The suburban landscape of my hometown quickly transforms into an open road surrounded by wooden areas and mountains in the distance. It’s a road I’ve traveled countless times since I was born. I can still remember being strapped into a car seat in the back of my grandparent’s Buick, trying to count the passing trees, as we drove north to their cottage for the weekend.
Twenty years later, I was alone. It was almost exactly ten years since my grandfather passed away and I was on my way to the cottage to celebrate my grandmothers 80th birthday. The White Mountains come into view as I make my way down route 104 just before the immensity of Lake Winnipesaukee appears through my windshield. I can still hear his voice raving about what we are looking at. “Beautiful water in a high place” is what he would always say. I would eventually learn that’s what the Indian name Winnipesaukee actually meant.
I pulled down the dead end road and up onto the overgrown grass of the field at the end of the road, as my father instructed me where to park. My whole extended family, close to thirty of us, was there to celebrate. There were cars everywhere. I walked around a small wiffle ball game and up to the white house with shutters the sun has faded to gray. The familiar musty smell of the hundred-year-old house, cluttered with pictures from before I was even born, hit me as I entered. On my way into the bedroom to drop my bag I had no choice but to walk over the heating vent located in the center of the living room. “Don’t step on the grate,” my uncle screamed. The spot on impression of his father brought the sounds of my childhood back in a second.
I changed into my bathing suit, packed the cooler and grabbed the boat keys- cut through the woods, down the hill, across the tracks and to the beach. I stop to say hello and throw them around in the water before I swam over to my cousins waiting on the boat.
Growing up together on the lake we all knew exactly where we were going. I swung the boat around the point in into a small cove, the secret spot, surrounded by white birch trees. It is the first time we are all together on the lake in ten years. We were last there together for another birthday, Bubba’s 70th, a month before he died. For a few hours we drift aimlessly about the cove drinking beers and reminiscing about all the times we’ve spent at the lake. “Last time we were in this sport, this was a Capri Sun,” Matt said before cracking open another can.
The sun starts to hide behind the trees at six, our signal to head back for dinner. We could smell the burgers and dogs cooking from the bottom of the hill. At the top, the entire neighborhood converged to sing Happy Birthday.
My grandmother passed away three years later. Since then I have made a point to go to the lake as much as I can. Each time I see that view, grateful for the opportunity I that night. When I kissed her and thanked my grandmother for the small oasis, two hours north of home, to a beautiful water in a high place.