Well, I finally sold the old lake house, the one my grandparents built way up there on Lake Nokomis in Northern Wisconsin. It had been in my care since my grandma died fourteen years ago. This coincided with a grand, early 20s waywardness, and so when I couldn’t figure what else to do with my life, I went there.
I’d been going to the Lake since I was a kid. Every summer, either before or after camp, we’d spend a week or so with my grandparents, waterskiing and fishing, visiting nearby tourist towns and partaking of the local saltwater taffy. They’d watch WKRP in Cincinatti and my grandma would drink on the sly and then have an insulin reaction and descend into screaming fits, most of her rage directed at my sainted Grandpa Don, who took amazing care of her for reasons I still have trouble understanding.
Naturally, when I arrived at the house, it was deeply haunted. It was October when I arrived. The leaves were turned and falling, the temperature dropping. I cleared the house with various rituals and began the long task of cleaning it out.
I was back and forth to Chicago a bit, and that’s when Elizabeth and I fell in love. I brought her to the house and we courted there, just as my dad had done with my mom so 30 years prior. We celebrated a honeymoon there. We rejoiced in languor. We brought friends, family. We filled the place with love.
And then we moved to California. In spite of my efforts to make my dad love the place, he didn’t. He would join on my annual trips, but
beyond that he wasn’t much interested in going up on his own. And so the house began to fall into disrepair. After my dad died, it only got worse.
We brought Otis there when he was two, and it was both amazing and sad. He had so much fun, but the place was so empty and so broken. All the love we’d put into the house seem to have seeped out through the cracks. My dreams of having heritage family retreat seemed to be following.
After Luke was born, it became pretty clear that getting to Northern Wisconsin from Southern California was going to be difficult to do on any sort of regular basis, and so my mom and I got the house ready to put on the market. It took a few dumpsters to get rid of about a quarter of the stuff in that house — it had been filled with not only my grandparents stuff, but their parents stuff, my parents stuff and my stuff. It was hard to tell heirloom from junk. The deed to the old family farm in southern Illinois? Trashed. Cuff links with the name of the company Grampa Don worked? Kept.
It took two summers to get it ready. When it hit the market, it sat for the whole season. The few who came to see it returned comments like, “Too bad they spoiled this nice piece of land with such an awful house.” Ouch.
Then, oddly enough, it sold in the dead of winter to a brother and sister from central Wisconsin, eight kids between the two families. My heart broke. I was happy for the buyers, but so sad that Luke would never see the place, nor baby #3. The family memories I hoped to create there would never come to be.
So as soon as the funds from the house were in my bank account, I ran out to buy a pair of Pedago City Commuter bikes for Elizabeth and me. Though we’re relatively young and fit, we live in hills too relentless to make bike riding enjoyable, especially while toting our two young boys. These bikes have 500 watt motors, plenty for me and just about right for towing Otis on a Trail-a-bike with Luke on his front-mounted bike seat. On our first cruise around town, I yelled back at Otis, “Do you feel alright?” He yelled back, “This feels wonderful!”
Suddenly we go everywhere by bicycle, and it harkens back to my own childhood, that taste of freedom. It’s common to get stuck in cars moving kids around, but this is especially true in Southern California. These bikes unlocked that. Adventure, freedom was now ours at a moments notice.
There’s no replacing the loss of the Lake house, but holding on to something that’s slipping away is sad work. To let it go and transform into here-and-now joy seems like good business, because business doesn’t usually mind about an aching heart.