yes, I have decided I shall think of it that way.

I left town with my family, early Friday morning for a weekend away, at the cottage “up north.” Is this a Wisconsin thing? I don’t know if it exists anywhere else. I spent most of my summer as a youngster at a cottage with my grandparents. I was the only child in the family interested. I absolutely adored spending the time with those two, wonderful people. And I was completely comfortable spending the day alone in the woods. To my dismay, I have not been able to give my children a similar out of the city experience (other than a few camping trips every summer).

So, I went on the internet early in the summer, looking for something like this:

The place had to have a lake for swimming, enough room for six people and a dog, and it had to be within two hours of Milwaukee. No easy task, as it turns out. I finally found what I thought would fit all criteria. It took an hour and forty five minutes to get there. There was a huge state park nearby for hiking, the dog was welcome, and there was swimming off the pier. The cottage wasn’t quite what we expected, however.

It was quite nice.

The swimming was good.

The hiking was great.

The golden eagles were incredible!

I took lots of work along. I didn’t do any of it.

I gathered a bunch of blankets and pillows on the deck, made a nest in the lounge chair, and I sat and looked at the water. I didn’t cook – my daughter cooked dinner our first night. The second night we went out for dinner. We hiked, the kids swam, I read Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill and began The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason.

I didn’t even make coffee in the morning. We drove to nearby towns Saturday and Sunday, early, and found lovely little coffee shops. We even found Alterra coffee was served there!

We rearranged who was riding with who, and the kids left for home on Sunday afternoon. I took a trip back in time, and went to visit the cottage on the lake where I spent my childhood. The cottage has long been out of our family; my grandparents sold it fifteen years ago to move closer to my mom.

Everything was different, everything was the same. But it still felt the way it felt for me as a child – magical. That time spent in the woods was important for creating who I turned out to be. I enjoyed being alone in the woods. I walked quietly, watching the animals, the birds, the insects. I had special places I stopped to unpack my lunch, and sat looking at the flowers and trees around me. I had a map that I added information to on every walk.

The perfect conclusion to my exploring would come when I followed the trail back to the cottage. I opened the screen door, stepped into the kitchen as the door slapped shut behind me, and the aroma of fresh baked gingerbread filled the room. Somehow, my grandma always timed it perfectly. The cake would be cooling on the counter, and she would be whipping the cream in the big, green, Fire-King bowl. She would add a pinch of sugar towards the end of the beating to sweeten it, and once the cream was stiff, I was allowed to lick the beaters. Then she would cut a nice, big square of the gingerbread, plop a thick dollop of cream on the top, and pour me a glass of 7-Up. Soda was a rare and special treat reserved for the weekend. This combination is the finest, most divine, culinary memory I have from my childhood.

Whoa. Back to today. I knocked on the door. I could picture the kitchen on the other side. The bird models I built and painted for my grandma were on the cookbook shelf in the kitchen. No one was home, though. We took the liberty of walking about the property for what I think will be the last time. My rowboat was still there, with the anchor my grandpa made. My grandpa made everything he possibly could!

He had a huge digging project that took a couple years to complete. He dug into the side of the hill, next to the cottage, to make a parking area for his car, and the truck that came to empty the septic tank, and steps up to the back door.

Every wheelbarrow full of dirt that he dug up, I put through a screen he had built to my specifications. It was big enough so I could sift a bucketful of dirt at a time, without being too heavy for me to lift. Since the dirt was very sandy, the sifting went pretty quickly. I found lots of boring rocks and pebbles that were placed in another bucket for my grandma’s garden. I also found squirrel and bird bones, some of which I saved for my fairy house building. There were many little twigs, and acorns buried by forgetful squirrels. It was the second summer’s excavation, next to the steps, that I made my find. A stone arrowhead slowly emerged from the sand that sifted away through the screen.

That moment was probably the most amazing and magical I had experienced in my life. The arrowhead was pinkish-brown, and about three inches long. It was notched on the end; a space for lashing it with sinew cord onto the wooden arrow shaft. I could see it in a quiver with three other, precious arrows fletched with hawk tail-feathers

Even my grandpa, who didn’t show excitement about much, was obviously thrilled. He told me he even felt like an archaeologist, since he was the one who had shoveled it out of the side of the hill. I shared the glory with him. After showing the prize to my grandma, who put it in a small cardboard box for safekeeping, I went back out to continue my sifting.

It was to be a momentous day. In different screenings from the same area, I found three shards of pottery. One was thin, reddish brown, and had an indented rope design gracing its surface. The other two pieces were thicker, and looked like the lip of a pot or bowl. They were both striped black and white, obviously from the same piece of pottery. I continued to sift patiently, that summer and the next one, until my grandpa’s excavating was complete. I never found anything else. It was enough though. The arrowhead and the three pieces of pottery are still safely ensconced in the small, cardboard, box my grandma placed them in.

Back to Sunday. We walked around half of the lake, the dog was tired, we got in the car and drove home. It was a great end to the weekend. While Timothy drove, I took pictures out of the car window. To see this field of windmills, that stretched as far as I could see over the horizon, gave me hope for our future.

We arrived home and I unpacked. I sat down with my book to relax and savor the end of the weekend. The phone rang.

A dearly loved, young family member had made an attempt to end his life. A friend had dropped by, fortunately, found him, and took him to the hospital. They weren’t sure he would survive the night. I called my son, he picked me up, and we were in the car, heading north again.

My dear young man started breathing on his own in the early hours of the morning. By afternoon, his body was coming around to normal again. I sat and talked with him. He didn’t have much memory of what happened. I wished desperately I could share a part of my pleasure, my peace, my happiness, my wholeness with him. I did not know how, though.

So, today is my last day of total freedom, no work calling, time alone. I will call my young man this afternoon, and see if he is willing to talk with me about a plan for his future. I will arrange rides for my daughter to go to work tomorrow, since I will not be there to taxi her. I will explain to the dog we can’t take our walk at noon.

My life goes on.

19 thoughts on “The Last Weekend

  1. What a blessing that the story of your young family member ended the way it did, at least there is hope and a second chance. I truly believe you just being there, then and in the future, is sharing that hope and peace and happiness that you have. Just knowing someone cares and is there can make all the difference in the world. I hope and pray that both you and your family member will be able to look back to this time as a crucial turning point in this young person’s life.

    On a life-related note, I loved experiencing your childhood memories with you. I grew up in an area where we had woods all around and it was so wonderful to take long walks alone out in the woods and through the countryside, imagination and exploration being the only goal. I loved that life and am sad that my daughter only got that in snippets growing up. I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up in town or in a city. It is sad that today’s world doesn’t always feel that care-free. I was glad to read also that you felt the magic in the place when you went back. That just reaffirms how magical this world still can be in a person is open to it.

    Are all the kids yours? Looking at them floating in the water makes me so jealous…that looks so relaxing. Thank you so much for sharing all this, it makes me happy in my own memories and in sharing yours.


  2. What an extraordinary post – so much life in it, so many emotions and experiences. I am so sorry for your young man, but this may well prove the turning point he needs. It’s awful, but sometimes rock bottom is the only place you can pick up from. He must surely be glad you are there, and being there is exactly the way to pass your sanity onto him. The memories of childhood were gorgeous, but the present always makes the biggest claim on our attentions, doesn’t it? And yet we’d never get through the present without the foundations of the past. Good luck to all your family at this moment.


  3. Hi Carl, I am so glad that this post brought back fond memories for you. I have decided to buy some land so when I am a grandparent, I will be able to give my grandchildren the kind of experience I was lucky enough to have. Two girls are mine, boy is girl one’s boyfriend. Boy on cliff with dog is also mine.
    I also hope that this is the turning point for him, and there is a happy ending in the future. Thank you for your prayers.

    Litlove, I said the exact same thing to his mom – sometimes you have to hit the lowest point possible to start climbing up the other side. Thanks for your good wishes for him.

    I had a wonderful foundation to build my life on – these childhood memories were a great place for me to visit.


  4. This post is so very rich, beautifully written, with such energy and poignancy. It touched me in so many ways.

    First, I am very grateful that your young man is coming around and looks as though he’ll be physically all right, though I can tell from your words that you (and probably others) will have some healing of the heart to address. I will keep you in my thoughts.

    Here in Michigan we have “up north” too! In fact, they even sell “Up North Michigan” sweatshirts (probably the same company does the same thing for Wisconsin!). And I, too, spend many wonderful hours there. Our family spot — the original, where my mom and her sisters came for years — is now my cousin’s, but only a half mile down the road. We bought a different place as we all grew too big and lives became too complicated to all be in the same spot. I go there as often as I can and every place has a memory attached — making sand treats in our pretend bake shop, fishing with my dad, singing on the tailgate of the station wagon between houses at the top of our lungs, and picking up all sorts of things that might freak me out now in the swamp!

    I’m glad you had your beautiful weekend. Even more so, that your young one will make it.


  5. This entry is full of all kinds of tears, from the sad-tragic and sad-nostalgic to the happy-notalgic and happy-celebratory (of finding the new “cottage”) – beautifully done in every way. And thinking good thoughts for the young man. And for life, in all its manifestations and passages.


  6. Gracious, what a few days you’ve had! I’m so glad your young relative made it through. Perhaps with some help, he’ll regain his hope. I will pray that is true.

    I so enjoyed your lakeside memories. I spent my childhood wandering around forests with my dog, so I know well the wonder that gives a child. It’s good to relive that if one can.

    Were the books good?


  7. This post mirrors life in so many ways – I was happily reading along, enjoying your vacation stories, and your visit to the old summer cottage, and then BAM! the horrible news about your young friend. And it just cut me to the quick, because I lost a young man very dear to me two years ago when he took his life. I’m glad this story had a better ending, and I hope he’ll be alright.


  8. Thank you for your kind thoughts, Jeanie. We are working on his healing.
    I was so pleased you could identify with “up north.” Your memories are quite wonderful. I have a friend who still goes to the cottage that has been rented by her family for over 60 years. I went with them one summer, and it was so much fun to live her treasured, childhood memories.

    Thanks for your positive words, Oh. A dear cousin goes into surgery tomorrow, so it has been quite a tearful week. I guess we will get it all over with in one, fell swoop. I hope!

    Hi Willow, green Fire-King is beautiful, isn’t it? I have a few pieces that I use all the time.

    You were a woods stomper too, Pamela? There is nothing like it, I believe. And yes, the books were great! I love books that are written in series, and both of these vacation books are just that. The Cotterill I read is the last in the series, and the Gleason is the first in the series, so I have more of that to look forward to. Thank you for your hopeful wishes for my dear young man.

    I am so sorry for your loss, Becca. It is hard to understand, isn’t it? We find so much beauty and wonder in life, it is difficult to see through such a hopeless perspective. I guess that is just how I felt… lovely weekend, lovely time, and then BAM.
    Life is full of surprises!! I appreciate your good wishes.


  9. I am anonymous. I feel anonymous. It has been a dreadfully long week. Wednesday night my hard drive crashed – irretrievably. Do you think I backed up the last revision of my WIP? Of course not. Photos? Nope.
    Well, at least I have a nice, new, clean hard drive to work with. No bookmarks, no favorites, nothing.
    Is this a test?


  10. I am so sorry Qugrainne. I have had that happen too many times…obviously I don’t learn from my mistakes! I ache for you because it so absolutely sucks when that happens.


  11. Carl, that is the most precise, descriptive way to put it: “…it so absolutely sucks…”
    I appreciate your empathy, and I don’t feel quite such an idiot, knowing I am not the only one who was not prepared for the sooner or later inevitable.
    Ah well, back to the drawing board!


  12. What lovely pictures – am going along and then it’s all shattered as so much in life is, most of the time. Hope you’re ok. Having recently read Coetzee’s Disgrace it has brought it home to me, again, how much of life is without happy endings. It’s quite hard actually to accept that and live with it. Yes, life’s a bastard. And then we pick up, again.


  13. Seachanges. I sure don’t like unhappy endings in movies or books… they are so final. At least in life, as you said, we pick up again, and then great stuff comes along to assuage the pain. Yes, I shall be okay. Thank you.


  14. Dearest qugrainne,

    Your peaceful calm before the storm …. looks lovely, fun and just how a summer is ‘supposed’ to look at its end.

    Yes, I have undergone yet another metamorphosis – now attempting WordPress. I feel rather clumsy, stumbling around with my posts; not being able to change fonts or sizes of titles and so forth … I do like your template. What is it called ?

    A clumsy segue’ into the discussion of your young friend. We often feel clumsy and stumbling when faced with such a crisis – what to say? how to comfort? not being able to change what is going on in his head. to help him see that the pit has an opening, and the opening has a light called hope. Sometimes, we all just get mis-directed and lose our bearings, yes?

    I am excited for your ‘fresh start;’ I begin my orientation next week …. then I am thrown into 8th grade Language Arts. I am looking forward to it – but not to the loss of my freedom to sleep in, laze away my days. My summer ending has been full of change, change, change: house is being ‘improved’ for sale, re: painters, landscapers, handymen. And, finally, it appears I will be able to let go of my gas guzzling clunker of a car!

    “They” say change is good. “They” say, ‘Think Positive.’ I must admit – at times I wake in the middle of the night, mouth dry with anxiety and ask myself: How did I get to this place ?

    Moving forward,
    @edges of light


  15. L.B., I say change is good. I say think positive. That dry mouth sure lets you know you are alive! However you got there, you are still there. Hopefully you learned one or two things on the way…. I am sure you did! (As in don’t make the same mistake twice!!!!!) New car, new house, new job, new life – it is all so exciting.

    Good luck next week. You will be wonderful and the children will love you for your enthusiasm and caring. Ask your own children for support. They are specialists at school, and will love being there for you in something they know a lot about.

    Talking about “how did I get to this place?” – yesterday I went to visit one of my interns. I drove up and parked in front of the school. Hmmmmmm, this looks familiar. Oh my. I went to kindergarten here! What a flood of memories poured over me then. Time really does fly – make good use of it, dear.


  16. My heart goes out to the dear young man in your family – I will keep him on my thoughts.
    I loved reading about your childhood memories of the lake as I have very similar ones of a lake, my grandparents and homemade donuts and hand-cranked ice cream (instead of gingerbread!) It was a place of safety, security and unconditional love in a childhood that was at times confusing and stressful. Whenever I need to feel peace I travel there in my memories… a safe haven.
    Hope you’re loving these last days of this delicious summer! Deb


  17. Thanks so much, Deb. Our young man is trying his best.
    I was so pleased to hear of your childhood memories. We were so lucky to have grandparents in our lives! And hand-cranked ice cream – what a great treat. You are absolutely right; the safety, security and unconditional love was the just-right combination for me too.
    I am enjoying this long weekend, with beautiful weather on top of it. Rode my bike to the coffee shop, and now sit here with my cappuccino, wallowing in my free time. Hope you are enjoying too!


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