As I write this blog post it’s almost July 4th. It’s a big vacation week for those of us who live in the US. Until 2014, I spent every July 4th in Long Island. Next to Christmas, Independence Day was my favorite holiday. I used to spend all day at my family’s dock enjoying the sun, water, boat rides, music and fun. At night, not unlike most families across the country, we’d have a big family barbecue. As my Dad waited for the coals to get hot, he’d make Shirley Temples for me and my sister. My Nana and Great-Aunt Minnie would be inside making corn, salad, and other various side dishes. There was always a ridiculous amount of food (my Nana was Italian after all), yet very few left-overs! After dinner we’d wait for it to get dark and watch the fireworks from the beach. My Dad would start of chorus of “Boooo!” whenever a firework was a “dud” and we’d all start laughing. As we’d walk home, we’d breath in the scent of honeysuckle and the moon and fireflies would light our way. It was always the perfect ending to a perfect day. At least that’s how I remember it.
When I became an adult, the scene was exactly the same, except that the Shirley Temple was replaced with a Jack Rose—basically a Shirley Temple with alcohol. Years turned into decades and each 4th of July was the same, but not in a boring, mundane sort of way. It was always special, silly, fun, and full of love. I guess it never occurred to me that someday it would all end. But it did. My Dad passed in 2015 and although I love going back to Long Island to visit my Aunt and Uncle, I haven’t celebrated July 4th in Long Island since his passing. Some things are just a little too hard. I miss my Dad, my Nana, and sitting on the dock. The memories are bittersweet.
A few weeks ago, I was longing to sit on a dock and hear the waves gently hitting the shore. I wanted to experience the whiff of gasoline as a boat engine started up. Even imagining the faint fishy smell of the water made my heart ache a little. I talked to my daughter that day and told her I needed to find a place where I could sit by the water. She suggested a lake about 10 minutes away. I had no idea what she was talking about. She sighed and said “Mom, you know the 4-way light in the center of town? Just take a right and drive for about 5 minutes. You’ll see the signs.” Mind you, I have lived in the same town for almost 16 years. How did I not know about this?
The next day I woke up early, bought a $1.06 coffee at Cumberland Farms, and took the right at the 4-way light as my daughter instructed. I went about a mile and noticed that I’d just passed the street I used to take when dropping my daughter off at her best friend’s house. I suddenly realized that was the furthest I had ever gone in this particular direction. I kept going. Sure enough, signs started to appear for a state park. I pulled into a gravel parking lot and followed the signs for the boat ramp. I saw lots of trees, but no water. But as I turned the corner, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A beautiful lake appeared before me. It was bigger than I’d imagined and it was lined by beautiful trees and massive rocks. It wasn’t quite 7:00 AM and it sounded as if thousands of birds were singing. I felt like I was in a dream. But the best part was the small dock, jutting out from the edge of the lake.
I put the car in park and walked out onto the dock. The sound of my sneakers on the metal and the familiar wobbly feeling as my weight rocked the dock made me smile. There wasn’t another person in sight. As I breathed in the scent of pine needles and the faint smell of fish, I recalled my Grandparents’ cottage in Maine and the dock resting on East Pond. More bittersweet memories. I looked out at the lake, this stunning view, and couldn’t believe I had missed out on this for 16 years. All this time and all I had to do was drive 10 minutes in a different direction! Then and there I decided that whenever weather permitted, I would get up early and sit by the lake. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.
This little lake is soothing my soul. As July 4th approaches, I’m realizing that the sadness is just a little bit less. The lesson? Venture out. Explore. Drive 10 minutes in a new direction. Search for what has the power to heal your heart, the power to cause unseen fireworks.