25 September 2006

our first family vacation

to ellison bay, was, on many levels, perfection! where to begin... i warn you now - get comfy. we may be here a minute. ;)

first, a little history primer about the cottage we stayed in. my grandpa's aunt (i believe great aunt, actually) purchased the lot that it sits on back in 1919. she and a friend pooled their money together and the cottage was completed in 1922 at the cost of $1000.00. my grandfather's father purchased the lot just to the south of it around the same time. there are 8 or nine cottages in a row, all connected by a path that runs between the cottages and the beach. it is called professor's row. they all have been in the families that own them for generations, with the exception of one that was built just a few years back at the end of the path, closest to the dock. will thought it was beautiful, i thought it was a McCabin. it just doesn't "fit" and it's ginormous.

grandpa lived in ellison bay for some years and after moving to green bay, he would spend his summers in ellison bay in the cottage, doing odd jobs for the others up and down the path. eventually, the cottage was handed down to he and his brother, who split time there each year. it really isn't possible to live in the cottage year round, but may-october is always good. i began spending summers there with my grandparents when i was 7 or 8. i loved it so. it was my most special happy spot of childhood. the water that was run to the house came straight out of the bay and was only good for bathing in. every few days, grandpa and i would walk down the path to fill our bucket with drinking water from the hand pump well hidden just off the path between two other cottages. i couldn't find it this year. i think it was taken out when the McCabin was built.

20-25 ish years ago, i spent my days on the beach, feeding the gulls bread, reading my books, setting up my barbie's house with furniture that grandma had made for them. we walked into town after dinner to get ice cream at the berch tree for a special treat. as we'd walk home, the bats would swarm just above the tree line. i would 'help' grandpa clear all the rocks from the huge flat rocks that would become our patio down on the beach. i would swim with my shoes on - i always had an old pair of tennis shoes i'd take just for swimming (the rocks get fairly slick and some are sharp). i would feed the raccoons our leftovers and sit by the window for hours waiting for one to come. i also put out seed for the squirrels and chipmunks. i played for hours in those woods, making up games. i would walk down to the dock with my little radio, and without fail, everytime, the song sitting on the dock of the bay would come on. i'd run in and out of the cottage a million times a day and the screen door would bang shut behind me. it still makes the same bang, even 20 odd years later. grandma would always bring ceramics for me to paint and we'd sit together at a table in the sunporch and do crafts while she watched her "stories" on t.v. - we got all of 4 stations there and barely at that. she was constantly moving the rabbit ears around to get better reception. we ate breakfast for dinner, uncle tom's pancakes. the sound of wind in trees and waves lapping on the beach - as well as the smell of coffee and bacon would wake me each morning.

then one year, i made a decision that i will always count as my one great regret in life. i stupidly thought that i was "too old" and didn't go again until i was 23. that year, grandma and grandpa decided to put a phone in the cottage. it was a good thing, too. grandpa had a heart attack. he probably wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the phone. grandma never drove and the nearest hospital is still 30 miles away.

grandma passed on in 1999 and grandpa is too frail, physically, i fear, to make the trip to ellison bay again. but will and i were thinking of ways that maybe we could get him there again next year. back to the regret. i thought of them so much while we were there. i kept turning around in the cottage, on the beach, expecting to see them.

my grandpa had to sell the cottage back in 2000. long story short, he was forced into it. he and his brother shared ownership, and his brother's wife managed to somehow force the sell through a clause in the family documents that if one party wanted to sell, the other must. things weren't in order in wills, etc. and so it was put on the market. i couldn't figure out any way to come up with that kind of money and i was completely devestated. it was always understood that someday it would be mine and i took it for granted that it would always be in our family. while the cottage is simple and perfect, the land it sits on is apparently worth a small fortune. i had no idea. i also had no idea that door county is in the top 5 vacation destinations in the u.s. until this year. my humble little hidaway in the woods is highly sought after. ellison bay is located at the top of the penninsula of door county, and much of the tourism stops at the little town of sister bay, about 5 minutes south of ellison bay. the door county coast is dotted with sweet little towns leading up to gill's rock and northport.

it was bought by a lovely couple that "got it" and didn't intend on ripping it down and building a behemoth McCabin in it's place. they took out the wood paneling and insulation and replaced the old wood burning stove with a gas one. other than that, they didn't change a thing. a few years ago, i took will to ellison bay. we stayed at a family friend's place and we went by the cottage to take a look. they let us come inside and see. i got to show will my special place! the next year, we went again. will and i had decided that two wedding ceremonies were in order for us. i desperately wanted my part to be on the beach of the cottage. we went by the cottage again and asked if we could go down to the beach. there, we did my part. we exchanged our promises and i had written mine out on a piece of birch bark. just me, will and the gulls. since we didn't have anyone officiating, we skipped rocks to seal the deal. it was perfect.

in 2004 or 2005, the couple decided to sell the cottage. a distant cousin of mine and her husband bought it. her mother, my grandpa's cousin, now has the cottage to the south. i wrote her last year and asked if it would be possible for us to stay there and she said yes! after crying for a good hour in sheer joy, i called will to tell him the news. we'd been counting the minutes ever since. we love fall in door county with the leaves turning, so we thought we'd shoot for september.

we left for ellison bay at 9 pm last friday night, after picking up a minsky's pizza to eat on the road - in the hopes that bebe would sleep the whole way there. he did. he stirred a few times and i had to creatively straddle his car seat to nurse, but we managed. :) *note, if you ever have to cross the state of iowa, make sure you have music playing options. as i was cursing the radio stations being behind the times, playing only young country (no offense, shotgun) and classic rock, i was also cursing our being behind the times for not having a cd player in our car. it was painful. i fell in love with garth brooks again after a few hours. ack.

we pulled into the winding drive that leads back to the cottages shortly after 9 the next morning, exhausted. i drove the final few hours. i kept trying to sleep early on, but i'd wake up to find will tugging on his goatee and shaking his head to try and stay awake. that scared me. :) my great aunt gloria, who i haven't seen in 25 years was staying in the cottage next door with her sons, johnny and rob. riley and i went up to find the hidden key under the loose rock to get in and will unloaded the car. we joined gloria and family for breakfast - and met up with my great aunt margie and uncle bill who live in sister bay. it was our first time in a restuarant since riley was tiny and he had a blast sitting in his little chair at the end of the table and flirting and playing. it was wonderful to catch up with everyone. grandpa always says that gloria and i are just alike politically. we're 'radicals.' :)

we headed back to the cottage for a snooze. will had a poetry reading set up at the bridge in sister bay that night. he and another local poet took turns reading. will sold a few of his books. riley and i missed the reading - we played outdoors instead...

we decided to not sleep upstairs in the sleeping area - too treacherous for wee ones that could tumble down stairs. instead, i found an aerobed in the closet that was a dream to sleep on and set up camp in the sunporch. it was delicious. because the cottage isn't insulated (you can even see through to the outdoors in a few places between the wood slats) we could hear every leaf rustle and every wave break. on the nights that got chilly, we had the stove.

i can also attest that children really don't need all the toys we give them. riley barely touched what we brought along. he had such a blast playing with sticks and rocks! he LOVED the beach. one day as i napped, he and will built little seats out of the rocks and will taught riley how to "skip" (throw) rocks into the water. we also built a campfire one night and fed the gulls a couple of other nights.

we had perfect weather - cool in the day, crisp and chilly at night - and even a great rainstorm that pitter-pattered away at the roof as we snoozed.

we relaxed, most importantly. i got to revisit thich naht hahn's being peace and began a collection of 'enterviews' with jungian analysts i've been dying to dig into for some time now. will got a lot of reading in, and i made sure to keep a daily journal, which i may try and post in here eventually...

we also did everything i did as a kid - fed the furry friends around the cottage. we had two different raccoons, a baby and a BIG one that traded nights. we walked the path to the dock and then into town each day. we went to all the places i'd go with grandma and grandpa: bea's (you've got to get a load of the full name of the store on the website), to stock up on my cherry jam - uncle tom's, to get the best pancake mix in the world. we also ate at al johnson's so riley could see the goats that graze on the grass roof and i could have my lingonberries. we went to mr. helsinki's to eat - it's a little place that will and i found when we were there last. i also found a winter hat and gloves at ecology sports - organic cotton AND fair trade! we drove up to death's door and all around the peninsula. we were going to eat fish boil at the viking one night, but ran out of money (and since i'd already had smoked salmon, it was ok - i was a touch worried about mercury and all as well). we did make sure to take riley by so he could see the big fire during the boil. what did he say about that, you ask? "uh-oh!" speaking of saying, he has new words - "yes" (which sounds like yesssshhh) "please" (which also sounds very cute) and he now follows me around some days saying, "honey, i know." he woke up most every morning this way, "mommy? daddy? bye bye?!" little man loves adventure! wonder where he gets that?

we also went to the clearing, which i was convinced was a magical place when i was little - and come to find out, it is! it is just up the path from the cottage - i used to sneak up there to spy - and will is looking to teach a course there next year, hopefully.

one place we didn't get to go was the pioneer store, pictured here standing, and here collapsed. grandpa and i would walk there almost everyday for foody items and sundries. i remember getting double bubble gum out of a big glass barrel by the checkout. will and i shopped there during our previous visits. the store blew up in a terrible gas leak explosion in july, apparently a gas line had been severed and leaked all weekend long. the explosion also took the lives of two people that were staying in a rental cottage behind. their 12 year old daughter survived. i can't even begin to imagine. just horrible. the woman had just celebrated her 45th birthday a few days before and they had been coming to ellison bay for the last 18 years for vacation. the owner of the pioneer store narrowly escaped by jumping from the window of the living quarters above the store as the first floor blew out. she had been asleep. the pioneer store was a mainstay in ellison bay from way back. like 134 years, in various forms. horribly, terribly, sad.

i think this is all i've got in me for now. i will post up some pictures and a bit more about the rest of the stay that i've left out tomorrow. overall, it was a fantastic adventure! even the 60 miles of fog so thick we could only see a few feet in front of us on the way home was fantastic! but i still need to catch up on zzz's - my pillow is calling me...

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