Tag Archives: Waupaca

Porch and Shore

Coles-houseI may hate camping, but I love the sound of Lake Superior waves hitting the shore mere yards from my bed. This spot of land in the Upper Peninsula — barely half an acre, no house, a dirt road, but 97 feet of beach frontage — is the place to which I feel most connected. It’s where I’ve spent summers since I was younger than Cole (though at least we had a trailer). Bud was born and raised in this neck of the woods (literally), as were his daughters. And Cole, too, comes into himself when his feet hit that sand.

Our days in Waupaca were restricted by rain. That allowed us to fully enjoy the addition and renovation to John and Judy’s “cabin,” which is bigger than most houses. Particularly lovely was the screened-in porch. Screened porches are one of the finer things in the world, and if Bud and I ever do build here — which I swear we will — a screened porch we will have. The best part of the trip was playing “Oh Hell.” Cole’s number smartness makes him good at cards. He loves playing with his uncles. As soon as they arrived, Cole grabbed Paul’s hand and led him down to the pond. Otis, the otter-dog, saw the water and promptly jumped in, not realizing it was green muck. My brother helped my son excavate dinosaur bones out of plaster and then assemble the T. Rex; I remember Brett patiently gluing together models when we were kids.
Waupaca’s turning into a cool little town, with nice, if a bit pricey, stores on Main Street. I coveted many items at a place called Panache, settled on some hip socks (damn travel budget). Gotta love a downtown centered around a library with farmers selling fresh produce on the weekends. We bought lots of meat — summer sausage, kielbasa, even oxtail — at Niemuth’s, the German meat shop that’s packed Saturday mornings. We celebrated both Judy’s and JohnWaupaca’s birthdays. Congrats on the first three quarters of the century, Dad.

I feel lucky that my parents are doing relatively well healthwise. For the first time I can recall, our old, close childhood friends the Von Eschens are not at their Lake cabin this summer. Liz is in the late stages of a cancer she has battled for two years. They are like a second family for me, and I’m heartbroken for them. So while the lake water is about the warmest I ever remember it being and sparkling clear, a bald eagle flew past yesterday, and the wild raspberries are ripe, this stay feels all wrong, like the fabric of my life here has been irreparably torn.Superior home

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Traveling the Past

Guyla HarrodDay 34, I think: I’m losing count

The rows of white gravestones ripple like ribbons across the green hammocks. The Lebanon National Cemetery in Kentucky was officially founded in 1867. Two-hundred-and-eighty-three stones have no names, only numbers — unknown soldiers of the Civil War found their final resting place here. In section 1, site 2B, my grandmother Guyla Harrod shares the earth with her husband, Arthur. A few sections away lie Aunt Louise and Uncle Proctor. They were the only other women in my mom’s family, and I finally paid my respects to them yesterday morning.

Mama, as everyone knew my grandmother, was a 20th century American matriarch. As a young woman she sewed bathing suits at a factory; she survived breast cancer; she rolled cigarettes in a little handheld machine; and every Christmas she watched It’s a Wonderful Life. When I was a teenager, once a week I used to bring Kentucky Fried Chicken to her apartment in a retirement home in downtown Beloit, and we’d have dinner together. She grew up in Colonel Sanders territory, and the greasy fast food provided a taste of home. She died several years later. Although she was the grandparent I knew and loved the most, I didn’t make it to her funeral. Two decades later I finally said goodbye.

I brought Mama a box of KFC and some flowers. “Mom’s got allergies!” Cole shrieked as he saw me tearing up as I laid them down — apparently this is what they say on ThOak Parke Suite Life when Zach or Cody cry. I think Mama would like Cole, wild though he can be. He’s definitely got a streak of the frontiersman in him, Daniel Boone if not James Harrod.

I’ve never spent much time in Kentucky, but my family roots here are deep — James Harrod founded Harrodsburg, the first US town west of the Appalachians. We’re some sort of descendant of his. Not too far down these country roads, one of the greatest Americans ever was born. Cole explained who Abraham Lincoln was as we drove by his birthplace and childhood home and stopped at the Lincoln Museum: “He made it so the white people stop treating the black people badly.” Pretty close for a second grader.

I’m traveling through my past. We stopped in Oak Park, Illinois, to visit my old college-friend Yasmina, whom I haven’t seen in a couple decades. Her beauty is completely untouched by the years, and she lives in an amazing brick Prairie-style home with her lawyer husband and two children. The house was designed by Tallmadge and Watson; Bud and I were in envy of its hard-wood and leaded-glass fixtures. Then we climbed back in our van and drove through the night to Beloit, Wisconsin — the city where I grew up.

Yesterday weThe Cabin had lunch with my old childhood friend Mary, who looks ever more willowy and has a vise-like memory of our past. Then it was back on the Wisconsin highways to Waupaca, where my dad and his wife have doubled their “cabin,” and where we’re celebrating her birthday today, and Dad’s upcoming 75th in August. My brothers are here, it’s raining out, and everyone is doing their own thing: Cole watching TV, Paul making a puzzle, Bud looking at wood, John and Judy looking for a missing coat hanger, and me, typing.

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