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Memory is a powerful tool. Our memory has the ability to transport us back in time with something so small as a wisp of a scent, a few notes of music, a glance at a faded picture, or a well-loved toy. The memories produced can be good, taking us to nostalgic times, or bad, bringing to the surface things that we’d hoped were buried forever.

Ever since I watched the movie, Still Alice, a wonderful film about a successful woman who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve been thinking about memories a lot lately. It would be excruciating to have to go through that, knowing that little by little, memories would fade, everything from the names of your children to where the bathroom is in the house. It’s a terrifying prospect and I do everything I can in hopes that I don’t ever get to that point. (Did you know that there are studies that show red wine can help prevent dementia? I’m on it.)

A few nights ago, a dream made me recall one of my favorite childhood memories. To explain it, I have to back up a little. A few years before I was born, my paternal grandparents bought a rustic little cottage on Devil’s Lake in southeast Michigan. By the time I came along, there had been a proper bathroom added with a stand-up shower and hot water, but when we grandchildren were very small, we took our baths in the kitchen sink, splashing to our hearts’ content while our mothers read books or chatted at the kitchen table. The water on the floor would be cleaned up when we were through and counted as a decent mopping. We, of course, remember none of this, but the stories have been passed down to us over the years.

As babies, we had our cribs up on the second floor, a wide open space with only two, small, closed-off bedrooms, one for Grandma and Grandpa, the other for whatever couple might be staying there that night. When all of us grandkids were sleeping over at the same time, the grownups would simply push two mattresses together on the floor and we would all camp out, ending up like a bunch of puppies in the morning. The nights were stifling hot at first and we would all try to get the best spot in front of the fan, but sometime in the middle of the night, we would get cold and pull on all the covers that we had kicked off earlier. In one of the corners of the big, open, room was a single bed, off-limits when we were all there at the same time, in the spirit of fairness, but when I was there by myself with just Grandma, that little bed was mine, and, oh, how I loved it! (I’m sure my cousins thought it was theirs, too, when they were there alone, but for all intents and purposes in this story, I shall refer to it as MINE!)

The bed was right next to one of the windows in the front of the cottage (front means facing the water) and I would always sleep with the window open. The smells and sounds there were so different from my house in the suburbs. There were no drag racers going up and down the street on mini-bikes, just the gentle lapping of the water along the shore and an occasional boat taking a nighttime cruise. During the summer weekends, the lake was very busy, as it is now, and there were many more boats and people out at night, but when I went up with Grandma during the week, all was peaceful and quiet. The smell of the water, very pleasant, clung to everything and even today, no matter where I am, when I smell water, it puts me right back there.

I always slept like a rock and woke up very early at the lake. Fresh air and water have a way of doing that to a child. I would wriggle out of my blanket cocoon and squint out at the sun rising over the water. It always started out as smooth as glass, but when the little waves started to pick up with the wind or boat traffic, the sun made it look like there were millions of diamonds sparkling under the water. I treasured my time there and I didn’t want to waste one minute of it. My home life was scary and unpleasant, but I was always safe at the lake. I could sleep with no worries or fears. Grandma made each moment special. She didn’t think it was dumb to want to sit and read all day, or eat tons of Oreos, or anything at all.

When I would go up with Grandma, we’d usually be up for one or two nights by ourselves, then on Friday evenings, everybody else would come up. Grandpa, my mom, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, sometimes more, sometimes less. We’d catch up, beg to stay out and play in the water for as long as we could, then run around in the dark until our mothers forced us to come in and go to bed. Nowadays, there is cable TV, a DVD/VCR, and all sorts of electronic gadgets to keep our kids busy, but we only had a small black and white TV that didn’t get hardly any channels in, so it wasn’t worth watching anyway. The bathing suits were hung outside to dry for the next day and we were shooed upstairs to our mattresses so that the grownups could talk without our curious ears. Upstairs, we would whisper amongst ourselves, careful to watch for anyone coming to check on us, whereupon we would always pretend to be asleep. Eventually we would drop off for real, but would wake early the next morning to start all over again.

It was a magical place, then, a place where I belonged. Over the years, like everything in life, it has changed. The cottage has grown to accommodate all of us and all of our children. There was more space added and there are real bedrooms upstairs, but it’s still the same cottage I grew up in. It’s a beautiful place, and there is still a hint of magic in it for me when I visit, but I’m not there nearly as often as when I was that child. I still love to see the diamonds sparkling on the water, but I haven’t seen the sun rise there in many years. Life gets in the way, sometimes. We take paths which lead us to other things that take priority on the weekends: children, band, theatre, catching up on work, work itself, and it gets harder to connect with our past. It happens to nearly everyone in some way, shape, or form, and yet, we have the precious, beautiful memories of those places, people, and times when we felt whole. The lake is a memory that I hope I will always carry with me through the end of my days.

I invite you to share a favorite memory with me here. Recalling memories is one way we can hold onto them, or a gentle reminder to call that person we haven’t thought of in a long time. What will you remember today?

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