Our family vacation this year was a gift, given by my father’s cousin, Kay, and her husband, Denny.
While I’ve known about Kay for years now, it’s only been recently that we’ve really had a chance to connect. When she reached out to me after my father’s death, and shared about how dear my dad’s mama, my Grandma Mary, had been to her mama, and how much she had adored her, I was drawn to know more. I didn’t have a chance to know my Grandma Mary, except that my father loved her very much. Moments before his death, I whispered to him, “You get to see your Mom!” When the tear formed in his eye just after I uttered these words, I couldn’t help but feel that indeed, he was going to see his mama, and Jesus, too.
But all my life, I’ve wondered about the grandma I didn’t know. Kay was visiting their home in New Rockford the day she died from an appendicitis-gone-wrong. The bursting of her appendix poisoned her body, and she died at a young age, in her 50s. My father was 19, and a seminarian, who learned of her death by telegraph. I know that things were never the same for Dad after reading these words; words no son wants to read, not as a young man not quite out of his teens who was already missing his Mom.
So when Kay invited our family to come to her and Denny’s humble lake resort at Duck Lake in Minnesota, near the Shell River, why wouldn’t I respond with a resounding “Yes?” “I’d like to share some photos with you while you’re here,” Kay had said. And again, no resistance from me. Our big extended family has been somewhat of a mystery to me, with so many puzzle pieces to learn about, that I knew it would be time well spent.
She also wondered about driving up to Bemidji, Minn. our longest day to visit our mutual spiritual mentor, Father Bill Merhkens, now in his 90s. Happily, we were able to sneak in that visit as well, and loved every minute of the drive and our time with this precious soul.
But most of the time, we relaxed by the water, allowing ourselves a bit of refreshment before the school year starts once again; allowing ourselves time to just be. There were few expectations other than connecting with family, and, well, the promise of tubing on Duck was a given, too, for the youngest among us (even the teen girls let their hair fly for a bit on the tubes!).
We pitched a tent outside the cabin so the spill-over would have space.
When the rain started pouring in the middle of the night, I prayed the boys weren’t getting soaked. They claimed a leak-free tent and said they enjoyed the pouring, as well as all the quiet of a night by a lake in rural Minnesota.
The morning of Aug. 8 – the date we celebrated my father’s birthday for years before learning the actual birthday of Aug. 4 – I went on a walk, in honor of Dad and to explore the place. It was lovely…
The resort grounds were lovely, too, filled with little surprises here and there.
And the nights — even with rain, every evening there brought such a beautiful serenity and always dried up in time for us to enjoy a little time at the beach, after one of the delicious meals prepared by Kay for us.
Our time at Sandy Shores resort lasted just a brief weekend, but, I would say, was just what the doctor ordered for our family at summer’s end. That we all, with work schedules and deadlines and other things pulling us every which way, made it there together — it may not happen that we are all seven together like this without extras again — seemed on the miraculous side.
One of my personal favorite moments was heading out in the paddle boat with my middle girl, who, with me, was on a quest for loons. My missing zoom lens made it hard to get a good close-up, but we caught a nice moment, anyway, and had fun along the way as the loons tried to dodge our eager eyes.
There were only a few tense moments, mostly as we worked out getting a family photo — never an easy task with our crew — but all in all, it was very good.
To cap off the trip, we stopped at the candy store in Park Rapids on the way home. Oh, that we can all experience these moments from time to time; moments that center us, and remind of God’s beauty, and keep us hopeful.
Q4U: Where did the summer bring you?