I recently asked my Grandma to tell me some of her favorite memories from the cottage. It was interesting to hear her tell some of the same stories I’d heard so many times from my Dad, but with a few very different details. I smile when I think of some of the same differences between my own childhood memories and the same stories from my parent’s perspectives. The world through a child’s eyes truly is a different place. But, back to the point; Grandma’s memories.
She told me the story of how she and my Grandpa bought the cottage, and about going to stay in the winter when they had to pull their belongings in from the main road on a toboggan. There were a lot more cottages in those days than there are now, or even when I was a kid. Therefore more families, and more kids. There were the H’s* next door with their three boys. The W’s* on the other side with kids of their own. Mr. B*, who had previously owned my Grandparents property, lived in a house across the lake. The then owner of the Tiger’s baseball team had a cottage on Otter Lake and my Grandma said that some of the Tiger’s players used there to vacation. One of my favorite characters, and the one who I heard the most stories about growing up, was Mr. M*. He used to live in a house on a hill, a good distance from the lake, but with a nice view. I used to hike up to what I called Mr. M’s* field and drink from his spring fed well. He no longer lived there when I started spending summers at Otter Lake. In fact there was very little evidence he ever had lived there; nothing except the incredible blueberry patches now enjoyed by so many. Mr. M* was a farmer and he planted those blueberry bushes. I used to think he owned the whole lake, but later discovered he was just a cantankerous old fellow who sold wood to the cottage owners. My Dad and Grandma both talked about his dogs. Apparently he had quite a pack of them. They would bark and jump all over every time someone ventured up the hill for wood. Grandma said he eventually got into trouble with the IRS over those dogs; rumor was he had been claiming them as dependents.
I feel for the man. I can certainly imagine being in his place. Living in a beautiful, peaceful location, minding my own business, and then people start coming. Park management asking to buy the property, property owners asking to buy wood, everybody and their brother picking my blueberries without ever asking…I might get a little ornery myself under those circumstances. I never met Mr. M*, but I’m sure he has family somewhere that knows his story.
With so many people around the lake in the summer, and so many kids, the Fourth of July celebrations were pretty spectacular. There were cookouts, camp-outs, fireworks, and every year the bigger kids would try to swim across the lake. An adult would row along beside and collect the stragglers.
Why did they do this? Perhaps for the challenge, perhaps simply for the joy of swimming through cool water in the warm sunshine, or perhaps they were hoping to catch a glimpse of the slot machines rumored to be sitting on the bottom of the lake.
According to my Grandma there was a story, a legend if you will, of a gang having stolen several coin slot machines. After what I imagine was an adrenaline fired race to evade the authorities, they were about to be caught. They apparently dumped the incriminating evidence into Otter Lake. Despite years of trying, on the part of my Dad and his friends anyway, no one ever found anything.
Another favorite activity through every generation has been hiking the various trails which extend all the way from Platte River to the Lake Michigan shoreline on the opposite side of Otter Lake. The Trails wind past Deer Lake, along one side of Bass Lake before curling through the woods, and then around either side of Otter Lake. Grandma remembered one day when she and the kids walked to The Waterwheel, which was across the street from what is now the Riverside Canoe Rentals. The distance from the cottage to Riverside is between five and six miles one way. That’s a pretty good hike for a mom with three kids. No doubt they were all a bit footsore once they reached their destination. They were probably not looking forward to the long walk back. Perhaps my Grandma looked as tired as she felt. She remembers talking to a local Native-American man whom they knew and the kind gentleman offered to give them a ride home on his horse. Grandma accepted and had a much faster, and likely very exciting trip for the three children, back to the cottage.
She also remembers a hike that the whole family took to Lake Michigan. My Grandpa had a new camera that took moving pictures, and he was enthusiastically testing it along the way. He kept telling Grandma and the kids to backtrack along the path and walk toward him, or climb back up a dune and walk down. He wanted to capture the moment perfectly, and made them re-enact the adventure until they got it just right. By the time they all got to the lake no one was talking to him. He probably went and sat by himself for a while, covered from head to toe to avoid the sunburns he got so easily. I imagine him with a very self-satisfied grin as he reviewed his perfect videos from a day at the cottage.
*Full names withheld for privacy