Pine Beach Memories

Slice of Life Writing Challenge – March 22, 2021

Have you ever returned to a place from your childhood only to be immersed in memories of the past? That’s what happened to me today when I walked in the spring sunshine to the beach a short distance from my grandparent’s home and the memories hit me like a wave crashing into the shore.

Summers for me included a two, sometimes three, week vacation, free from my siblings getting doted on by my grandparents. Mom would pile us three kids into our 1960s blue station wagon with snacks, books, and Barbies and drive from our home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Onalaska, Wisconsin where Grandma and Grandpa’s home rested on a bluff overlooking the Mighty Mississippi. The six hour drive seemed forever to my child-size odometer. Free from car seats and seatbelts, I’d jump from the way back seat where our sleeping bags were laid out to peer over the front seat, determined to be the first to spot the giant roadside statue of a dairy cow. It was the landmark that communicated we were getting close.

After spending the weekend, my mom, brother, and sister would reverse the packing process minus me plus homemade treats for the ride and head back home. A tinge of worry and lonesomeness would take up residence smack dab in the middle of my heart that first night. By the time I woke up, it had faded. A sneak peek in the bottom dresser drawer full of new coloring books and crayons, Little Kiddle dolls, and other miscellaneous trinkets helped cure the homesickness too.

The weeks were filled up with quiet, early morning fishing trips with Grandpa. Grandma packed my favorite salami sandwiches with mayo on white bread and homemade cookies to eat as the sun came up. Afternoons were spent making more cookies for the next outing or going to the public swimming pool coated in sunscreen. I grew up swimming in the lake, so the pool felt rich and fancy. My oversized and embraceable grandma never went swimming. I don’t recall ever seeing her in a swimsuit. She didn’t own one, but she sat baking all afternoon in the sun regardless, just so that I could splash around. My grandma was more an apron donning woman who felt most at home in the kitchen. To this day, whenever I see reproduction fabrics in a quilt shop, I’m taken back to Grandma’s kitchen. They remind me of those aprons she wore with pride.

Grandpa, the grill master, would spend an entire day smoking slabs of barbecue ribs on his famous backyard pit. His prized pigsicles, slathered with secret sauce and smeared across my cheeks matching his own, are legendary in our family. He always asked how a skinny little girl like me could pack away so many.

Another much anticipated tradition with Grandma was our annual shopping spree to the creaky floored department store followed up with new pair of Buster Browns from the shoe store that granted a balloon after every purchase. If I’d been good, I’d receive a quarter to ride the coin operated kiddie ride outside the storefront.

Grandma and Grandpa moved closer to us after Grandpa retired and my summer vacations continued into my middle school years. As I grew older, gaining more independence along the way, my grandparents allowed me to venture out on my bike with my next-door neighbor friend. We’d ride to Pine Beach and spend the entire afternoon swimming in the waves and then laying in the sun to dry off before heading home for supper. Evenings were quiet around my grandparent’s house until the card games started. The laughter and competitive attitudes heated things up but always cooled down when Grandma made bedtime banana splits or tin roof sundaes.

Pine trees favor sandy soil, a great location for a beach. Today, as I walked I noticed the beach has washed away, but the tall pines and memories haven’t. I could be a returning slicer for the remaining Marches of my life and it wouldn’t be enough days to write all the memories of summer days spent at my grandparents.

Published by Patty Nault

Retired elementary teacher with a passion for reading, writing, and living a life full of curiosity. "Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." -E.B. White

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