In photo albums at the lake in Michigan, your parents in the 1970’s haven’t hit 30 yet. They look like happy teenagers in swimsuits and long hair without a thread of gray. You are one of the pudgy faces among a dozen pudgy siblings and cousins, on people’s laps, propped up on a hip, in the shallow water learning what a toy sand shovel is. Your grandparents smile at the scene from the lawn holding drinks. The air smells like fresh cut grass, boat engine oil, pipe tobacco, coconut oil, dead perch, the burnt metal of lit sparklers.
When the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s seem like ages ago, you and your siblings and cousins have your pudgy children on your hips as you try to take selfies without dropping your phone in the water. The dock is made of composite wood, with no risk of the splinters you all remember getting back in your day. Your grandparents are at a rest home, no longer able to visit the lake. Your parents and aunts and uncles no longer swim. They watch you from chairs on the dock and make jokes about the gray they can see in your hair.
The house at the lake goes empty after your grandparents pass. The neighborhoods around it are popular. Million-dollar homes are common now. The seasons at the lake feel like they are for sale now, too. It’s not true, just a feeling. But when you can’t help it you look at the real estate website. From across the country, you see images of the house as it’s never been. Emptied of furniture. Clean and bare and bright. No faces. No naked babies. No food. No recliners to watch the Tigers. It’s okay, you tell yourself. Things change. And you are fine until you flip to pictures of the kitchen and see the color of the floor, the light and shadows of the corners of the cabinets you used to turn with little bare wet feet running through the house. The sound of your siblings and cousins behind you. Tag. Chase. Scream. And in that empty house on your screen you feel your bare foot push hard against the floor to escape. The grass on both feet as you launch out the side door. Pounding across the yard toward the dock, ignoring the pinch of hidden acorns in the turf. Flinging arms and legs and screaming in the air beyond the end of the dock until the water crashes around you, and you land far away, back in the 1900s, watching your people fall one after the other in sheets of bubbles. One by one they descend and emerge. You laugh to each other underwater, each generation is a group of children again, and you call that place to life in one another with every bubble-smothered word and shout of joy.
(For my grandparents.)