Having grown up outside Chicago, the annual family summer vacation was a trek up north to a rustic and quaint cottage in the middle of some Wisconsin woodlands positioned on a modest lake, secluded and small enough for one’s voice to carry from shore to shore. There was no running water, no indoor plumbing, and the amenities included a worn-out wooden dock, a metal rowboat, a few fishing poles, a public beach and a quantity of playing cards for endless games of solitaire. We loved it.
Forty years later, with four married millennial children all of whom live in Ohio, four grandchildren and at least one more “in the oven,” family vacations, whenever we can make them happen, are anything but rigid and repeated. We’ve never been to the same location twice, and as our youngest can occasionally put it, “That’s how we roll!” We love it, too.
And so the 2018 version, made possible by the tireless research and resourcefulness of my wife, found the clan inhabiting a domain previously unknown. Often a priority, the best location is near a large body of water with lighthouses in the nearby vicinity.
If you happen to be of a baby boomer or beyond, you may have heard of the Buster Brown Shoe Company. But you may not know of the Buster Brown Shoe House. Be assured that beyond the tan shingles and the brown trim and window shutters, it stakes no resemblance to any shoe, brown or otherwise.
There’s little evidence this substantial house nestled next to the shores of Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio, has anything to do with the footwear manufacturer whose fame dates back to the 1904 World’s fair. Nevertheless, this appealing six-bedroom rental property with a wraparound porch provided an ideal setting for a week’s worth of the planned and unplanned.
With all that space, we easily accommodated the 10 adults, four grandchildren and, for good measure, one Chocolate Labrador Retriever.
If there are any tendencies toward introversion in our family, they are remote or even nonexistent especially when we gather en masse. This would not be a secluded retreat.
Additionally, there are accompanying strains of spontaneity in the family makeup. Mix in a good measure of an outgoing evangelical spirit, and these are the makings for another memorable and potentially impactful vacation.
As the patriarch of this collection of family since inception, “out of the mainstream” seems our family motto. So, naturally, our first dinner together Saturday evening was spent researching and discussing where the 14 of us would worship together come Sunday morning. When a church was decided on, rest assured, it wasn’t mainstream or for that matter, mainline.
Later that Sunday afternoon, passersby might have noticed our family standing in a circle in the driveway holding hands and praying for and over our daughter as she prepared for cancer surgery. The prayer time was complete with an anointing of oil provided by one of our sons.
Throughout the week as a group activity, every adult was invited to write out 10 cards with their favorite Bible verse, which collectively would form daily inspiration when we parted ways later that week. My offering was Jeremiah 29:11.
Cross paths with any of us, and we were likely to stick around to chat. We got to know Ray, who lived across the street and who has worked for the railroad for the past 19 years. Once he pays off his home, he’s going to have it razed and put up a new one in its place.
Almost daily, one or more members of our family sat with octogenarian, Bob, and his wife, who regularly met together on their back porch swing. Topics ranged from guitars to gospel music and from woodworking to auto mechanics.
At nearby Nickel Plate Beach, we were the family that rented the bright yellow inflatable “rubber ducky” the size of a small bathroom that, if left unattended, would have easily blown to Canada.
On two mornings, after a bike ride, my youngest son and I rewarded ourselves with coffee and a muffin or apple fritter at “The Donut Shop.” With the glass door propped wide open for any and all patrons, a first-time visitor will be warmly welcomed. Stop in a second time, as we did, and the proprietor will have a hot coffee already poured and waiting for you.
The regulars gladly regaled us with upcoming weather patterns while educating us on the habits of that swarming population of mayflies, or as they are known locally, muckleheads.
Built into the week were multiple outings to the grocery store, requisite trips to the lighthouse in Marblehead and a ferryboat ride to and from Put-in-Bay, and diverse family dinners that ranged from the normative hamburgers and hot dogs to the unique southern-cuisine of waffles with fried chicken breasts.
As to be expected, we had to have a movie night. In house, “Peter Rabbit” worked well for the little ones and “Wonder” for the adults. When we decided to take in an actual theater, the grandchildren had all left for home, but that didn’t prevent us who remained from seeing opening night of “Incredibles 2.” Finally, no vacation to Lake Erie would be complete without a perch dinner out.
Needless to say, we loved the movie and, of course, the entire family vacation.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org