Our week at the lake was wonderful, but it ended far too soon. It seemed like we had barely arrived at the lake when it was already time for us to pack up and come back home.
My nephew had the time of his life, I think. This was the first time in his entire life that he had played outside, on the grass, for any appreciable period of time (exactly a year ago, when we were at the lake, he was only eight months old). He loved it—he absolutely loved it.
Except when taking his nap, my nephew stayed outside all day. He would walk around on the grass and kneel down and touch it, and he would sit down on the grass and rub his hands over the grass, and he would lie down on the grass and roll around in it.
My nephew loved being outside, playing among the grass and the trees--it was a whole new, beautiful world for him.
He would often sit on the grass, and look up at the treetops, and watch the leaves blow in the wind, and watch the light filter down through the leaves, and he would move his arms and legs up and down in excitement, and smile, and make noises, and try to talk to us. When a breeze was blowing, he would face the wind in order to feel the wind against his face, and he would move his arms and legs up and down in excitement again, and smile like I have never seen him smile before.
I do not think I have ever seen him happier.
For every minute of every day, someone was assigned to be with my nephew so that he would not fall into the lake and so that he would not go into the woods.
Every hour on the hour, from 7:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., a new watcher was assigned to him, and that watcher was required to be at his side, nonstop, for the full hour. Even when my nephew was inside the house, taking his afternoon nap, someone would be on watch in the next room.
In order that my nephew exhibit no interest in the lake, my brothers and Joshua and I avoided all contact with the water while my nephew was outside—we only went swimming while my nephew was inside the house, taking his afternoon nap—and we never took him down to the lake’s edge, even once.
In order that my nephew exhibit no interest in the woods, my brothers and Josh and I avoided all contact with the woods while my nephew was outside—we only took the dog walking in the woods while my nephew was in the house, having his morning bath—and we never took him to the wood’s edge, even once,
My nephew was not deprived of anything, however, because he loved being outside, playing with his toys on the grass, and playing with the dog on the grass, and playing with us on the grass.
We played a lot of lawn games this year, more than usual, I think, and this was in order that we could be near him, and he near us. We played a great deal of badminton, and a great deal of volleyball, and a great deal of croquet, and we did so because we could stay on the lawn, and in the shade, near him.
If we had played a lot of basketball, he would not have been able to be near us, because the basketball hoop is in the driveway, on asphalt, and not in the shade.
It was especially nice playing badminton and croquet, because our parents and my sister-in-law could join us for those games (but not for volleyball, which my brothers play for keeps).
My nephew liked it when we played croquet, because he would get in the middle of everything, and move the balls around, and kick them with his feet, and smile and laugh. He thought he was fully participating in our activity—and he was.
Every one of us would sit on the grass and play with him, and help him play with his toys, and talk to him while we played. My nephew loves being talked to, even though I am sure he does not understand much of what we say to him.
He understands, however, what we say to him about food, and about his toys, and about the dog, and about naptime, and about going to bed for the night.
My nephew continues to view the dog as his playmate and, unless he is being held, he expects the dog to stay with him at all times—and the dog views himself as my nephew’s keeper, and the dog stays next to my nephew most of the time, and licks him, and plays with his toys, and licks and chews on the toys, too.
When the dog would find something more interesting or more urgent to do—like watching us place food on one of the deck tables, or watching and barking at canoes passing on the lake—he would leave my nephew’s side, and my nephew would say “awk”, his word for the dog. This meant that he wanted the dog to come back to him.
My nephew did not object to my uncle’s presence. He did not pay much attention to my uncle for the first two days, and he did not want my uncle to hold him for the first two days, but by the third day he allowed my uncle to hold him and to play with him freely. My uncle enjoyed that immensely. I think that holding and playing with my nephew was the very high point of my uncle’s visit.
My nephew still had to be given special foods, because the rest of us were eating a lot of foods—fresh vegetables, grilled chicken—that he could not have digested.
For breakfast, he ate his baby cereal, and he drank milk, and he drank his baby orange juice. We also gave him fresh, crushed, sweetened strawberries for breakfast several mornings, and he liked those. The rest of the mornings he would have a banana. I also made him a pancake every other morning, because he does not eat eggs yet. He liked eating a pancake, with butter and maple syrup on it. On two mornings, I gave him a tiny amount of sausage with his pancake—ground sausage, not link sausage—and he liked it very much. (It is too soon to give him bacon yet, because he might choke on a bit of bacon fat.)
For lunch, he ate homemade soup every day (my mother had made the soups, in advance, just for him). He got chicken noodle soup, and tomato-cream soup, and vegetable soup made from a beef broth (there was no meat in the soup) and vegetable soup made from a tomato base. On days on which he had tomato-cream soup for lunch, he also was given a small grilled-cheese sandwich. He would also eat applesauce, or jellied cranberry sauce, or Jell-O, with bits of fruit in it, with his lunch.
For dinner, he was served boiled chicken most nights, and either mashed potatoes or macaroni-and-cheese, and either peas or lima beans, and either cubed and steamed carrots or whipped squash. He would also get fried red apples, or applesauce, or my mother’s special version of apple salad most nights.
On two nights, he got a special cooked steak, especially and finely ground just for him, which my mother had ordered from a butcher. He loved that. On one night, he got a serving of pork tenderloin, very tender, and cut into tiny pieces just for him. He loved that, too.
For dessert, he generally eats puddings—tapioca and chocolate puddings are his favorites—but he also likes ice cream and he also likes cake.
When he gets up from his nap every afternoon, he still likes eating warm poached peaches, or warm poached apricots, or warm poached pears. He got a small gingerbread man every afternoon with his fruit, too, which my mother had made just for him.
As for the rest of us, we ate lunch and dinner every day outside, on the deck. We ate tons of fresh vegetables—tomatoes, radishes, green onions, leaf lettuce, green beans, sweet corn, new carrots and new potatoes—supplied to us by a local farmer. We ate tons of fresh fruit—strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apples, peaches and plums—supplied to us by the same farmer. We ate lots and lots of grilled chicken, but we also ate grilled steak, and grilled pork chops, and grilled tuna, and grilled salmon, and grilled hamburgers, and grilled hot dogs.
Except for preparing one of her many different and magnificent potato salads, which she did twice, my mother did not have to do anything, food-wise, because my brothers and Josh and I took care of everything for lunch and dinner. We washed and prepared the vegetables in the kitchen, and then we took them outside onto the deck. Some of the vegetables, like sweet corn, we cooked on the grill. We did all the grilling ourselves—not even our Dad or our sister-in-law helped. After eating, we took care of cleanup, too. This freed my mother from having to worry about feeding and cleaning up after nine people twice a day.
For dessert, most nights, we made homemade ice cream. We ate the ice cream with peaches, or strawberries, or raspberries, or blackberries.
There are only three bedrooms in the lake house, and my parents occupied one, and my uncle another, and my older brother and his family another. This left my middle brother and Josh and me assigned to sleeping quarters in the living room, where we bunked with the dog—just like poor, unwanted, second-class relatives.
My brother and Josh and I had the best of it, however, because the living room is situated nearest the lake, and we were the beneficiaries of fresh breezes every night off the lake.
We also rose first every morning, and put the living room into place, and got cleaned up, before anyone else rose for the day.
The first one to wake up, after us, was always my nephew, and we always took care of him early in the morning.
We would get him fixed up first thing, and we would get him his breakfast, and feed him, and play with him until everyone else rose for the day.
When everyone else got up, we would prepare breakfast for everyone. We always made a full breakfast--cereal, fruit (berries or melons), eggs, potatoes, bacon or sausage, toast and English muffins, and sometimes pancakes, too. Not everyone ate every item on the breakfast menu, but these items were there for those who wanted them.
It was a wonderful and restful week, and everyone enjoyed the week immensely.
As for my mother, she had a wonderful week, because she was able to spend the entire week with her entire family—and especially her grandson, and my two brothers, and my sister-in-law, whom she does not get to see nearly as much as she would like. She loved having everyone around all day, with absolutely nothing on the schedule, and with absolutely nothing to distract anyone’s attention.
She played croquet with us, and she played badminton with us, but otherwise she held and played with her grandson, and visited with everyone all day and all evening.
She did not have to bother herself with any food preparation--except that she insisted on preparing her grandson’s lunch and dinner meals, as well as feeding him--and she did not have to bother herself with any housekeeping. For her, it was a restful, and relaxing, and fulfilling time.
As for my father, he got to visit with my brothers, and my sister-in-law, and my uncle, and he got to hold and play with his grandson, and that was all he wanted from the week.
As for my sister-in-law, she was awarded with an entire—and surely welcome--week in which she did not have to devote her energies to childcare all day, each and every day. My nephew got all the attention he needed, and more, from everyone else, and my sister-in-law took advantage of this by taking a long nap every afternoon.
As for my uncle, he seemed to enjoy the week very much. He enjoyed talking with everyone, and he enjoyed everyone’s company, and he enjoyed the food, and he enjoyed my nephew. He took naps most afternoons, too, and he got plenty of rest.
As for the dog, he loved our week at the lake, which I knew he would. He loved being outside all day, and he loved having lots of people giving him attention and affection and playing games with him, and he loved eating grilled meat twice a day. This week must be his very favorite week of the whole year.
As for my brothers and Josh and me, we had lots and lots of fun. We played with my nephew, and we played with the dog, and we swam, and we played lawn games, and we walked in the woods, and at night we even played basketball a few times. We sat talking for hours and hours and hours at a time, among ourselves, and with our parents and my sister-in-law and my uncle. It was a wonderful week for us. All of us enjoy having this annual week at the lake, totally free from the pressures of work and daily life, and we seem to cherish this week together more each passing year.
Late yesterday afternoon, we packed up and we returned home. On our way home, my brother and Joshua and I stopped and picked up dinner for everyone (except my nephew) at a Chinese restaurant. None of us is particularly keen on Chinese food, but we picked up lots and lots of different things--Hunan chicken, and General Tso’s chicken, and Hunan pork, and sweet-and-sour pork, and beef with peppers, and shrimp-fried rice, and egg rolls--and we took the food home. There was something everyone liked, at least a little, and it was a quick and convenient and painless way to deal with dinner.
This morning, after breakfast, we went to church, and my brothers were able to visit with everyone there. After church, we went home and we had a serious lunch—a baked ham, served with all the trimmings, and a cherry cobbler for dessert. In the middle of the afternoon, we took my brothers and my older brother’s family to the airport for their flights home.
I always hate going to the airport at the end of a visit, and I always hate having to say “Good-Bye” to my brothers and to my sister-in-law and to my nephew. My parents hate these farewells even more than I do.
Most years, we all get together over Labor Day weekend, but we will not do so this year because my parents and my middle brother and Josh and I will embark for our London trip the Thursday night before Labor Day.
Happily, my parents will next see my middle brother early next month, when they will spend a long weekend with him in Denver. My parents do not know, however, when they will next see my older brother and his family. My parents may go to New York in October—but, if not, they will not see my older brother and his family again until Thanksgiving.
Josh and I will next see my middle brother on Thursday afternoon, August 30, when we will gather at MSP for our flight to London. Josh and I will not see my older brother and his family until Thanksgiving, unless we go to New York in October, too.
However, Josh and I will soon have another visit to celebrate.
On Thursday night, Josh’s family will arrive in Minneapolis for a visit. Josh’s family will be with us until the following Monday morning.
The trip has been scheduled around the baseball home schedules of the Royals, the Twins, the Brewers, the White Sox, the Cubs and the Cardinals. All but the Cardinals have lengthy home stands in the middle of July, and Josh’s family has scheduled the trip in order to visit as many ballparks as possible and to see one game at each ballpark.
Josh’s Mom and Dad and brother and sister will leave their home in Oklahoma on Wednesday morning, and drive to Kansas City, where they will spend their first night of the trip (but there is no Royals home game that night). The next day, from Kansas City, Josh’s family will drive to Minneapolis. His family should arrive around 4:00 p.m. on Thursday.
We are busy compiling a list of things for Josh’s family members to see and do while they are with us.
There is one fly in the ointment: Josh’s sister is an involuntary participant in this family baseball road trip. Josh’s sister does not like baseball, and she does not want to go on this family trip. However, her parents have refused her request to remain at home by herself. They are requiring her to accompany them, against her will.
I hope it does not turn into a bad situation. Josh says that his father and his brother should make the trip by themselves, and leave Josh’s mother and sister at home. Josh says that his mother dislikes baseball, too, and that his mother is joining the trip solely because she wants to come to Minneapolis and see Josh and me, and see where Josh lives, and works, and that this means that his sister must come, too.
Tonight, Josh and I spoke to his sister on the telephone, and we asked her what she especially wanted to see and do in Minneapolis. Her answer: “Nothing”.
Josh and I will have to make a special effort to make sure that his sister’s visit to Minneapolis is as enjoyable as possible. We are racking our brains, trying to come up with things to do that she will enjoy.
We will, of course, drive Josh’s family around downtown Minneapolis and show his family the primary buildings and landmarks. We also think that Josh’s family will enjoy a visit to the Science Museum Of Minnesota, and a visit to the zoo, and a visit to Saint Paul to see the Minnesota State Capitol and the Cathedral Of Saint Paul, modeled after Saint Peter’s in Rome.
Josh’s family may have an interest in visiting the campus of The University Of Minnesota and his family may also have an interest in visiting the Minnesota History Center, but we will only suggest taking his family to those attractions if we have an excess of free time on our hands and if we cannot think of something more interesting and more compelling to visit.
We are not confident that Josh’s family will find a visit to Fort Snelling or a visit to the Mill City Museum to be rewarding. We are also not confident that his family will have an interest in visiting The Minneapolis Institute Of Arts or The Walker Art Center or The Weisman Art Museum or The Minnesota Museum Of American Art. We will only suggest taking his family members to one or more of those attractions if they exhibit an interest in them.
Josh and I are sort of unsettled, trying to decide what will be equally interesting and pleasing to his father and brother, and to his mother and sister.
On Friday night, we will take Josh’s family to a Twins game. On Saturday night, if it interests Josh’s family, we will take his family to the Guthrie Theater to see “1776”. We are trying to come up with something interesting and pleasing to do on Sunday night.
There is one other fly in the ointment: Josh’s parents insist upon staying at an hotel while they are in Minneapolis, despite our insistent lobbying. Josh and I told his parents that they should stay with my parents, but Josh’s parents will not hear of it, even after we told them that my parents will be offended if my parents are not allowed to host them. As an alternative, we told Josh’s parents that they should stay in our apartment, and that Josh and I will stay at my parents’ house. They will not hear of this, either.
Josh’s parents are bound and determined to stay at an hotel, and there is nothing Josh and I can say or do to make them change their minds. Josh and I even threatened to sing selections from “Oklahoma”, nonstop, the entire time his family is in Minneapolis if his parents persist in staying at an hotel. Josh’s Dad’s response: “Thanks for letting us know. We’ll bring earplugs.”
When Josh’s family members leave us, they will head to Milwaukee for two nights, where they will see a Brewers game. From Milwaukee, they will go to Chicago for four nights. In Chicago, they will see a Cubs game and a White Sox game. From Chicago, they will go to Saint Louis for two nights, but there will be no home Cardinals game during their stay in Saint Louis. For their final two nights on the road, they will be back in Kansas City, where they will see a Royals game before heading home.
It will be nice to see Josh’s family again. Josh and I have not seen his parents and his brother and sister since March, when we visited his family in Oklahoma. My parents have not seen Josh’s family since May 2006, when we were all in Washington for our respective graduations.
Josh and I will be the best possible hosts, and show them the best possible time.
Meanwhile, we will pick up the songbook to “Oklahoma” tomorrow night.