Memories of Lake Michigan

This story comes to us from Mari in Walpole, Mass. About the story she writes: “Up until my late thirties, Lake Michigan was my comfort and joy. I miss its thick swirling waves, that tinkling musical sound from its harbors’ boatlines in Chicago’s windy city, and its soft, multi-blue skyline. I looked deep into its waters for peace, and always found it. I floated, staring at gargantuan clouds and birds swirling above, my body carried up and down with swelling water, finding physical reverie. Lake Michigan gave me perspective and peace. It was a precious gift, and I always knew it was, even as a small child. I wrote my memories, plain and sweet as they are, for this contest.”

Here’s her story:

Parents didn’t worry about small kids playing off on their own in the 1950’s. At age five, I was allowed to go to Maple Street Beach or Tower Road Beach with an older sibling (who was eight!) or friend. The lifeguards were in charge. We packed a lunch and spent our days in the splendor of Lake Michigan

Swimming involved floating, doing tricks like cartwheels underwater, surface diving, racing, swimming out to the sandbar, diving off shoulders, and backward springing off a friend’s hands. Of course, we also swam the breast stroke, the crawl, backstroke, and a few really good swimmers could show off with the butterfly. Sometimes the waves developed enough for body surfing. Powerful waves pushed us to shore, forcing us into the sandy bottom at the end of an exciting ride. Maple Street had a pier with a diving board covered with burlap. We stood in line, and finally, jumped in. The boys usually did cannonballs, and the best sent the water high enough to get us wet on the pier.

After a swim, we landed, waterlogged on our towels and ate grapes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, taking great care to keep the sand off. Inevitably there would be a grain or two of sand crunching between our teeth. The sun dried our skin, and a lightheaded sensation lingered while we rested with comic books, or stared at the Lake and sky.

We loved building castles in the sand along the edge of the water. We dug out complex river systems using our heels and hands, or a small shovel. We created islands, with small bush branches acting as trees. Beachgoers would oooh and aaah over our creations. We built dams, and a small crowd of kids would gather to see them broken. Curvy pebble driveways led to the castle entrance.

Years later, I moved into my first apartment in Chicago. It was four buildings away from the edge of the Lake where the street ended with a wide stairway into the water. Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago understood that beaches belonged to the public. He made sure the land along the waterfront stayed that way. Chicago’s waterfront is heavenly, and enjoyed by anyone at no charge. The many beaches, Lincoln Park, and its zoo, and Grant Park, which are all along the lakefront, are beautiful examples of what a great City can accomplish for its citizens.

For years I rode my bike along the path from the North Side, downtown and back again, viewing the sun rise over the lake while speeding alongside a silent Lake Shore Drive with residents sleeping and beaches empty. There were a few boats quietly departing, and one or two other early risers on the path.

I have missed my daily visits to Lake Michigan. My memories are so strong, I will never be without them, and I will always feel rich and lucky for having experienced Lake Michigan.

Thanks for sharing your story, Mari.

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