Four years ago, my grandfather passed away. Friday, a big group of us convened at his favorite place, Lake Wallenpaupack PA, and set his ashes free in the waters he loved.
I don’t see my extended family as much as I’d like. And ever since grandpa passed, it always feels a little weird to be around all of them without him. It’s been easier to feel a bit removed from the sadness of missing him since we don’t live close. (Though if I let myself, I’d probably still cry every time I thought about him!) Being in “his” place made that sadness come to the surface; bigger and more raw.
My grandfather was a BIG man. Not necessarily big in size, though he was tall, but big in personality. His booming laugh and bear hugs instantly made a room feel warm and full of life. He was one of my absolute favorite people.
And my favorite childhood memories live at their lake house. For whatever reason, I felt the urge to write them all down – perhaps while I still remember them!
I don’t think I’ve ever lived closer than a 2 hour plane ride from my grandparents, but as a kid, I saw them at least once a year, usually around the 4th of July. We would all pile on my grandfathers boat with blankets and snacks, anchor in the middle of the lake and watch fireworks shot off a tiny island nearby.
The lake house itself felt magical as a kid. The round table off the living room was surrounded by windows overlooking the lake and usually had an unfinished puzzle or game on it. The skinny, steep, windy iron & wood stairs down to the basement revealed a wall of more games, water guns and lake toys galore. And I can still remember the smell of cinnamon raisin bagels and Dunkin Donuts coffee in the mornings.
My brother and I had special rituals with my grandpa whenever we were there. One of our favorites was to go on long walks with him down the gravel road past the house. There, we’d pick raspberries off the endless bushes that lined the road. We’d walk over to the silent, mossy old graveyard and search for the oldest tombstones. And no walk was complete without a sturdy walking stick. My brother and I would find big sticks and hand them over to my grandpa for inspection. If it was a good stick, we’d bring it back and he’d sand down a smooth handle and chop it to “kid-sized”.
If you were awake early enough, you might get to go with Grandpa to the general store for the newspaper or Dunkin Donuts for coffee. If you were really lucky, you’d get to pick out candy sticks or get a roll of necco wafers from the general store, too. Sometimes, we’d take after-dinner boat rides and my brother and I would perch in the very front of the boat, searching for huge wake waves from other boats and begging grandpa to fly over them. Other early mornings or evenings, you’d find grandpa down on the dock fishing – and always excited if we wanted to join him.
My grandma would make giant sandwich platters for lunch and delicious home cooked meals each night. She and my mom would run off and play at antique shops while the rest of us spent our days jumping off the dock and floating around in inter tubes, or tubing and water-skiing on the lake.
When we were kids, we made what we called “treasure chests” in the rocks along the shoreline; moving rocks around to create little spaces and capping them tightly with large, flat rocks. We’d run along the slate gravel paths around the house and have water gun fights with our cousins. And when we got older, we’d take out the Sea-doos and search for big wakes to crash over on our own.
This weekend, we convened at my cousin Brian’s house on the lake. I didn’t realize it until we were out on the water, but grandma and grandpas old place was almost directly across the lake from Brian’s.
When it was time, we all piled in two boats (there were over 20 of us, including my sweet Grandma) and headed towards the old house. When I finally saw it, I just ached inside. What I wouldn’t give to be in that place one more time! To walk down to the cemetery eating fresh berries…smell the smells…hear Grandpa laughing. It’s funny how unfamiliar the lake looked as we left Brian’s, but how utterly familiar it felt as we got closer to that lifetime of precious memories. And turning around to leave from the old house was familiar, too – that view we’d seen a million times as kids – from the house, the deck, the dock.
Someone still lives there, making their own memories. It’s bittersweet. (But don’t think I didn’t stalk VRBO already on the off-chance that the new owners rent it out. It’s possible that I found the house next door, or one very close. Will update when my stalking is complete.)
My dad got this urn for grandpas ashes that would float a bit, then eventually sink and dissolve in the water. As one of us pointed out, it looked just like a buoy – how fitting. So as we turned away from the old place, my Dad and several others said some words, and then he released the “buoy” into the water. All of us hovered around it in our boats and watched grandpa bob and drift, until he found the perfect spot to rest.
It was a special day.