Childhood summers meant one thing: Up North.
Every summer, my family would pile into our car, carefully crammed with fishing poles, coolers, baseball caps and bug spray. As the youngest, I always had the middle back seat, with most of the items stashed under my feet.
Our destination was the house my great-grandpa built, tucked into the sweet-scented pine forests off the coast of Lake Superior.
We’d go up with my grandparents and visit my great-grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and various other relatives who bleared together in my childish memory. Sometimes my cousins and aunts and uncles would all cram into the house with us or camp out in the yard. It was great fun, but numbers sometimes made things complicated, as my great- grandpa also dug the ‘sewer’, such as it was, himself.
Busy and messy, full of card games and mosquito bites and fishing and laughter, those sun-streaked days are some of my dearest memories.
As the years went on, our ‘Up North’ family dwindled- our losses, heaven’s gains.
The responsibilities of adulthood and moving out of state limited, then eliminated, my summer visits, until last year.
I was finally able to bring my children back to the old house last summer.
We stepped out of the car and I was a child again, ready to run through the ferns and forget-me-nots and to build tee-pees in the clearing.
Everything held a memory. The shriek of the bedsprings in the upstairs room that 2 (or was it all 3?) of the sisters who grew up in the house shared. The steep staircase that Grandma descended, holding the lilacs and daisies her sisters picked, to marry my Grandpa when he came home from the war. The birdhouse reserved for ‘Chippie,’ Grandpa’s semi-tame chipmunk. Great-Grandma’s old treadle sewing machine that mom taught me to use.
It was painful joy to play with my husband and children in the woods, to hike and throw rocks into the lake, to relive small moments of childhood memory, while knowing that things had changed irrevocably.
The things were still there, but the people were gone, their stories and laughter an echo in the past.
Still, though bittersweet, dusting off the memories and saying the names of people I missed allowed them, for a brief while, to walk again. Alive in memory.
One of the greatest treasures I discovered when I began serious research for my book was BBC’s “WW2 People’s War” archives.
From 2003-2006, BBC sent a call out to everyone who had memories from the wartime years. The memories were written down, sorted by category, and archived.
47,000 stories reside here. Memories of joys and sorrows and day to day life. Memories of soldiers, wives, children, doctors, ambulance drivers and teachers. Memories told first hand, and memories passed on by surviving children. Memories that take some patience to sort through, that may be distorted by the years between, but that give a better picture of the texture and flavor of the life of these people than the most carefully researched textbook.
I visited the archives frequently, hunting for memories that would illuminate my research. I would always end up reading through pages of unrelated material, entranced by the voices of people who lived history.
For anyone interested in this era, I can’t recommend a visit to this site highly enough.
Summer moves too quickly. Our family’s visit to the north woods ended, but the kids still talk about it, reliving memories of their own.
What memories fuel the stories you share?