My Aunt Mary called this summer, excited about the vacation she’d just spent at our ancestral compound in Portland Bay, New York – the poor person’s version of the Kennedy’s Hyannis Port. Her description of Lake Erie in rare perfect conditions stirred memories long dormant, of bonfires reflected in the water’s dark surface, and endless days swimming and collecting treasures.  Of strolls along dusty lanes in shimmering heat, licking sweet confections from my great grandmother’s diner. Of glorious anticipation driving one of a dozen routes through western Pennsylvania and of the ineffable sadness when it came time to journey back to Greenbelt.

          Though I only spent two weeks every year there, the Lake is the gateway to my most vivid childhood memories. How is it that the rest of my childhood can be recalled only dimly, but the adventures at the Lake have traveled down the course of my years like a coffee table book, always within easy reach?

                Mary feels the same. Several years ago, in a very practical family decision, we unanimously agreed to allow the last parcel of our ancestor’s compound to be sold to outsiders. The Lake, after all, is an eight-hour drive. After grandma passed away, the energy to spend precious vacation time to drive two days there and back dissipated to nothing.  We could, after all, rent a cottage on the grounds if we chose. Why be saddled with the dubious legacy of a lot on the cliff overlooking Lake Erie?

         Yet after her trip up, Mary found herself second-guessing the decision. She found a sympathetic ear in me.  E.B. White, in his essay, Once More to the Lake, says,

“It is strange how much you can remember about places like that once you allow your mind to return into the      grooves which lead back. You remember one thing, and that suddenly reminds you of another thing. I guess I remembered clearest of all the early mornings, when the lake was cool and motionless, remembered how the bedroom smelled of the lumber it was made of and of the wet woods whose scent entered through the screen.”  

                When I was young, it seemed most of my friends, like us, journeyed to be with distant family on vacation.  Nowadays, that is seldom the case. (Although this summer our family undertook an epic ten-day trip to Colorado to join my brother Mike, our parents, and most of the siblings in a joyful wedding celebration.)  Our vacations are now to strangers’ oversized homes in the dunes of the Outer Banks, or to timeshares and campgrounds in Orlando, or elsewhere. 

                I wonder if my kids, when they are older, will remember vacations as I do. As the highlights of my existence, the most memorable times.  As Mary and I talked, we replayed the family decision to sell away our childhood, in a sense. Would we, if we were given a do-over, take it?  How do you value the non-economic portion of that decision?

         Russell Baker says that parents feel “children ought to know what it was that went into their making, to know that life is a braided cord of humanity stretching up from time long gone, and that it cannot be defined by the span of a single journey from diaper to shroud.” That was brought home to me again, in a gift across time and distance. 

Thanks for the call, Mary.



10/29/2015 10:44am

Thanks guys found useful and interesting information, be sure to share with your friends

05/24/2017 2:41am

It's a sure thing that I'll be sharing this to my friends too. It brings back all the memories I had eight years ago. There was also one place that is so important to me. Every important thing happened to me was witnessed by that place, that's why it is really close to my heart until now. It's magical how a certain place has the power to bring old and good memories back to you.

05/29/2016 12:22pm

I am pretty sure you had really enjoyed writing this blog of yours because it was very exciting to study. That must be the most amazing incident that would have been held in your life.

10/16/2016 8:03am

I remember all my vacations! Perfect time! It's unreal to forget that ;)


I understand why she was excited. It's a great place. I hope I will visit it next year.


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07/14/2017 1:02am

Amazing post and i loved the name, lake magic.


Would love to visit that lake.

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I should say thank you very much for this thought. It gives me more knowledge on this issue.

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    Jack Downs is a mystery writer, teacher, and the author of two novels and several short stories. Jack lives in Carroll County, Maryland with his wife and three children..


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