Beechwood Memories

You know those days that start out being really irritating and then seem destined to go straight downhill from there? That was today. I woke up early to watch my beloved Roger Federer play tennis. After a brilliant match two days ago when he manhandled my least favorite player, Novak Djokovic, he lost to a next-gen 21 year old who I actually like a lot. I know that I don’t want to be one of the crazies who let their moods depend on athletes, but some days a great match from this 38 year old superstar and seemingly impossibly decent human being, goes a long way to bring me to a truly good mood.

After that, I needed to go to have my blood drawn in preparation for a physical on Monday. This is never a fun time for me as I was born with invisible veins, a genetic gift from my mother which I in turn passed on to my daughter. When I had knee surgery in July, a nurse with a bad touch wound up blowing my most reliable gusher with her attempt to insert an IV.

So I went with trepidation to the lab only to find that the hours on the internet for that facility were incorrect. Could I get grumpier? Yes, indeed. I dashed off to the only open lab, available for another 45 minutes. I entered a germ convention, every seat filled with hacking children and adults. After checking in, I burrowed down in my jacket, trying not to breathe. There were seven blood draws ahead of me. I watched to see which phlebotomists were available. I was hoping for someone experienced. But unfortunately when my turn finally came, the woman who called for me looked like she was about fourteen. She got her two stabs in before finally realizing she didn’t have the magic touch. Explaining this to people gets very tiresome. She got a more mature woman who got me on the first try.

With my new set of bruises and bandages I left the lab, last person out the door. I was beyond annoyed. But there was a positive plan. I had appointments for a massage and a haircut. As part of my widow coping skills, I budgeted for a mini-spa day for myself every six weeks. A good way to contend with the physical isolation that happens when you lose the daily contact you’ve been accustomed to having for the bulk of your life. Imagine if the only touching you experienced for days was being stabbed three times for a blood draw? The timing was perfect. Looking for an additional way to defeat my crummy mood, I checked out movie times for a film that would be guaranteed to distract and entertain, rather than causing any negative reactions. I chose “Ford v. Ferrari which proved to be exactly what I needed, an interesting story with action and more humor than darkness.

After that, I was in evening. I have plenty to do, but sometimes, after a mixed bag day, I allow myself the luxury of looking back on good times which can be an internal process or an external one. I decided to pull a photo album off my shelf which is a guarantee for producing happy thoughts. The one I selected at random brought me back to a magical time in my family life, the years of fun at The Beechwood in Sister Lakes, Michigan. In the very late 80’s and for many years in the 90’s, our family participated in what can only be described as family camp with old friends. When it began, Michael, myself and our kids hooked up with my oldest friend from elementary school, high school and ultimately my college roommate, her family and one other family to rent cabins at the Beechwood. We stayed in Cabin # 1.

A funky place with a number of old houses, some small, some bigger, owned by a very relaxed couple named Tom and Virginia, the place housed a playground and a beach on Round Lake, one of the Sister Lakes. We started out as a few people, but as time went on, more and more of our old friends and their kids joined in until we’d turned into a crowd. Some people came for a few days, others for one week or two. There were babies and grannies, singles and couples.

Traditionally, I prepared dinner for the first night, a hearty, spicy chicken and potato concoction. Side dishes came from everyone else. We all usually shared one big communal meal daily, most often supper. As years went by, it got pretty incredible, cooking for 30-40 people. During the days, kids and adults alike popped into different cabins, often staying for lunch. There was swinging and swimming. We rented boats with tubes for riding and water skis. Eventually we rented jet skis. There were basketball games, lots of spades and hearts, board games and ping pong.

We bought a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables – I honed my peach pie-making skills there. We went to Wick’s Apple House for fruit, cider and delicious Reuben sandwiches which were big enough for two people. Kids went off with parents who weren’t theirs but it was okay.

We took excursions. Bowling, amusement parks, bookstores and ice cream parlors were explored. People fished and read a lot. Or just did nothing.

At night the happening place was The Driftwood, an ice cream parlor which also sold kitschy souvenirs and had loud music in the background. Michael and I had vehicles with space, his a big red Chevy pickup that held lots of bouncy kids and mine a station wagon with a “way back” seat that faced backwards. Good, cheap thrills.

At night there were bonfires on the beach where we toasted marshmallows and the kids enjoyed the fireworks brought by my pyromaniac husband who was easily as thrilled as they were. The kids wrote plays and performed them for the grownups and they had mass sleepovers.

Every year we all looked forward to this trip which was a family and chosen family-based experience. In my crew, everyone was happy but my son who was one of the youngest kids. Each year as he grew we’d excitedly head back to Michigan where to his dismay, he’d find that everyone else had grown too and that no matter what, he’d never catch up. He was also conned by one of the few kids who wasn’t in our group who told him that he should bury all his teenage mutant ninja turtle toys in the sandbox as part of a game, only to find that they were all missing when he went back to find them. The early hard life lessons.

Over time, there were a couple of modern A-frame buildings built right on the beach. Although our group had the largest number of people, there were other folks who rented at Beechwood. We became an imposing presence. We got along well with Tom and Virginia but one day, they decided it was time to retire. They sold our beloved summer home to some younger people whose goals were very different from what we’d previously experienced.

In December of 1995, the new owners sent out a newsletter, part of their management approach and included a note for our clan. This memory was my final erasure of today’s earlier sourness. I read their note and Michael’s response to it which follow below. Unreconstructed rebels we were, even as a responsible parents with kids. Enjoy this with me:

From the new owners –

“I know you have been coming to Beechwood for many years. It has become a tradition that your group can spend summer vacation together, something to look forward to. However, my wife and I have apprehension with inviting your group back as our guests, based on some of the things we experienced and endured with your group at Beechwood kast summer. Such as:

Exclusive telephone use. The “business line” on the porch is for convenience and emergency use only. Your group used this phone often and extensively. We ask that you limit the use of our phone for its intended purpose. Many friends came to visit while you were at the resort. Traffic was a steady stream of cars going in and out and using the limited parking space at the resort. Beechwood is a great place to visit, but we feel that our facilities should be limited to those uses by those who are registered guests. Beyond that, our existing facilities become taxed and overcrowded.

I understand that most of your kids are teenagers which means, among many things, that they want to have fun without dad and mom watching over them. However, in our rules, we state that your children should be supervised. Yes, I know that kids will be kids, but kids have to know what the limits are. Last summer, your kids lost a few of the recreation balls – you did replace them but by the end of the second week, they were lost again. We had one of your kids “lose” his suit while swimming, then ran around the beach trying to get it back. Funny, yes, but we had many complaints from other guests on this kid’s behavior. In fact, your kids talked back to a few guests when approached about this behavior. And the swearing from them was intolerable. We could hear them down at the beach from our house. Also, at times, their use of the recreational facilities was destructive. There is no need for any of these things to happen. We invite you back to enjoy your Beechwood vacation. But, you all must examine this letter and our wishes to make this work for you, other Beechwood guests and us.”

Well, then. Here is Michael’s response:

Dear Jim,

Thank you for the informative note you enclosed with your December newsletter. Despite the fact that our group rented every cabin at the upper portion of Beechwood last summer, we can certainly understand how the many other guests had trouble with our unruly behavior and the total lack of supervision of our children and friends. To alleviate your apprehension with inviting us back, we have all agreed to take the following steps to make sure that we have the type of vacation you think we should have.

1) We have contracted with G.T.E. to install a pay telephone booth for the two weeks that our group will be at Beechwood. We will of course cover all of the costs, and you and your family are welcome to use it as well, as long as you have correct change. This will leave the business line free for emergency calls, calls of “convenience” for neighbors whose phone service has been interrupted by tropical storms, or incoming calls from your stockbroker or psychiatrist.

2) We do have many friends and family members who visit us at various times. We are probably quite fortunate that the beach wasn’t shut down by the Public Health Department last summer due to overcrowding. We have agreed to run a noiseless electric shuttle from downtown Sister Lakes to prevent the “steady stream of cars going in and out,” and eliminate the massive traffic jams, pollution and double parking which was such a problem last year. In addition, all visitors will be limited to a 45 minute stay per day. We will provide you, as best we are able, a list of expected visitors along with notarized credentials, family and employment histories and personal financial statements. Any alcohol or drug testing will have to be at your expense.

3) I was not aware until reading your note, that our children were, as a group, so uncontrollable and obnoxious. We thought they were only like that at home. The fact that we didn’t see our kids for four or five days may have been a contributing factor. We gave them a fistful of cash and told them to have a good time. From the sound of it, they did. To prevent any recurrence we will take the following steps:

A) A pair of old-fashioned stocks will be assembled during our stay. All misdeeds will be punished. A little public humiliation and corporal punishment will go a long way.

B) Morning classes will be held daily, Monday through Saturday, for all children. Attendance will be mandatory and we will cover the subjects of deportment, diction, proper grooming, vacation etiquette and zone defense.

C) We will be bringing our own swingset, slide, jungle gym and basketball set to make sure your equipment is not over-used or abused. We will also cover our share of your annual depreciation. We also have a lot of balls.

D) An officer of the day will keep a log of the whereabouts and activities of all children. The kids will not be allowed to congregate in groups larger than three. Before swimming or using any of Beechwood’s equipment, each child will be checked for proper attire, proper attitude and for double knotted bathing suits.

E) All children’s mouths will be washed out with soap upon arrival to discourage improper vocabulary.

In closing, thank you so much for inviting us back. It’s a shame that Tom and Virginia never took such an active interest in the happiness and wellbeing of their guests. If they had only had the vision to turn Beechwood into a politically correct, new age yuppie boot camp, just think of all the fun we could have had over the last seven years.

Sincerely, Michael and Renee

And that was that. We found a new place to go that year. Eventually a core group of people bought a place similar to Beechwood nearby on one of the other lakes. We weren’t financially able to be part of that deal as it would’ve limited our ability to do other traveling. And our son who grew from a toddler to a pre-teen needed a change. Our daughter started as 7 year old and left on the verge of her driver’s license. I still am in touch with a number of those special family members with whom we shared so much. I ended this stinky day with a sense of the richness of my life and my continued adoration of my feisty and entertaining husband. A lot can happen in just 16 hours.

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