The Blessings of Higgins Lake

Her faith reminded her that wonder still exists here

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Posted in , Jul 15, 2010

The Eliasen boys at Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake draws our family. The Michigan breeze sighs through the pines. The lake is a canvas of variegated blues. My husband, Lonny, and I have been coming here for almost 20 years, ever since we were newlyweds. We’ve waded the shallows, hiked the woods, explored the rocky shoreline and watched our boys splash in the clear, cold water.

This trip, though, felt different. Just like our first trips, Lonny and I had an infant. But 10-week-old Isaiah was the youngest of five, and we were middle-aged now. Lonny worked a demanding job and we lived in a rambling old Victorian house in Illinois. The kind of house where settled people live. Suddenly all these changes seemed magnified against the unchanging landscape of Higgins.

The day after we arrived, my parents met us at the beach. It was late in the afternoon. The water was still. Isaiah was propped on my lap. Lonny and our other four sons roved the shore. Suddenly our oldest, 15-year-old Logan, called out, “Hey, they’re here!” His deep voice startled me. I turned to see my dad approaching on the path. He walked slowly, hefting Mom’s picnic hamper. His gait was stiff.

The boys bolted toward them. Logan and 10-year-old Grant ran on long muscular legs. Five-year-old Samuel scrambled to keep up. Gabriel, our toddler, pulled up the rear. “I’m here too, Nana!” he called.

They rumbled past my blanket in a sand-kicking herd. When I brushed the sand off, I noticed their footprints. Some were so big. Where does the time go? I wondered.

My big boys whooped and wrapped my mom in their arms. My dad bent to scoop up the little ones. His rigid back was a dead giveaway he was in pain. I trudged through the sand to greet my parents. They were well into their sixties, the years visible on their faces. I hoped my feelings weren’t as obvious.

The next day was a vacationer’s dream. The sun was bright, the sand warm and dry. We staked our claim on a stretch of beach by the firs. A creaky old swing, one of my favorite things at Higgins, hung from a frame nearby.

Logan and Grant wasted no time. “I’ll beat you to the buoy!” Grant called. They muscled through the water. Soon they were tiny dots on the horizon. I overturned our toy basket. Our little boys foraged through pails and shovels. Lonny snapped open beach chairs.

“Help us look for shells, Nana,” Samuel said, tugging Mom by the arm. The boys bent and poked their noses in the clear water. Lonny joined them.
Dad and I sat in the shade. The booty at my feet grew: shells and sand-smoothed rocks. The gentle lap of the water lulled Isaiah to sleep, and my mind wandered.

I remembered summers past, lying just like this with Logan, sun-warmed, cooled by breezes. When Logan grew older, we played hide-and-seek with him in the pines. Or we sat pretzel legged on the sand while he scooped a net after tiny fish. We ended the days at Nibbles, the ice cream shop. Superman sherbet—three colors, a funny face made of gumballs and chocolate chips—ran in rivers down Logan’s little arms.

Back then, Mom and Dad played as hard as the kids. Mom and Logan built sandcastles, and Dad swam past the buoys, out to where the water gets dark and deep.

By the time our second son, Grant, was born, Lonny and I had moved from Michigan to Illinois to be closer to Mom and Dad. But we still made the 10-hour drive every other summer to Higgins. Logan and Grant learned to swim in the shallows. Grant lost two baby teeth in the lake when an errant shot careened past our floating basketball hoop and hit him. Lonny felt terrible and spent the afternoon fruitlessly searching the shallows with a diver’s mask.

Isaiah squirmed against my chest and pulled me from the memories. If only the past could be captured. If only time didn’t run from us. I scanned the horizon for Logan and Grant. When I didn’t see them, I waded into the water. “Lonny!” I called. He and the little ones were bucket-brigading water to a trench they’d carved. “I don’t see Logan and Grant.”

Lonny shaded his eyes. “There they are,” he said, pointing.

“They’re too far out,” I said. “You’d better call them in.”

“They’re fine, Shawnelle. They’re big guys.”

I squinted at the figures in the distance. They seemed so far away.

That evening we had a bonfire in the barbecue pit at our cabin. When the flames became embers, Mom and Dad said goodnight. Logan, Grant and Lonny each carried a sleeping boy inside. After a few minutes Lonny emerged. He pulled his chair close to mine. “Are you having a good time?” he asked. He poked the embers with a stick.

“The boys are having a great time,” I said.

Lonny looked me in the eye. “I asked about you.”

“Lonny, it’s beautiful here,” I said after a long pause, “as always. I love it. It’s just that our family has changed so much.”

He nodded. “Time passes quickly.”

Maybe he didn’t understand. “That’s not what I mean. The time’s slipped through our hands like water. Logan will be in college soon. Then Grant.” I swallowed. “Mom and Dad won’t be with us forever. Just last vacation they seemed healthy and strong…” I broke off.

Lonny cupped my face in his hands and wiped my tears with his thumbs. “You’re a fun girl to take on vacation,” he said. But a kiss to my forehead told me he understood.

Our final day at Higgins Lake was spent on our boat, a small runabout we’d towed on a trailer. Mom and Dad stayed behind with Isaiah. Samuel and Gabriel were stuffed into orange life jackets. I sat on a plank seat and held them. Behind us, Logan and Grant skimmed the water on a big inner tube. After a while Lonny cut the engine. The older boys bobbed in the lake and the little ones scavenged the picnic basket. It was silent except for the slap of the water. Lonny reclined in his seat.

My eyes wandered over the shoreline. I reached under my seat for the binoculars, lifted them to my eyes. Sunlight danced on the water. Tall trees reached for the sky. In my mind’s eye, though, a little boy ducked behind the trunks. A young mother chased him.

I shook my head to clear the vision. Lord, help me understand. The past was so good. Why must we let go?

As if in answer, a new scene appeared through the round rims of the binoculars. It was Mom and Dad. They were at the beach, nestled on that creaky old swing. Dad cradled Isaiah. The baby was fresh and pink in his tan arms. Dad’s gray head tilted downward. He held a harmonica to his lips. Mom’s hand kept rhythm on his knee and she sang. The three were bound in the moment. My parents and my baby. Yesterday and tomorrow. A gentle overlap created by God and meant to be appreciated. Today. Oh, Lord, I prayed, I think I understand. You’re always with us, no matter how life changes. If I hold on to yesterday’s blessings too tight, I miss the blessings of today.

I put the binoculars back under my seat. I gazed at the boys sprawled on the tube, at Lonny sweetly sleeping, at the little ones munching contentedly on sandwiches. Here, right before me, were the blessings of Higgins Lake.

At last I was ready to see them. Up close. Without binoculars.

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