When I was a younger boy, as opposed to the age I am now, there was a special place. It was a house on a lake. There were many houses on that lake. There were far fewer than there are now. The house had nice white plastic covered furniture. The lake was fresh and clean. There were jello Popsicles and a paddle boat. There was history and military relics, there were always ducks and a supply of stale bread. There were plastic army men and fishing tackle. There was a bar and dock. There was the bedroom, the guestroom, the patio and a uniquely sloping backyard. There was a similarly absurdly sloping driveway and a sense of balance. The woods and trees smelled of flowers, the basement of must, the kitchen of memories. There were a set of footprints ingrained in the mud and in the hardwood floors, from boys who had been there long before me.
The special place of my boyhood was a destination and a constant exploration. I could share the experience of a generation once removed and hear the testimony of a generation twice removed. I could shout across the lake and even walk all the way around it. Some times in the year, I could walk over it. I saw myself in portraits of parents and uncles, time traveling through pictures and stories and shag carpet. The special place is where I visited my dog. The special place is where we laughed after we cried over the loss of a patriarch, and cried after we laughed at one another.
This place had cousins. It was a place for cousins. I saw them all introduced to me there. As one ate my toys and the next stole hearts. One was tough as nails and the next was our youngest sweetheart. One was the namesake. Some lived across the lake and sounded more like Hudson County than Sussex County. We all played, pretended, loved, fought and ate fresh corn and tomatoes. Beware the stairwell, it lures your head between the balusters of the banister and pretends to keep it there forever. In this family, your head is bigger than you think.
This place, simply, was Nana and Grandad’s house. It was all there, mostly because Nana made it so. For all of that and more, Happy birthday.