While the Glen lakes were within sight of the farm we usually went to the public beach in Empire for the day. Aunt Mary and Uncle Norm Welch lived in Empire as well as Aunt Bea Payment, (yes, I really had an Aunt Bea). More often than not we would visit before we made our way to the beach. I’m sure There was moaning and groaning from us kids but I don’t remember it. Empire beach had picnic tables and grills, Swings and teeter-totters. This was the time before sun screen and a sunburn was a badge of honor. I’ve seen the Empire beach recently and it has changed. It’s all sand. Either the stones were washed off the beach or were buried. When I was young there were stones all along the beach at the water line. We had learned early on that there was a particular stone that could only be found on the northern beaches and it was different from all the other stones. (I later found out that that wasn’t exactly accurate but they were easiest found on the beaches.) Hexagonaria Percarinata, or the Petoskey Stone, is a fossilized coral that usually takes the pebble shape after a millennia of tumbling in the surf. I can still feel the pebbles against my hands and knees as I crawl along the shoreline moving stones this way and that checking for that buried treasure that might not have been seen by less sharp eyes. Especially when I was young I picked up more than petoskeys. There were other stones like quartz and bits of broken glass that had been worn smooth and rounded by the sand and surf, But there was something alluring about the Petoskey stone. The hexagonal pattern set it apart from all the other stones. I think, for myself, the stones were a part of ‘up north’ to me. Later in life I could find them in the gravel pits around Grand Rapids but very few and far different than the stones that have been rolled, shaped and smoothed by sand and wave. Crawling along the beach, back hunched and burned, finding a Petoskey the size of a quarter, all smooth and rounded was like finding a diamond ready for mounting. It was just another piece of the ‘northern experience.’ Bringing home a few stones made me feel like I was bringing home a part of Springdale Farm.
Combing the beaches, then, became one of the required activities on any trip up north. ‘Suffering’ through sunshine, beaches, and lake water was the cross I had to bear. If my back got too warm I’d just crawl into the waves and duck under the water to bring cool relief. I don’t know why but my swim trunks always had pockets. What are they for? What could you possibly be carrying that could suffer getting wet? Mine usually ended up getting filled with stones and beach glass. If I didn’t have them tied right, two pockets bulging with rocks and other flotsam would sag my shorts down past decency allowed and I’d need to grab them up tight. I must’ve looked quite the sight walking back down the beach to my towel where I deposited my ‘finds,’ and slog back for more. Other things would end up in the pile, things that kids find fascinating; small pieces of driftwood worn smooth, shells, gull feathers, plunder from a day spent in the sun. Mom would call us back for lunch. Sandwiches, chips and some treat picked up from Deering’s Market in Empire. I remember when I was five and six a nap was required after lunch. Our towels were spread on the grass under the shade trees above the beach. “We’re at the beach!” we complained. “It’s impossible to sleep at the beach!”
She was adamant. Even if we didn’t sleep we had to lay quiet for a while. We could hear and see other kids playing, other parents scolding or chatting. The midday sun flickered through the leaves overhead. A breeze off the lake kissed my cheek and dried my sun blonde hair. I wiped sand off my forearm as an ant crawled across the corner of my towel.
I woke some time later. Mom was sitting in her beach chair reading a book, Little Kelly Jo was lying on a blanket asleep next to her, a bottle mostly empty on the blanket by her head. Mike was already up and off down the beach and Shannon was still asleep on her towel. I grabbed a handful of chips and took off after Mike. Some days come back to mind so clear; others not at all or in short bursts of images. Spending time at the Farm was that way; we spent so much time there that, I think, the time and events became ‘normal’ almost like home. Days blend into weeks into months where certain days or events attach themselves to memory. I’m sure there were days that we did not much of anything special at the Farm. Those days were probably just as filled with woods and fields, apples and plums, rainy day stories and inside games. At a certain point the importance of certain places have less to do with the events that happened there and more to do with the overall feelings we get when we think about them. There are places in our lives, good and bad, that bring up feelings of joy or sadness; sometimes even both. We determine the emphasis and proportion. There is sadness associated with the Farm, how can there not be given the circle of life and the uncertainty of each day. Not too long after this event at the beach we got a call from the Farm. My cousin Bill, already a young man, had come home from the service. He was exhausted. There was a tree. Decades later, another call from Aunt Louise; Uncle Frank had passed; again, from my cousin Betty. These are events that could crush the human spirit if it were not for the myriad experiences that surround these people that produced such joy in the hearts of those they touched. I remember Aunt Louise’s gentle hugs and remember the twinkling laughter in Uncle Franks eyes as he made us ‘berry pie.’
Flashes of memory flicker through my mind infused with the feeling i get when my heart is full to bursting in remembered pleasure. The Farm and the places around it are a place of joy for me. It is a place I have shared with my own children and with my grandchildren. If they come away from the experience with a fraction of my own I am truly blessed.