When I was a kid I was fortunate enough to vacation in the place I am fortunate enough to live now. Yes, I was one of them. This month, as we cruise through the height of the tourism season, I am looking back at the places I remember from back then through my eyes today.
I went swimming today. It wasn't like the super cold, deep-water, ultra-clean sand type swimming in Lake Superior like I would prefer but it was finally seasonably warm today and a little muggy so it still felt refreshing. I went to this little park I know, a little bit up the road from here, that I learned about back when I was a much younger man.
It was great when I was younger, partly because I was young and everything good seems bigger, better, more exciting when you are a little kid. I liked this place because it was always a little bit of a car ride from where we were in a place where we never got to go. I liked it because it was off the beaten path back down a twisty gravel road. I liked it because it was a nice little park. It had a white sand beach framed in with timber to set it apart from the nicely mowed grassy lawn. Well, it was as grassy as a lawn can be under a canopy of pine and deciduous trees. There was a swingset and some bathrooms and a volleyball court that never had a net up. Oh, and it was not sand or down near the beach or anything, it was just grassy like the rest of the park. I never knew it then but there is a set of horseshoe pits back in the corner of the park where you can barely see them. There are picnic tables scattered throughout with little grills, you know the kind that they put at every roadside park, all around too. There is one fire pit, even though there is no camping or overnight parking. And the lake was perfect. Sort of a topaz blue with white sand extending as far as one would care to walk, and it sloped down gently so you wouldn't be wandering out there and suddenly his a drop off.
I liked it most of all, however, because it was isolated and there was rarely anyone there. The lake is small, not even large enough for one to want to water ski on, and there are only a handful of houses that line its shores so mostly there were just rowboats and pedal boats floating at the docks, maybe a small pontoon. And best of all there was rarely anyone there. If we saw one other car we were surprised; two and we were astonished. That made it sort of a secret place. The kind of place where you took someone special to you. The kind of place where you went to have a nice picnic away from the rat race. It was an absolutely special place; special enough to be permanently imprinted on the mind of a young boy. I think that alone makes it special.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon. The park was there, and I was astonished to find that there were no cars there. I mean, granted, it was almost 6 pm on a Monday night, but still. The last time we had cruised down to my little park, almost 15 years since I was lucky enough to form those memories I remembered above (remember?) the place was a zoo. There wasn't a parking place to be found and there were actually cars parked along the access drive out to the road. There were kids running around everywhere and there were not a lot of spots left on the beach. It was sad to see, and the magic was very certainly and very suddenly gone. We actually didn't bother to get out of the car. The word had sort of gotten out, and someone had paved the road in to the place with a nice layer of asphalt. Perfect for all those SUV's that will never see the gravel in their lifetimes. Since then, every time I have passed through I have always slid back down the road to see what is going on there, and I am always confronted with a bevy of cars and families enjoying themselves.
So like I said, I was pretty happy and impressed to see no cars in the parking lot. The magic sort of started to come back. It was all there: the swingset, the tables, the grills, the beach, the water, etc. The whole nine yards. The water was down about four or six feet, which made for a much larger although much less appealing beach. The grills were nicely cleaned out, and the bathroom, where I went to change both into and out of my swimming suit was actually very clean for your typical brick park privy. The tables were all chained down to something buried in the ground, as they all seem to be these days, and the volleyball court had not a net but a string strung between the posts to sort of represent where the top of the net would be. It was nice. It was clean. But it wasn't quaint anymore. It was sort of like it was just waiting for that big influx that might come tomorrow, or Wednesday, and surely would come on Saturday about 11 am. Back in my younger days it was always nice but it was never kept nice enough to be waiting to be used. It was more like it was there and if you found it that was great. Now it has this air of having to be nice for the masses. And that will suck the magic out of a place like the park faster than you could ever imagine.
It was good though. The magic was a little bit there, wafting back to me through the years. And the swim was refreshing too, so that was nice. One guy pulled in for a couple of minutes after I had gotten out of the water but he never got out of his truck. So it was nice. I was almost like back in the day, and that's all that anyone really wants when they are feeling nostalgic, isn't it?