The place I yearn for most of all, probably simply because it is the most familiar of summer destinations for my family, is my lake. My lake. I was named after the lake. My grandparents began the tradition of vacationing in Wisconsin when they purchased a cabin on the lake, and my own little family visited every single summer until my teenage years waned. It is where I advanced my fledgling swimming skills, learned to bait a hook and cast, made memories with my parents. It is a safe place, familiar. It is hard not to feel a sense of ownership.
We drove the exact same route each year, stopping at the same gas stations and restaurants and midpoint hotel in Janesville. After my parents sold the cottage, we still returned to the same lake each year in a new cottage rented from family friends.
When we arrived, the first thing I always did was hop out of the car and run down to the dock, dipping one hand in the water, greeting my old friend.
Mom and I spent mornings sleeping late while Dad went out for bait and a newspaper. We let the day decide our plans. If it wasn't raining, we went fishing from the boat or drove to Little Tomahawk or the Willow Flowage to fish from the banks.
This is not me. Just pretend. Of course, if it was me, the fish out be larger...
If the skies looked threatening, we went shopping downtown, eating at our favorite places, like the Polecat & Lace (where, like clockwork, Dad always got a spinach salad and French onion soup), shopping at the five and dime store that sold faux moccasins and little glass figurines of animals, and stopping at Dan's Minoqua Fudge for freshly made taffy. When the Warbonnet Zoo closed, we continued going to Jim Peck's Wildwood Park to let free range goats and deer eat corn from our hands. There was plenty of time to read or take naps or walk along the quiet road, picking up pine cones under the dim light allowed by the thick trees.
Summers will never be like that again, of course. I have a husband now, and someday we will have our own children and establish our own favorite vacation spots. My father's new physical limitations will never again allow him to carry a motor to a boat or stand on a dock at midnight, fishing for walleye. He may never even return to the lake. But my parents will adjust. They will make new memories. And so will I.
But we will always have the lake.