Week at lake offers reminders of what really matters


It was almost 7:30 p.m. by the time my husband and I arrived at our lake property for a week-long camping reunion. It was an event we looked forward to the entire year. Family from Montana, Colorado, and all over Wisconsin were coming. Andy and I worked for months building a new path through the forested shoreline. We also added an additional fire pit. I wanted to have a welcoming place for guests to go if they needed some time away from the stress that goes with family gatherings.

With only one hour before sunset, Andy was thankful to see that one of the campers was already set up. I got out of the car and inhaled the sweet-moldy freshness of the forest greens. Welcoming hugs and bantering exchanges were brief from Andy’s son and his family of six. Their two dogs begged to be noticed while two vehicles from Montana came to a stop on the single-lane gravel road. Andy’s sister and grown nieces looked tired. I hoped we could make the trip worthwhile after their three days of driving with four kids ranging in age from 1 to 8. The entertainment we had for the kids was limited to a paddle boat, fishing poles, graveled paths through the forest, and porta potties.

I peeked in the backseat and was excited to see that 8-year-old Brady made the trip. It was the first time I met him.

“Hi!” I said. “It’s so nice to meet you. Are you excited to be here?”

“No,” he grumbled, much to my surprise. “I hate camping.”

“OK then,” I laughed, tousling his hair. I remembered when I hated camping, too. When I was his age it was a green inch worm that landed on my pancake that had me throwing in the towel. I was guessing it was the lack of electronic play in the wild that concerned him.

Saturday morning started early with the blast of the sunrise hitting the tents. Children explored the beach while adults fried bacon, scrambled eggs, and diced and fried potatoes. A teen helped flip pancakes and cut up the cantaloupe.

It was early afternoon before I got to the beach to check on our guests. The shoreline was ablaze with activity. I looked over to see a few fishermen on the dock tending their lines. To the right, the beach was riddled with sand toys, and a toddler was testing the water temp with his toes. The older children had taken out the paddle boat, and I was happy to see Brady looked anything but bored. His 9-year-old cousin Joshua was manning the paddle boat’s driver’s seat, and 8-year-old Addison was the spotter. Brady was pulling himself up to the rear seat, only to purposely slip right back off.

It was exactly how I had imagined it.

The following day the grown-up toys came out: a four-wheeler and a utility vehicle. Andy prepped the boat for some guided fishing. That evening I found the children knee deep in the marshy waters with flashlights and buckets. They were trying to catch minnows and frogs. I cringed thinking they were probably having more luck catching leeches on their feet.

“Look what I found,” Brady said holding onto a toad and shoving it uncomfortably close to my face.

I gulped, stepping back. “Wow. That’s the biggest toad I’ve ever seen.”

Midweek I decided to try a little fishing off the dock. I had just hooked my first worm the week before and was excited to use my newly acquired skill. Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by five kids, four empty hooks dangling in front of my face. I gave up my rod and tried not to grimace as I picked crawlers from the container. Go figure, just when I got the last worm hooked and lines untangled, the kids got bored and ran off.

Saturday, things started to wind down. I found the children at the beach, building sand castles and collecting rocks.

“Look at these, Aunt Doris!” Joshua said. He was holding a few stones he found on the beach.

“Wow. That one is pretty,” I said, pointing to the one with sparkling crystals.

“That one is a gem,” he said with a shy kind of smile. “I picked these for you.”

“Really?” I asked. When he nodded his head with a grin, he stole a piece of my heart. “Aw, thanks.”

Helping the last family from Montana pack their belongings on Sunday, I asked the children, “So, what was your favorite thing you did this week?”

Brady’s answer came fast, “Catching frogs!”

“The food,” smiled Addison, “and the campfires.”

“Swimming every day in the lake,” said Joshua.

Then the children asked me my favorite thing.

It took me a second to think about my answer. The rustic conditions guided us to work together, take time to listen, be supportive. We were in a place where we were free to show those yucky parts that we couldn’t hide if we tried. I learned things about my in-laws and myself. The reunion at the Gile Flowage was like returning to the playgrounds of our childhood, reminding us what really matters.

“Everything,” I answered with a smile, “especially spending time with all of you.”

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