My husband, son, and I recently drove across Minnesota from Fargo (why we were in Fargo is another story) to Duluth on our way to a wedding on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The North Shore is incredible—worthy of multiple postings—as was the wedding we attended, and, when I sat down, I initially intended to write about those experiences, but I keep being drawn back into childhood memories. Memories triggered by the sights and smells along the windy, two-lane highways we traveled that day.
When I was a kid, my family went up to Minnesota every summer to visit my grandparents who lived on Lake Osakis, a small lake roughly 120 miles northwest of the Twin Cities. Grandma and Grandpa’s house sat between a dirt road and the shore of the lake, facing the water. Behind them, on the other side of the road were farm fields and the loveliest dairy farm with a big white barn. The barn was the sign my little sister and I looked for to tell us when we were almost to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Unfortunately for us—and our parents—there were a lot of white barns between Kansas City and my grandparents’ place, and my sister made sure to ask, “Is that the barn?,” every time she saw one.
During those vacations, we’d typically spend early mornings and sometimes late afternoons out on the glass-like lake with Grandpa, fishing for crappie on the Rock Pile or for sunfish in the reeds near the outlet. It was a special treat when my sister and I got to go fishing with Grandpa by ourselves. No parents. Not as many rules. He would sing silly songs and teach us off-colored poems such as, “Mr. Martin went a fartin’…” He’d patiently bait our hooks and take fish off our lines, swat mosquitoes and endure our own feeble attempts at humor—all with a smile and a deep, raspy chuckle. He didn’t even yell at us when we’d hook him trying to get our lines back in the water.
After lunch—and the obligatory hour we were told was necessary to let our food digest—Grandpa and Dad would head off to work on some project while Grandma and Mom retired to the lawn furniture under the shade trees to watch my sister and me leap off the dock into the sandy-bottomed lake and thrash around in the water chasing minnows. When our skin was good and prune-y and/or our mom couldn’t stand to hear us yell, “Watch me!,” one more time, she would make us get out, and we’d start scavenging around in the sand for any treasures that might have washed up onto the beach since our last search. Grandma would go up to the house and bring back a tray of cookies and lemonade, and we’d all enjoy a snack.
Later, after we were dried off and dressed, my sister and I would grab a handful of the pennies Grandma would have stockpiled just for our visit, and we’d walk the quarter mile up the dirt road to the tiny grocery store at Wells Wood Resort to buy penny candy. Sometimes, Grandma would send quarters and dimes and ask us to bring back a loaf of bread or can of evaporated milk. While we were at the resort, we would check out the license plates of the cars parked around the cabins to see where the guests had come from. We were especially pleased when we’d find another car from Missouri.
In the evening, my parents, grandparents, sister, and I would sit down at the kitchen table to a meal that was, more often than not, caught and filleted earlier that day. My favorite meal was when Grandma fried crappie fillets in beer batter and served them with her made-from-scratch hush puppies and homemade applesauce sprinkled with red hots. As we ate, sunburned and exhausted from our busy day, we would look out through the huge picture window at the end of the table, watching the egrets settling along the shore and the sun setting across the lake. Grandpa always had a story or joke to tell.
If we had any energy left at all after the dishes were washed and put away, we would take our dessert out onto the patio and sit in the glider to gaze at the stars…at least, that is until the lake flies and bird-size mosquitoes drove us back indoors. Then it was off to the showers. Back then, neither my sister nor I understood why we had to take showers when we’d been in the water all afternoon, but in hindsight, I’m sure we smelled like the bottom of a bait bucket. We didn’t care.
After talking Grandma out of one more snack, my sister and I would finally fall into bed—totally spent—with the sounds of the grown-ups out at the kitchen table playing cards or dominos to lull us to sleep.
Bright and early the next morning, we would be up, ready to get back out on the lake and do it all over again. It was heavenly.