Betty Duffy

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Yes, Michigan!

We left behind oppressive humidity, intermittent flooding and sporadic rainbows—the kind of weather that makes everyone feel guilty for being as irritable as they are. There are rainbows, which should soothe the high strung nerves and short tempers brought on by the heat, but the rainbow rarely does more than draw the soul-weary out of the air conditioner to strain their eyes at the sky, wondering where the rainbow ends, and what this rainbow might mean.

Kissing my husband goodbye in the morning before work, nightgown and tiptoes, drinkable air and a rainbow must mean something; we’re special, we’re blessed, yet the following day it doesn't spare us the "packing up the car for vacation” spat. (“Daddy said we weren’t going on vacation, but Mommy was growling around for awhile, and then we went!” Andy said to my mother when we finally arrived—good reason not to argue in front of the kids.)

Getting out of the car eight hours north of home, where there’s no humidity, and the wind bends the dune grass into its own constant arc, and the sun manages to appear at around ten o’clock every morning following coffee in sweatshirts on the porch, it’s impossible to remain embittered about anything. We’re on vacation, and everything is cool.

I’m always suspicious of vacation. This can’t last: my parents, my siblings and our spouses, our children, the eighteen cousins, so many of whom are just barely prepubescent with chubby torsos preparing to sprout into a lithe young adulthood. Another year or two and these kids are going to be too big for this, or too busy. Or we won’t have the place to stay. There are too many variables to consider from one year to the next. And yet, somehow, I’ve been here every summer of my life.

Our lake is ten miles long and three miles wide, and I call it our lake because anyone who comes here considers it their own. People put up signs in front of their cottages that say “The Glens, since 1904” as though their presence in this place over a hundred years ago makes it more theirs than the property of the nouveau riche who have invested millions in the area in the past twenty years or so; small pine and cinder block cottages razed and replaced with vacuous A-frames on granite foundations.

Every year we do the same things, though we’ve forgotten why we do them. We drive to Point Betsie and watch the sunset. We stop at the mineral springs to drink the sulphur water said to contain health-reviving properties. We swim. We hike. We play tennis. Each day a triathalon to offset the ice cream and cherry fritters that are never as good as we remember them being. We drive down Graves Road in the dark and look for deer. And we look in at the three shops in Beulah.

I’m surprised anew each year by how much physical activity I can fit in a day. We stay at my aunt’s house which is the only house at the end of a gravel road in the woods, up on the hill about a quarter mile from the water. Treks to and from the beach, with kids in baby joggers, wet beach towels, books, life jackets, and whatnot are alone enough to leave the glutes throbbing at night. Down the hill: hang onto the stroller for dear life. Up the hill: push the stroller, hungry and tired from swimming. Fall into bed at night, skin tight and dry from the sun, feet smooth from the sand, eyes tired from trying to stay awake while reading, and sixty degree breezes blowing in through the window. “It’s the climate,” my husband says. Morning is Spring, evening is Fall, and the afternoon, from noon to six is a perfect Summer.

As the days pass, my oldest son’s jaw, which has been set forward since the end of the school year, begins to recede. He smiles and engages in conversation, which shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is. My kids don’t fight with each other when they’re with their cousins; so much discipline replaced by positive peer pressure. And somehow, everyone becomes uncommonly good-looking as their hair bleaches out, the skin browns, and eyes brighten. My own kids look like palominos crawling on the sand, each muscle set off by sun and shadow.

"The world doesn't owe you a trip to the lake each summer," it's been said. Oh, but it does, I'm afraid.


Rebekka said...


There's a lake like this in California, too.

Karly said...

Missed you, Betty, but glad you were having fun. Headed home to MI myself this weekend...growing up there, I think I really took it for granted. (Though you have to live through November-April to get the pleasures of June-September). Loved the image of your children as palominos--it's true!

Anonymous said...

Writing so fine I feel like I should have a cigarette afterward.

Peter and Nancy said...

We just returned from a week at a lake in northern Wisconsin . . . You've captured beautifully so much of our experience!

Maria said...

I had only just returned to life on the internet and re-found your blog and started reading again only to find you were on vacation.

I'm glad that you were having such a wonderfully refreshing time and that the vacation was good to you.

I was telling FH the other day that I'm never the same person I was after reading anything that you write. Always been the case, it's still the same.

We pray for you and your family often, now, and hope you can remember us, too. :)

BettyDuffy said...

MARIA! I just returned to life on facebook last night and discovered YOU'RE GETTING MARRIED! So incredibly happy for you.

Adrienne said...

We always went to Onekema when I was a kid, and stayed at a friend's cottage on Lake Michigan. Heavenly, it was just heavenly. My parents now have a little cottage on one of the inland lakes farther south but near where we live, and this summer we've been going out every Sunday (a sneaky Mom's evil plan to create memories).