I am on vacation in an extraordinary place that I have been coming to for nearly 30 years now. There’s been just two summers that I have not been here in that time and there have been other years that I’ve been fortunate to come several times in one year. Throughout my childhood and early adult life, I enjoyed several long stretches visiting various places in New England regularly, from an area close to Cape Cod to the Lakes region of New Hampshire and White Mts., but this place, this wonderful place at Newfound Lake in New Hampshire has provided respite; blessed continuity for many, many years now and I cherish it.
Where we have stayed throughout all of these years is an unusual, and unusually beautiful, spot. It’s a 200-year old inn that had been recreated as condominiums but there is nothing slick and new about them in any way. Each unit is unique unto itself, with the inn’s old architecture playing a role in how the unit was shaped. Over the years we have stayed in what was purported to be the inn’s dining room area, a tavern area and upper rooms. Each had its own charm, from a series of bunk beds and interconnecting rooms (which my middle son delighted in running through again and again slamming doors behind him during one hot summer stay) to a unit that opened up directly onto the vast expanse of the acreage of green lawn. Then there’s our current unit, which we have stayed in for at least the past dozen years, if not longer. There’s a forty-foot long deck overlooking the lawn with an amazing lake view that I have never taken for granted or wearied of in any way. In fact, the marvel it holds feels new each year when I arrive and I stare at it in wonder throughout the week I’m here. This, quite simply, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
We learned of this lake and this amazing inn by chance about thirty years ago. Someone my husband worked with had a home near the lake and told us how much we would love it here. We came to visit, took a boat ride on the lake and vowed we’d return the next year for vacation. And we did, and since that time it’s become a much-loved family tradition. Little did I envision that someday I would be coming here with four children, then eventually their partners and my own mother each year. We can’t imagine doing anything else. Our biggest fear is that one day, this unit in particular, will no longer be available to us, or even worse, the inn which is comprised of individual units all privately owned, will no longer be available for public rental in any way. One rents directly from the owners or sometimes, a realtor, and we happened upon this particular unit only by imagining how wonderful it must be inside and hoping if we made contact, perhaps someone would be back in touch. One snowy winter day, I left a note on its front door expressing our interest in renting it sight unseen inside. Thank goodness they contacted us.
This inn is such a part of our history. It’s where my oldest son spent at least one summer trying to balance, standing on top of a huge tube - a testament to his patience and perseverance for sure. It’s where my daughter came when she was barely a month old, taking afternoon naps atop a huge alligator float that doubled as a water toy for her older brother. It’s where my middle son went at just a few months old, determined not to be in the water in any way, unlike his older siblings who joyfully allowed me to immerse them in the water, even underwater, in infancy without a whimper. Perhaps he was wiser than we were, somehow instinctively demonstrating self-protection, keeping away from the giardia we all contracted that summer at the lake.
This is where we dreamed and planned. We talked about the future and ate a lot of ice cream. It’s where we hiked, played Frisbee and whiffle ball, spent lots of time on the deck and especially in the water and where my children’s father would look out at the spectacular view at day’s end and encourage the kids to simply reflect and then tell him the best part of vacation so far. This is where I sat in the sun reading book after book, watching the kids make sand castles, play in the water, grow big enough to swim to the coveted raft and eventually wrestle and push each other off of. It’s where I miscarried one very hot summer, traveling back and forth to Nashua to get blood levels tested as blood found its way out of my body even while hormone levels continue to rise. There would be another miscarriage later that year and finally, our youngest son. The lake is where we floated two summers later, he in a little red doo rag in my inflatable boat and me with a camera trying to capture every moment of childhood summer adventures going by too fast.
Every year at vacation’s end, the kids would choose an item to bury, in a deep hole at the beach close to the tree line. Their father delighted in this ritual and one of the first things they did together the following year was dig once again to see if they could find it. Sometimes they did, and other times, it remained a mystery, lost to the land maybe to be found by us or maybe some other family years from then. One year, on our way home from a day trip on a cloudy day (on beach days, we never left), we were just a few miles from the inn when a young man took a left or attempted to without a signal and at the last moment. He was coming in the opposite direction from us and did this on the crest of a hill where we would have no visibility of him until the very last moment. He careened into our van, yes, the van I just finished paying off, and totaled it. We were fortunate to not be badly hurt – I procured a small break in a bone in my lower leg and my husband endured some neck and shoulder injuries – and thank god, none of the kids were hurt at all. Our front end was basically sheared off in spots and the hood crumbled up. That year, the kids buried the van’s hood ornament before we left the beach.
The hill that the kids once tumbled on became a hill hard to navigate once my husband got Parkinson’s disease. Later when I had cancer, that same hill was the challenge simply to walk up. At the end of my chemo treatment, my blood cells and immune system simply shot, I could barely breathe trying to walk up the hill. I’d stop every few yards, determined to make that walk, wondering if this would be the last time I would have a chance to. The irony was that I was now in remission yet the majority of me felt as if I was dying. I couldn’t imagine I would ever feel well again. The hill that I once walked up with a kid in my arms, a heavy bag in hand, generally trailing a tube or water float at the same time was far too much for me to walk slowly up on my own. I sat on the deck that year, not moving; simply staring sure that I was going to die still. Strangely enough, when I was much sicker, I never thought that way. And yet, if I was going to die, I kept thinking this is where I wanted it to be. It was okay. I couldn’t even muster enough energy to care.
That was twelve years ago. That fall, my father would be diagnosed with cancer. By March’s end, he would be gone. The next summer, I would be so much stronger and my mother began her annual stay at the inn with us, a tradition that has enriched our family. My marriage would soon end and yet our time here at the lake would continue, some of it with sadness for what once was and what wouldn’t be in spite of the dreams and plans by water’s edge and up on the deck late at night. We had many good times together here at the lake. There were countless bottles of champagne uncorked at night; the corks launched off the deck with the kids engaging in a hunt the next morning to find them on the lawn. There was laughter and fun with the kids and just the two of us as well. I never imagined all those years ago that I would one day be here just my children and my mom, unmarried and okay, but still feeling the loss and sometimes even a bit of guilt that I still have this privilege. And it is a privilege.
This is where we bathed in the afterglow of my daughter’s engagement and made plans for her wedding the next year. Her husband has joined us here for many, many years, since he was in his mid-teens. I am always grateful that he has not only embraced our family, but that he is also willing to share this time with us, too. This is also where my oldest son proposed this past summer to his longtime girlfriend and this year, we make final plans for their wedding in two weeks. It is the first time we have been to the lake without this son and it was odd for him not to be there. His fiancée has stayed with us for many years as well, although not necessarily for the full week. We look forward to them joining us once again as our family, large as it is, was not complete without them. Their engagement as well as their time together at the Inn has surely made Newfound Lake an important part of their joint history. I envision them showing their children one day exactly where they got engaged by the lake.
Although we have never owned a boat, we’ve spent so much time out on the lake, sometimes in rented boats of various types and in kayaks or a canoe. We tubed, swam in different areas of the lake, sometimes fished and enjoyed the lake from so many different views. For many years, I paddled in my little inflatable boat, sometimes for hours, taking in the peaceful beauty of the water and its shoreline, sometimes just floating for a bit, enjoying the solitude I so seldom encountered in the rest of my life. It was my escape, and quite frankly, often the only time I had to myself without time or attention to my family. Eventually, that little boat led to a rented kayak and then a borrowed one, several actually, that we all could enjoy. I went further and faster, embracing the land and waterscape available only offshore. I so wanted my mother (a non-swimmer and unable to paddle a kayak) to see what I was experiencing that I tied a kayak for her to my own kayak one summer and towed her around a section of the lake – next time I try something like that, I’ll better consider which way the current is moving for my return trip. Those excursions gave more to me than any spa experience possibly could. I haven’t kayaked at the lake for a couple of years now and I missed it more than ever this year. I see a kayak of my own in the summers to come.
Regardless of what transpires each year, this opportunity to come together as a family often acts as the glue, the reinforcement that holds us together as we approach what’s next. With such busy, busy lives, we don’t have as much family time as we would like all that often and this expanse of solid time together strengthens the bonds, gives us time to laugh, enjoy each other’s company, remember the special times we’ve shared thus far and anticipate the good things still to come. And certainly throughout the week, each of us reflects on how much we love this special place and what has been the best part of vacation thus far, just as we have always done.