Every time my childhood friends send me photos as they pass the symbol of who and where I once was, my gut twists, reminding me of it all, all over again. The sign, standing tall at the end of my former driveway on MN-Highway 6 now says PRIVATE carved into wood in capital letters, reminding ghosts of housing past that we are no longer allowed inside. My former home: a destination for city dwellers to vacation, a resort nestled just beyond a cape’s water pocket on one of the state’s deepest lakes. I think about it often. I even dream about it often.
The house, surrounded by an abundance of pines, birch, elm, maple and oak, a perfect representation of what living “up north” should be. Small, two and a half bedrooms, somehow managed to hold a family of four—sometimes five—for the better (and worst) part of 15 years. It was a place that never truly felt like home for any of us, at least not until it was gone. Five cabins enveloped our property past the house and mimicked it like a handful of clones, all the way “down to the lake,” as we would say, where the two smallest cabins stood mere inches from the water. Sometimes, as children and then later as teenagers, we would have sleepovers with our friends when the cabins weren’t rented, and I remember falling asleep with the windows open, listening to the water lap up against the shore like a lullaby; the loons calling wildly into the night.
You could also hear the loons from the house; I remember my parents bragging to their friends that our lake had an unusual amount of pairs of the birds, which had turned our resort into an Audubon-lover’s attraction. The loon pairs pleading to each other would suffice as the best they could do with “up north” entertainment. To this day, the call of the loon haunts me.
In 2008, our cozy, “up north” house was foreclosed, coupled with my parents’ divorce. During this time, I questioned my identity, purpose and place in this world because the things that made it a home were gone long before we lost its physical shell. There I was, I thought, a shell myself.
The last day I ever stepped foot into my home, I watched as my mother sold my childhood items. I couldn’t get back from college in time to salvage my Christmas stocking, which my mother claimed was too painful for her to look at. My letter jacket was also put up for sale, only to be salvaged by an aunt who “thought I’d like to keep it.” I stood there, waiting for her to realize that while she was trying to erase the memories of life that hurt her, she was simultaneously erasing the best memories of mine.
My brother and I, he, dealing with the loss in his own way, made it “down to the lake” for the last time that day, taking it in and photographing that scene in our memories. We lit a cigarette and sat in silence in one of the cabins, looking out the window over the water and on the horizon we were about to set off on. I looked away, realizing that my childhood was officially ending, and counted the number of wood ducks on our tacky cabin curtains that I had always loved.
The lake mirrored our uncanny calmness that day. We only just sat; reflecting.
Samantha Fischer is a news editor by day, and writer of essays by night. Her work appears in Luna Luna Magazine, The Voices Project, Yellow Chair Review and others. She is also co-founder of Dirty Chai Magazine.