We’re spending the week in vacation mode.
Vacation mode meaning heading east to the lake in Minnesota to spend time with family at my grandparent’s lake cabin, per tradition.
And then coming home to cut some hay and meet some deadlines before heading back out the big lake tomorrow to spend time on the pontoon or roasting s’mores with the other side of the family.
When we’re at the lake in Minnesota we do this thing where we load up the crew on the pontoon, drinks and snacks and towels and caps and everything else we could have forgotten, and we drive that boat around the shore, slowly, so we can take a look at the beautiful houses that have been built in place of the small cabins that once stood there back when my grandparents first bought their place.
We comment on the lawns and the landscaping, the docks and the red shutters. We like the cedar siding on that one, and the cottage feeling of the other. We wonder where the NFL football player’s house is. We wonder how much the inflatable trampoline costs. We like that patio set and the adorable kids playing catch in the front yard.
We wonder who lives there. And secretly, I think we all wonder, what that would be like.
It sounds sort of strange, a literal boatload of family tooling by people’s houses on the lake. But we’re not the only ones who do it. It’s like a parade of homes, only we’re the parade.
They wave back.
We’re at a safe distance that way. We can imagine and talk and wonder while we make our rounds and come up, always sooner than expected, as the sun starts to sink, on the blue house with the sailboat in the water out front, the familiar trees where the hammock used to swing, grandma’s flowers, the American flags stuck in the grass by the rocky shore, and feel the warm flood of familiarity fill us up with the good memories we’ve had there year after year together.
It happens to me every time we leave on that pontoon, sitting shoulder to shoulder, talking and laughing with my aunts and uncles, sisters, parents, grandparents, looking briefly into other people’s lives, wondering, wishing perhaps that we could afford that big boat or that beautiful deck, contemplating who we would be there before pulling slowly into the dock on that one house out of a hundred that we know so well.
The one that holds so much.
The best one on the lake for people like us.
Coming Home: Searching for perspective on life from a distance
by Jessie Veeder
When I lived between the sidewalks of town, one of my favorite things to do was go out for a walk in the evening as the sun was going down on the neighborhood. It didn’t matter what time of year—the crisp, still air of winter or the thick heat of the summer—I liked to follow the path of the sidewalks that stretched past the neat rows of houses, the warm glow of the kitchen lights shining brighter than the setting sun outside, projecting a slice of each family’s life out onto the street.
For a few short years of my young life, when times were tough and my parents had to move to eastern North Dakota for work, I was one of those sidewalk kids, riding my bike a few houses down the block to the neighbor girl’s house so we could pretend we were riding horses in her front yard.
But mostly I was a kid who played in the coulees in the evenings after school, one who got to ride horses in real life, who never learned to rollerblade for severe lack of pavement, whose new neighbor girl was a mile away up the hill and who pushed a lawnmower over cocklebur plants and Canadian thistle that couldn’t be tamed no matter how my mother willed it.
Those were my memories.
So it was surprising to me how much console I found in walking those neighborhood streets in my adult years spent away from the ranch.
I was thinking about this last night as I walked out in the pasture as the sun dipped below the horizon, turning the grassy pastures and the sky behind me dark green and navy blue. I climbed the hill where the two teepee rings still sit and I looked back at our house, noticing how it somehow looks nestled and perched at the same time in that small opening of oak trees.
The lights were glowing small squares of gold to the outside, while inside the baby slept in her crib, holding the satin edges of her blanket, breathing in and out behind drawn curtains.
I couldn’t see her, of course, but I knew she was there, just as I knew my husband was in the new easy chair, reclined with his arms above his head and his stocking feet kicked back, a small glass of whiskey beside him.
This has always been my favorite way to look at our house. From this distance it seems like it doesn’t contain my life at all, but a life of another woman entirely, and I’m just a passerby who can make up her story.
Because I can’t see the things undone from here—the fence that needs stain, the pile of unsorted laundry, the conversations we need to have about selling the car or cleaning the garage or juggling the bills.
From this distance I can imagine our life instead of live it, and it’s a strange but wonderful thing.
And I think that’s what I was doing all those years walking those sidewalks in my 20s, trying to imagine my life and how I was going to get to whatever came next.
I would put myself in those houses with the manicured lawns, the dad on the grill out back, the kids jumping on the trampoline. I could put myself in the kitchen that opened up to the deck and invite my neighbors over for burgers.
I could fall in love with the little boy fishing in the gutter of the street, I could name him and his siblings and make up what kind of mother I might be to him.
Because I wasn’t prepared for any of it, even when I found myself living in it, in a real job, renovating a real house, working on my own manicured lawn along those sidewalks. So I walked. For perspective.
And I still do.
Because everything’s a little easier, a little more perfect, at a safe distance.