Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, August 04, 2008

the dock near sunset, summer

Last month we -- my beloved spouse, our son, my sister's son, and I -- were swimming off our family's dock in Michigan when I saw a big bird dive into the water for fish and upswoop empty-taloned, flying north along the shore. We followed along the connected open lawns until my beloved spouse spotted it sitting in a tree several houses down. I hadn't been sure that it had been a bald eagle, but it was! Sitting in stately, well-lit profile. I ran back to our cottage to tell my mom -- nobody had ever seen a bald eagle at the lake -- and everybody came in a hurry -- Mom, my brother, my sister, her husband, and Mary, our next-door neighbor
who is also Mom's 2nd cousin. We watched it for several minutes until it flew off south, the length of the lake, soaring so high in the deep summer sunlight, a light like that of no other time or place. My sister's daughter missed it because she had been in a time out, but the next day while playing on a neighbor's raft with the kids, the eagle flew right over our heads, and my niece saw it after all. My sister and I had acutely missed our dad, who died two years ago, while looking at the eagle, because not only was he deeply patriotic, but nobody was more enthusiastic about the wonders of nature, of which a big bird never seen in those parts before would certainly qualify. I mentioned as much to my sister, who said that she felt as though Dad were saying Hello. Dad would have hated for his granddaughter to miss out, so it was nice of the eagle to come back for her the next day.

* * *

You grow up in a place, and it seems normal. Mom's grandparents built the cottage 90 or 91 years ago. For 60 years, a framed picture of Mom's grandfather has hung on the living room wall. Trim, 70 years old, wearing a nice suit, slightly grinning, and holding a prize trout he'd caught in the lake. It was only two years ago that it struck me how droll it was that he'd wear a suit to pose with his fish. Most pictures of him and Mom's grandmother, they're smiling and looking merry and robust, happy to be alive, happy to be together. There's a picture of Mom's grandmother smiling and holding two big fish in the living room too.

* * *

My friend Jay was visiting his parents the same week. He's written about our visit already, sweetly. Our families have been friends for generations, back to our great-grandparents at least. I always see his parents, whenever I go home.

He took this picture of the cottage living room. "The Temple of My Summer Youth," he said. I grew up in his house too. But this is the Place.

150-year-old books sit on those bookshelves. Earlier this year somebody found the newspaper clipping of my great-grandfather holding his prize trout, a tiny, faded newspaper version of the photo in the living room. I hadn't known it had been a newspaper photo. "Dr. Walter den Bleyker." Now the clipping is on the fridge. I had planned to steal it to bring home to my own fridge, but forgot.

Jay took this photo too, of the front-porch wall -- a map of the lake below the dinner bell, just visible at the top of the photo. That dinner bell probably 90 years old, maybe a lot older -- who knows? Hasn't been rung since my generation was a flock of kids, running around playing all day. In the next year or two we'll start ringing it again for our kids, as they start to run farther unsupervised.

Lots more happened during our week there, all of it echoing my 45 years there, my mom's 69 years there, our family's 91 years there . . .

It was Mom's family place, but nobody loved it more than my dad -- he took care of it more than anyone else for the 46 years he and Mom were married. Dad died two years ago today. Dismal day -- my mood has been grumpy and my thinking has been off-target.

My brother took this photo -- the cottage backyard last month. My son, my nephew, Jay's son, my niece, Jay's daughter.

One evening we all met at an ice cream shop after dinner, and the five kids rolled down the hill like logs, tipping each other over and getting all tangled up, laughing and laughing. I took one roll down too and they loved jumping on "the giant."

It was a good visit.

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