Friday, February 22, 2013

from the beginning

To us 3283 embodies a generations-long family experience. A physical locale that is constructed of love, of learning, of exploring, of growing, of sharing and -- ultimately -- of paying it all forward.

In the early 1930's Michael and Harriet, a couple from Chicago, used a small family inheritance as a down payment to purchase the place. They had no idea -- or maybe they did -- that their decision would shape families for decades to come.  Their kids Mitch and Loretta spent countless summer days, weeks and months enjoying the simple lake shore life and sharing it with relatives and friends. In those summers Harriet and the kids would live at the cottage and Michael would take the steamer across the lake on weekends. The kids grew up and married. Loretta married John and added three sons to the family: John, Paul and David. I'm that son, John...and it's from my perspective that this story will be told.

The summer of 1949 was my first at 3283. Not yet a year old I was responsible, it is said, for the first major cottage renovation. Grandpa decided -- probably with considerable input from Granny -- that the baby needed more than primitive plumbing...and a bedroom was converted  to a bathroom complete with hot and cold running water, sink, toilet and bathtub. Such modern conveniences.

My mom followed the pattern set when she was a girl.  As kids we packed up after school ended in June and spent the entire summer at 3283. Grandpa, Granny, Mom and -- eventually -- all three boys were there seven days a week. Dad drove up on weekends. [I hadn't thought of it this way before, but it's noteworthy that my brothers and I have December and January birthdays. Mom didn't apparently want to interrupt summer at the cottage with something as disruptive as childbirth.] The neighborhood was full of kids. We spend hours and hours every day just playing outside. The beach stretched for miles...the lake was clean and refreshing....there was a pine forest perfect for forts and untold real explorations and imaginary adventures. Grandpa chopped wood. We chopped wood with grandpa. There was a fire in the fireplace every night.

I eventually went off to college. Mom and dad moved from their suburban Chicago home to Arizona, and back to two other Illinois places. But, 3283 remained. It was the constant...the one place we all could come to that didn't change. Well, didn't change....much. As boys the structure was simpler: a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, the bathroom, and a long front porch. Upstairs was a single big room....a dormitory. Only a single window at each end. We slept together: four double beds and three cots. Curtains were sometimes hung to separate areas when aunts and uncles would visit. But for the most part we heard every snore and grunt that grandpa, mom, dad and the three boys made. Granny slept in a downstairs bedroom.

There were always little projects being undertaken....tile floors in the living room and on the porch... re-configuring the kitchen...opening a wall along the stairway. Decks and stairs to the beach were built and re-built thanks to mother nature's whim. But the basic structure was unchanged.

In 1972 I married Bobbie....the 3283 family was expanding. Sue came along in December '73 and Mike in February '77 [Notice, again ... no summer interruptions]. 3283 changed to fit the new family. Dormers were built. Four bedrooms with windows facing east and west replaced the upstairs dormitory. The cottage had become a six-bedroom summer home. But it was, and still is, not a year round abode.

Susan and Michael grew up with 3283 as their own, too. I can't speak for them, but I sense the same deep connection and affection for this 'place' that I have had for my 64 years. Sue with her husband Damon and sons Drew and Leo have made their home in Minnesota. They spend as many days as possible every year at the cottage. Mike, his wife Lindsay and their son JJ are closer. This was JJ's first summer at 3283. As he played in the sand I pictured myself there decades ago. Passing on a legacy is amazingly fulfilling.

In 1996 my mother passed away. Bobbie became the matriarch of 3283. Dad loved the place...spent just about every summer day there....but could never spend a night in the place after mom died. He had a stroke in 2003 while in Arizona ... and never saw the cottage again. He joined mom in 2011.

To some, places are just that. While they may hold memories there is little connection to the land or structures.  I couldn't let 3283 go. I cherish it and how it continues to be a centerpiece of life for my kids and grandkids.

In 2012 we settled my father's estate. It was a hard long decision that Bobbie and I made. We were/are close to retiring. We would be determining our lifestyle for years to come. The decision may not have been completely rational or financially prudent. But the legacy needed to be carried on....for at least one more generation.   In June 2012 I spent a whole lot of money to buy something that I've had all my life.  It's ours. It will be our kids'. Hopefully even another generation or two.

We're going to make some changes to the structure that will let us enjoy it more....and prepare it for future generations. But whatever we do we will never change its purpose. We will never forget that Granny and Grandpa founded a lakeshore home for family to gather and that Mom and Dad implored us to always:
Be Happy and Have Fun.

This Blog will be a chronicle of how we will shape 3283 for Bobbie and I to live in as we live our lives out; and to pass on for my kids, grand kids and their families to cherish forever.

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