My own childhood summers feel like a string of events, peppered by a sort of sparkling magic that only Minnesota can provide. For me, and like other kids, my world felt bookended by two main events: Christmas and summertime. My younger years were good albeit a little non-traditional: I stuck out among my towheaded peers, my parents were divorced, but that didn’t seem to matter because summers felt like worlds all their own set across the backdrop of what I thought was the best city in the world. I could dive into all the things I found joy in, and I wasn’t oppressed by the schoolwork I found daunting and boring.
For a few years, my dad rented a cabin on Madeline Island, a small dot of land on the Wisconsin side of Lake Superior. Sometimes we went up in the winter, too, and that involved driving straight across the ice, not taking a ferry, my dad’s brown hands gripping the steering wheel with a gleam in his eye. Most etched into my mind besides the log home we stayed in, was the small grocery store in the center of town. Inside you could purchase dry goods, basic food items, but also check out library books. I’d read for hours from paperbacks dating to the 1970s, one a scary ghost story that left me too afraid to sleep, instead spending the next morning and hazy afternoon snoozing on the couch. A long set of stairs at the cabin led to the lake, not too cold for a desperate eight-year-old who loved to swim. Oftentimes friends would join us as the cabin, people my dad worked with or families from our South Minneapolis church. I loved sharing the evergreens, midnight blue water, and cute town that I loved with our city friends. One memory remains distinct: my dad’s best college friend and his family, came up with their kids for a weekend. We spent an afternoon on a pebble beach laughing and brought rocks home to decorate with acrylic paint illuminated by a sun filled kitchen table window.
My mom faithfully bought seasonal passes at Shady Oak Beach, just a few minutes from the home I grew up in in St. Louis Park. She encouraged me to dive off the highest board, gave me change for purchasing orange push pops from the ice cream stand, and sat peacefully reading under a wide brimmed sun hat while I made sandcastles or day friends by the shore. Before she outfitted her home with central air we’d sleep in the basement on oppressive nights. Mom would pull out the couch, make a giant bowl of popcorn, and put on a movie on our old, swiveling TV set. I’d wake to the sound of her upstairs in the kitchen, baking or chatting with my aunt on her cordless phone the screen door letting in the sounds of birds.
On weekend days my dad would drive me over to the old Linden Hills Co-Op, buying up fresh black berries and lunch ingredients for grilling. The location has since moved, but every time I’m in the area, my eyes wander for the small grocery. Years later, in my early twenties when I moved just blocks away with college friends, I felt like a small part of me was returning to a memory. Saturday nights dad would take me to the Blockbuster on Hennepin that’s now a restaurant, then returning to his Kenwood apartment to watch whatever I chose by lamplight. There was also Sebastian Joe’s, a fixture so important in my childhood that I captured a photo of it, and had it blown up on canvas for my dad as a gift. When I was pregnant with Priscilla, another memorable summer, I walked in and purchased a patch to sew onto a onesie. Their space has been remodeled, but the counter and chocolate dipped cones still brings back all the nostalgia.
Is it any wonder then that both my children hold summer birthdays? The holy grail of a Minnesota childhood I’d say, ensuring fun and outdoor parties or camping trips. My prayer and hope is that my own children will remember their summers as fondly as I do mine.