I ran across this picture today and felt my heart swell a little. It was taken at the beach in Ludington, MI, and Epworth Heights, a Methodist community of cottages. Even though we were Catholic and didn’t own a cottage, every summer we stayed at Happy Harbor, a cottage next to the lagoon and off the beach with a bay window that featured a large model sailboat. To this day, the smells of wet sand, sisal rugs, and dune buggies take me back to some of the best memories of my childhood: running down the dunes with our towels tied at our necks, pretending to be super heros (actually, super cats…but that’s a whole ‘nother story); walking through the tiered sidewalks that ran in front of the cottages at different levels, thick with flowers and ferns; stopping by the hotel for comic books and candy; strolling down the long boardwalk to the lighthouse that greeted ships on Lake Michigan.
On the Fourth of July, the town launched fireworks off a barge in the lake and we dug foxholes in the beach sand. As the fireworks exploded, we dove into our foxholes and pretended to be at war. It was the 1960’s and Vietnam was on the news every night.
I remember a man who stayed farther north on the beach, in a cottage called the Sandpiper, I think. I can’t remember his name but he was confined to a wheelchair, his chest strapped into the chair, and he took deep breathes and gulped before every three words. He was always very sweet to us and my dad adored him.
There were five of us kids then. I was the youngest. In this picture, I am with my oldest brother, who is developmentally disabled. We were always off in different directions — my sister playing softball, my brothers sailing, me picking up rocks and shells or running with one of my brothers up the catwalks to the hotel. We sang “Downtown” with Lulu on the radio. We bought Batman ice cream, bright blue and tasting like licorice, at the ice cream parlor in town.
I remember walking with my dad along the beach one night. (I have probably written about this before, somewhere else on this blog, but it was one of those moments upon which my memory glints.) He picked up a perfectly round stone. He said, “This is like your little face. Perfectly symmetrical.” He had to explain what “symmetrical” meant. That stone sat on his dresser for years afterward.