The older I get, the more I notice two extremes among travelers. One seeks a new destination for every trip and rarely returns to the same locale. The other gravitates to the same spot, year after year, developing a strong and deep connection to one part of this very wide world.
Of what value are such traditions? Jo Gregory of Dane County wrote a beautiful essay about that for me in 1999, when I was a Madison newspaper editor.
Now she is 94 and the matriarch of three generations that still make an annual trip to the Cable area. Here is an edited version of her original article, and I hope it inspires or strengthens vacation traditions for you.
– Mary Bergin
By JO GREGORY
I have been going to the same part of the same lake for more than 60 years, and over that time the lake and rocks and trees have been etched in my mind.
Before I ever saw Lake Namakagon, in northern Wisconsin, I remember my parents coming home and telling the three of us children about the lake and Lakewoods Resort, where they stayed. We were all excited and wanted to know when we, too, could go there.
We went soon and often as my father, an attorney, had been retained to represent the estate of Judge Henry Laughlin in a matter involving the height of a dam on the Nainakagon River and subsequent effect on the ownership of lakeshore property.
The estate owned considerable property on Lake Namakagon (sometimes spelled Namekagon), including two cottages. We stayed in one of them, Dutch Lodge, on our frequent trips when my father measured lake depths, pored over old maps and interviewed longtime residents.
He won the case, but to us that was a minor detail. We simply enjoyed being “at the lake” and were overjoyed when my father accepted the two cottages as a part of his fee and we could spend every summer there. The lake was only 70 miles from Phillips, where we lived, but the trip took about two hours because of curving roads.
Lake Namakagon is where I learned to fish, row a boat, ride a horse, improved my tennis and swimming, hosted various friends and enjoyed my first kiss. It was a magical place and a magical time.
But times change … my father died the year I graduated from high school, and my mother sold our home and moved to the Madison area. Long summers at the cottage became only a memory.
We still had the cottages and spent some time there in summer, but soon there was a war and gas rationing. The cottage was more than 300 miles away.
As time went on, vacations became longer until I had a whole month to spend at the lake, finding all the good fishing spots. During those years various friends visited me there, including the man I eventually married. He enjoyed the lake, too, and the year after we were married, he and my brothers arranged to have Dutch Lodge remodeled and refurbished.
When our daughter was 6 weeks old, we took her to the lake. She and our other two children have gone to the lake every summer since they were born. The closest they came to missing a summer was the year they were all teenagers.
I had gone back to work and planned to spend my two-week vacation on a trip to England, my dream vacation since high school, as I assumed teenagers would no longer care to spend time at the cottage with their mother. How wrong I was.
There were long faces and disappointed looks. When I realized they really wanted to go to the lake, I immediately canceled my plans and spent those two weeks with them at Lake Namakagon while my friends toured England and Ireland.
That was the best decision I ever made. The children, who are now all responsible adults, and I still go to the lake every summer. We have not missed a single summer in more than 40 years.
When the children were very young, our family followed the pattern of my 1930s family. Father drove mother and children to “the lake” for the summer and returned on weekends, after work.
Consequently, I was the one who taught the children how to cast, how to put a minnow on a hook and how to catch and land a fish. Later I taught the somewhat older children how to row a boat, and then how to run a motor. It was the same with the grandchildren.
Unfortunately, we can’t still go to the cottage of my childhood. Many years ago when condominiums were planned for the adjoining property, my brothers and I had
to sell Dutch Lodge. It was demolished.
The last summer there, I spent a great deal of time searching until I found a rental cottage on the same part of the lake. Our family has spent the first three weeks in June at that same cottage for more than 25 years.
When the children were really children, our summer activities centered around the beach, swimming in the clear, cold water, making endless sand castles and floating in real inner tubes. Cooler days found us roasting marshmallows in front of the fireplace and playing endless card games.
A few years later fishing, boating and water skiing were the big attractions, but every year we did some of the same things – and 40 years later we do them still.
We follow our traditions. The same lake, the same cottage, the same places to go, the same things to do – all familiar, which is why we enjoy them, year after year.
The children are now all adults, each with a different profession and lifestyle. Yet each summer they arrange their lives, often at considerable cost, to spend some time together at the lake, doing the same things, remembering the same things and building new memories.
I simply cannot believe how fortunate I am to share this with them. I have great hopes they will continue to do this long after I am no longer here to join them.
Life comes full circle as I watch my daughter play with her children on the same beach where she built her first sand castle, and I find inner peace, knowing that Namakagon has cast its spell on another generation.
I watch the smooth, tan bodies of my grandchildren, and catching that trophy walleye doesn’t really matter anymore.
To my great surprise, I’d much rather “grandmother” than fish. I’m convinced that someday my great-grandchildren will build sand castles and swim in Lake Namakagon while the waves roll up on that same shore.
When my husband died suddenly and my life turned upside down, just being on Lake Namakagon was a great comfort to me. The lake and the trees were the same. The view across the lake was constant.
Life changes, terrible things happen, but that world remains the same, a peaceful place where for a little while all the yesterdays meet tomorrow.