Sometimes it is a difficult thing to go back to the places of your childhood. Decades pass and things change... it is inevitable. One of my best childhood friends had a campsite at Sandy Pines in Michigan. She would take turns taking all of her friends up there on summer vacation, though I have to say I went a lot. I may have had more than my fair share of turns, and boy, I am grateful. Sandy Pines is etched in my memory for so many reasons. Back then, in the late 1970's, Sandy Pines was a place of dirt roads, limited electric use, and small campers. Sure, there were those members sporting double slide outs on their motor homes and they seemed to be camping in expansive luxury. But back then most of us were sleeping in campers that were designed for people who really liked each other. Once you arrived at your campsite after driving what seemed like days, the car pretty much stayed put. We walked a lot more back then- miles even along those dirt roads that were more like sheltered paths under green canopies. If we were lucky, we got the golf cart. This was like being allowed to drive the family car without a license! Our site was on the far end of the resort. We had the best of both worlds because we had the outdoor pool, the huge dangerous hill that was a thrill to race down with the golf cart rattling the whole way, and- and this is a big one- that wonderful feeling that you had to take some huge adventure if you needed to do the slightest thing like run for marshmallows after nine pm. It meant one heck of a long scary golf cart ride clear to the other side of the resort where the general store and gas station were. We volunteered to run every single errand back then. My favorite part of that long trip to the other side occurred as we shot out of the woods and into a clearing that jogged around Lake Monterrey. Light played off the surface of the water, and the road here was always a little more sand than dirt which made it appear oddly pink as the sun went down. The little chapel stood on the shore here and it was always so peaceful. Life was so incredibly simple on these days at Sandy Pines. Breakfast was eaten on the run, lunches were often hot dogs or grilled hamburgers eaten on those few minutes out of the pool or lake, and dinners- well, this was a whole other story. My friend's Dad was one heck of a cook. I marveled at these dinners made in this tiny trailer by this huge man who looked every bit the part of Yule Brenner in The King and I. I tasted foods on those trips that have become some of my favorite foods today as an adult. Back then I suffered my way through it but I knew on some level that someday I would appreciate these strange things that showed up on my plate. At night we would unroll what seemed like fifty pounds of sleeping bag that had belonged to my friend's older brothers when they were Scouts. Bless those poor souls for having to hike with those bags because they had to have weighed in as much as the kids. Those bags were Army green cotton with flannel plaid linings. We'd get in them and pray for rain. There was nothing like going to sleep with the sound of rain hitting a metal roof just inches over your dry head. Those sleeping bags smelled musty and I can sense it just sitting here writing about them. Our prayers for rain were often answered and I am sure that is mostly to blame. "Yule" was a loud snoring sleeper and having to get up and go to the bathroom at night was a terrifying experience. You had to navigate your way to the end of the camper through a path that couldn't have been more than ten inches wide. Getting past the snoring gentle giant in the complete dark was scary indeed. No matter what you did in that camper it was so easy to wake people up, and I knew if that snoring stopped I had interrupted some one's nice deep slumber. What fun those days were. We were so young and carefree. Bug bitten and sun burnt and so happy. My friends parents are now gone as is the campsite. But life is odd, truly. One of my favorite aunts decided to get a summer place in Michigan a few years back. We had talked about all the work they were putting into their place and how much they were enjoying their summers. What I didn't know until later was that my aunt was spending her summers at my childhood haunt. It is her place now. So much has changed. Paved roads, lots of entertainment, and even condos were built. But I am sure the essence remains the same. She has asked me up for a visit and I cannot wait for her to show me around. My Sandy Pines is gone, but hers is very much alive. And like good family genes, her present Sandy Pines will have enough of the old Sandy Pines to stir up all of those old childhood memories that I hold so dear. To you Floyd, Ruth, and Kristina- thank you for all those days in the sun.
Note: The above painting by Paul Turner Sargent captures the Sandy Pines of yesterday with amazing clarity.