I am spending a couple of weeks at the cottage where I read many of my Emilie Loring books when I was a kid. My grandparents bought it nearly sixty years ago, a cheery, little cottage on the edge of a crystal clear, pine-tree-lined, Wisconsin lake.
Grandma belonged to the same generation as Emilie’s children, accustomed to routines of an earlier age. Each morning, we awoke to a four-course breakfast: juice or half a grapefruit, cereal, eggs with bacon or sausage, and sweet rolls. We helped Grandma clean up, and then we were sent out to play, not to return until lunchtime.
We canoed from lake to lake, swam off our wooden float, or climbed up to lie flat on top of it, bobbing up and down on the waves of ski boats. Sometimes, we played goofy golf and came home with a snow cone or frozen candy bar. Other times, we walked or rowed to a nearby park that had its own museum, souvenir shops, swings, and woodsy paths ornamented with LOTS of concrete statuary (This IS Wisconsin, after all.)
Somehow, without a watch among us, we returned home exactly in time for lunch. Grandma placed a plate of sandwiches in the center of the table, cut into tidy fourths. At home, we ate bologna and cheese. At Grandma’s, we might have liverwurst or cotto salami with those hard bits of pepper in them. Her pickles might be cucumbers, but they might also be cauliflower, watermelon rind, or green beans. Grandma’s unmatched plates all had flowers on them, and she poured our Kool Aid from a navy-blue, Fiestaware pitcher. When we finished our sandwiches, Grandma went to the kitchen and returned with a plate of cookies—sometimes homemade, sometimes Archway.
Then, it was reading time. After lunch, everyone rested, parents and children alike. We didn’t have to sleep, only rest, so we chose to read, draped sideways across our beds. If the weather was good, we leaped up when the hour was over. If it was too cold or rainy to be on the lake, we might read all afternoon.
There’s something magical about the books we read in the summer–a time apart and stories that take you further. In addition to “Emilies,” I remember the Classic Comics version of Oliver Twist, Grandma’s Readers’ Digest Condensed Books, my father’s Tom Swifts, and the forever-family-favorite, The Book of Knowledge.
My sisters and I are spaced nearly three years apart with eight years between my eldest sister and me, the youngest. Emilie Loring books—and the lake—were some of the few things we had in common as we hurried through our teens. We bought the books downtown, at Schultz Bros., the dime store that promised “nearly everything from alarm clocks to zippers.” We chose the most interesting of the titles we didn’t have yet and took turns reading them.
Wisconsin was my Maine. I heard lapping water every morning, smelled the spicy scent of pines, pushed off from shore to paddle wherever I wanted. There were no real lighthouses near us, but the miniature ones in people’s yards were a little exciting. With my eyes closed, the hum of boat motors could easily have been Tod Kent’s launch or Melissa Barclay’s runabout (Give Me One Summer). The occasional boatload of boy skiers presented romantic—but untried–possibility. It was easy to dream.
The air was sweet with the breath of blossoms, spicy with the tang of kelp and the scent of balsam, spruce, pine and arborvitae… She stepped carefully into the flying outboard she had named The Scribbler, moored at the float. Give Me One Summer
Grandma and Grandpa have been gone thirty years. The Schultz Bros. store was replaced by an attorney’s office and fabric shop. But the lake is still here, and so are my sisters, my mom, the pines, the boats… and the books. I brought four with me this trip, the next in our sequential reading: Today is Yours, High of Heart, Across the Years, and There Is Always Love. We are a month ahead of the summer solstice, but I don’t care. School is out, graduation is over, and I declare that summer has begun.