Last year, Tim and I bought a cottage a quarter mile from Lake Michigan and packed up twenty-one years years of life in Valparaiso with five children in a six bedroom home. At first, I carefully preserve Christmas ornaments made from macaroni and clothes pins, holiday decorations made in elementary school – Halloween pumpkins, Thanksgiving turkeys, and Valentines made from faded white doilies and red and pink construction paper. As the keepsakes multiply right before my eyes, I question what to do with the crafts, letters, art awards, ribbons, and 5K trophies. What do we do with the fifteen hooded sweatshirts with “Scannell” printed on the back? The varsity letters, the Mother’s Day cards, the father-daughter dance photos, Raffi CD’s, Disney DVD’s, school essays and report cards? Theater playbills of Billy Elliot, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, West Side Story, Brighton Beach Memoirs, and the dozens of local shows where Brendan performed? Bedroom trash bins overflow with oddball items with mysterious origins, nearly used up toiletries, clay pots, seashell necklaces, and old teeth retainer holders.
I sort like a lunatic. The New Creation Men’s Shelter picks up the twin beds, and the Caring Place for abused women takes the gently used bedding along with four cartons of tampons. Don’t need those anymore. Fifteen truckloads go to Goodwill and St. Paul’s. Cords, plugs, chargers, keyboards, monitors – recycle old technology. Who needs Walkie Talkies anymore? Triathlon wetsuit is given to a friend. The tri decade belonged to the 40’s. Ironman aspirations have been replaced by yoga.
Boxes and boxes and boxes of photos, some in albums, some with notes, dozens upon dozens in frames, some in folders, some black and white, some formal, some in clear cellophane class photos envelopes – smiling faces tempt me to sit and reminisce. Track, volleyball, soccer, basketball, student council, cross-country, speech, debate, so many team photos. Kevin smiles from my hip. Cub Scouts and Brownies – until we collectively decided there were just too many rules to be a scout.
We are fifty-four. Where do we go from here? Build an Irish cottage on the lake property. Complete with black potbelly stove, Belleek china, Gaelic Cead Mile Failte sign (100.000 Welcomes) and green shamrock shutters. Extend the deck at the lake so everyone will fit. Refinish an antique child’s picnic bench for our granddaughter Eileen. Stock the garage with beach chairs, coolers, stroller, bicycles, Burley trailer, and paddle boards.
Buy beds, tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, fresh sheets and new comforters. A variety of pillow styles – flat, fluffy, microfiber, and posturepedic. Clear parking for a fleet of cars. Stock the lending library with fiction, self-help, philosophy, autobiography, biography, Zen, yoga, sports, history, magazines, and children’s books. Group the bicycle repair manuals for Danny, Bethy’s fiance. He’s a big cyclist.
Grocery shop for the favorites. Bobby, our son-in-law, loves Oreos. Buy the mega box at Costco. Quinoa and brown rice for vegetarians Katie and Kevin. Cantaloupe, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries for antioxidant aware Brendan. Fresh vegetables for Brigid and Lia along with dark chocolate covered almonds. Eggs, English muffins, and a variety of jams and jellies. Ketchup for Bethy. She’s gotta have it.
Fire pit with Adirondack chairs. Lake Michigan breezes provide the rhythm for the flicker of the flames. Fill a closet with sweatshirts for cooler nights – Illini, Marquette, Indiana Hoosiers, Northwestern, Seattle U, DePaul. Loyola, Valparaiso High School, Valparaiso University, Chicago White Sox, Black Hawks and Bears. All sizes, all thicknesses.
Blankets for a chill.
Wineglasses with and without stems, plastic for the beach, water bottles. Corona, Miller Lite, Cabernet. Coffee pods for the Keurig.
Hats for the beach. Caps for the woods. Hawks, White Sox, Coach Scannell. Lost Dunes, Valparaiso University, Remember Your Roots from my sister Eileen. Safari hats and fishing hats. Sun hats and Kentucky Derby bonnets. Irish knit hats and fuzzy Eskimo warmers. Scarfs and neck warmers. Mittens and gloves, thick, thin, running, and gardening. Bug spray and sunscreen carefully placed in organized baskets. Beach towels rolled and ready.
Puzzles for Eileen, sand toys, tea sets. The toy kitchen stands ready for her latest concoction. Rocking chair, crib, high chair and children’s beach chairs, different sizes anticipating growth in toddlerhood.
Clue, Monopoly, Password, Buzz Word, cards, Quelf, Know It or Blow It, Pictionary. Dice. Blocks. A train set. Lego wagon.
Stack the firewood by the fireplace. Set out earthy, woodsy candles. What are the kids’ favorite scents?
Plan a rock garden. Better yet, a children’s rock garden, so that Eileen can participate. Tim can build a child’s arbor and little bench for Eileen. We look for ideas on Pinterest. I buy a children’s gardening set complete with little toddler gloves and shovel. We’ll teach Eileen about seeds and flowers. Maybe plant a vegetable garden. She already loves the deer.
We miss the kids, but they are happy, and we are happy.
We start our day at the lake. Tim takes the trail up to the Irish cottage in the woods to rake the leaves, so Eileen will be safe from ticks. I wash windows and witness the glowing emerging green penetrate the sunroom. I text Katie to see if Eileen can FaceTime with us from Milwaukee.
Tim enters through the back door, and we make our usual Sunday early lunch of eggs and vegetables. Elton John sings “Our Song” through the surround sound system. Tim patiently listens to my constant inquiry about life’s meaning and our purpose. Where do we go from here? We anticipate visits, and we visit. We take classes. We explore. I run. We work, we learn, we read, and we write. We listen. We serve. We dream. We thank God. We stick together.
And we tap dance when the kids arrive in the driveway. Deep down, we know that all they need is love.