August 6, 2020.
I walk through Holy Cross Forest View Cemetery, as I always have done, each time I visit. My cousin is buried there. Four years older than I, he passed away after a “chemical experimentation” lapsed his body into a diabetic coma, then death. He was twenty-one at the time. I always say “Hi” to him. Somewhere in my imagination, I see his goofy smile and that seventies golden yellow van of his. I smile at the nostaglic version locked in my head. I remember him with the awe of a teenaged girl. “Oh, Kevin,” and I stroll to the next family marker.
For the first time in my visits, I fumble with the location of the grave marker for my father’s parents. Usually it is automatic. I know to look for the friends of my grandparents two rows behind Kevin. My grandparents are four stones over. The Lake Michigan humidity carpets the cemetery with thick, lush green grass. Plump red maple trees and basketed flower arrangements decorate blocks and blocks of memorials. The limestone colored asphalt drive winds through the shadows.
It is a beautiful resting place and equally restful for joggers and walkers. Along the north perimeter road lies a field which serves as a useful doggy area. My observation has been that people use it respectfully. There are always dogs running with owners gathering nearby them. Throughout the cemetery as well as along that road, walkers and visitors seem to find each other to chat. I smile as an older gentleman’s yellow lab gingerly sniffs at me, wagging her tail, then returns to her owner. He smiles and we exchange greetings as I assure him I am ‘okay’ with his companion’s interest in me.
I find the gravesite. The low granite stone is outlined, in part, by snow on the mountain. The large lettering has been camouflaged by lichen which has planted itself in the engraving. I kneel. “Hello.” I place a kiss in my hand to place upon their name. I figure I can sacrifice a fingernail in order to scrape the lettering clean.
Standing, I begin walking to my maternal grandparents. Normally I would walk back to the road, but the grass is so thickly green and wonderfully shaded, it invites a person to walk among the resting souls. Theirs is easy to find. A green maple tree, planted when one of them was buried now shades both their site and the drive in front of them. My Jewish grandmother and the grandfather who changed his given name from Adolph to Frederick.
I give them a kiss too.
Memories of a past shared now with souls. I smile, thinking that for a moment I was still that child, that teenager. My families were not always the most pleasant of people and most of the time groups of relatives were always arguing about something. It seemed to me, as I walk among the graves, I was still the child who would visit. I was rather bouncy, friendly and – probably shocking to my ‘old school’ grandparents and great aunts and uncles – prone to always leave them with a hug and a peck on the cheek. As I child, I knew they were old. No matter what type of people they were, they had been ‘mine’. They were precious and ancient.
The recollection of identity seems to be an unexpected theme of this vacation, like a turn of the road taken in error. It turns to be no error at all.
Arriving this year, the lake was rough. At the park, waves splashed against concrete barriers which had never felt the sting of the lake’s bite. The lower steps of the barrier had once guarded the antique limestone beach steps, limestone which had been laid in the 1930’s by the conservation corps. Now, the lowest barriers are chipped away. Veracious waves etch the gentle rise of limestone and concrete into a four foot cliff.
Photographers of all abilities and ‘denominations’ posed themselves to catch the magnificent crashing waves. The shoreline had always been photogenic, but the rising of the water levels have stripped away the pretense of earlier, gentle years. “The lake goes in fifteen year cycles,” explained my mother. I remember the wildness of waves which crashed over Highway 42.
In my son’s younger years, the lake was losing water faster than was being replenished. In the same spot which was now a concrete cliff, we had enjoyed fifty yards of beach. The sand bars had captured shallow waters into warm wading pools. It was a family swimming paradise.
Now? Nothing. The same shoreline is unrecognizable in comparison. In my childhood years, I remember the smooth pebbles which respectfully outlined the limestone steps. They had been polished, then deposited by the very same lake which replaced them decades later with a stunning beach. Now, that lake swallowed all of it almost as if daring to erase memories. “Do you remember?”
“Yes. Yes I do.” And I replay snippets of sunshine and family while the waves chew at the concrete beneath my feet. I cannot imagine why I am not saddened by the change. But I am not. Somehow, the cycle seems correct, as if the lake has its own wisdom.
Such a turn, this vacation is. The days are like a feast for my soul. Any less and I would be thinking. And I cannot imagine any more from a vacation. And it feels scripted as if written by the very lake which dared me to remember its cycles, the beaches, the smooth pebbles, the limestone and the waves.
I bike through the town of my childhood summers, just as I had then and have each summer for most of my adult life. I peddle along the limestone gravel road, between the water treatment plant and the marina, to the Southside Fishing Pier. “Southside” was all you had to say decades ago when there was no marina. Fishermen knew the spot, rough then, but worth the trouble to navigate through the coal yards to get there. “Fred, where did you fish those brownies?”
“Southside.” (Sometimes my grandfather might lie about where he caught trout. It all depended upon if he liked you or not).
As I explore, I see the barges and tugboats docked inside the harbor. Periodic dredging keeps the river harbor and the outlet between the piers clear. This year’s operation is huge with a fleet of three salvage tugboats. I vary my perch between the two piers and sand dunes, depending upon the activity. It is like heaven on earth. As a high school student, I had driven a tug while studying limnology. Such a odd occurrence in ones life, but an endearing one.
The working tugboats capture my heart, but the tears came to my eyes when on the third day here, as I watch the cranes lift silt from the harbor depths, a commercial fishing boat returns from the lake. The sight of it feels like a gift from the lake, that same question. “Remember?” I cry at the sight of the boat, similar to the old pictures of the fishing boats from my father’s family.
So I turn. And it would not be a turn without writing. I miss this struggle of words and expression.
And I turn with the crashing waves reminding me that I can. It is as though the lake replied to the course of my life – my intentional, purposeful, meaningful life – not only with the usual vacation of beach bunny time but with tugboats, fish boats, a bicycle and golf. And harbor dredging and cranes and photography.
My prayers are answered. I am complete.
Due to the crash of waves and gifts from the lake I have always imagined to be my lake.
I’m not selfish though. The lake is meant to be shared…
Lots of love and a kiss, of course.