Long before I loved summer camp, I loved the cottage on Sunset Drive, about halfway between Artesia Beach and the beginning of Lakeview Drive on Lake St. Helen in central Michigan. Our cottage was unique from all the other cottages because it had an Artesian well in the front yard.
We frequently caught hell from Papa for falling into the well’s freezing waters. “That’s our drinking water,” he’d yell and haul us out by the seat of our pants.
My cousins have looked for that cottage but it has been rebuilt and if any family member knew the full address, he or she has either passed away or long since forgotten it. We’d probably know the lot if we came upon it. We must have traipsed up and down that hill about a thousand times each summer in the 60’s, gleefully running on the way down and grumbling irritably on the way up.
We caught minuscule sun perch off the dock using night crawlers dug from Papa’s petunia flower bed out back, along the dirt road. There was no central heat, which meant plenty of mold and mildew grew between seasons but the fireplace at night smoked it out. There was no basement or crawl space, which meant sometimes bait came through the tiles in the bathroom, which spared the flower bed.
There was a hot water heater that wound up like a screeching banshee each time it kicked on. A green plaid hammock hung from the trees between our cottage and the next, beside the narrow sidewalk lined in beds of colorfully painted rocks, decorated by the five of us over the years.
Our mothers were sisters and we were their daughters, each a year apart: Pam, Maribeth, Susan, Nancy and Jill. We could have been sisters. We played, fought, and loved like sisters. We shared clothes and mostly bathing suits. I don’t remember having my own suit until I joined the swim team back home in South Bend, Indiana. At the cottage, you just went to the hall cupboard, opened its birch door perfectly matched against the birch paneling, and rummaged through the cotton suits. One size fit all, with ties at the shoulders, shirring down the front and elastic around the legs.
We lived in those suits by day as we played in the sand, rocked on the hammock, floated on styrofoam rafts, water skied, played croquet, and walked to the Artesia Beach store for Big Mo’ candy bars. We always walked there by the dirt road and came home by the lake, eating our candy bars and staring at the front yards of the other cottages as we circumvented their docks and mucked through the shores of those who hadn’t cleared out their weeds.
At night, we roasted marshmallows, lit sparklers, skinny dipped, played spoons, ate popcorn and raisinettes, drank sugary Kool-Aid from tall metal cups, and watched “I Love Lucy” on black and white TV. But mostly we pestered Papa and put on skits and made the adults watch us. I miss the cottage, and so do my cousins. It was magical. If you hear of a cottage on Sunset Drive with an Artesian well, please be sure to let me know. I looked on Zillow and Google Earth and couldn’t find it.