Ordinarily, for the past 20 years or so, I would awaken on Labor Day morning to the sounds of the beach. Our family cottage in Wheatley, Canada, 45 minutes or so on the other side of Detroit, was always the undisputed Labor Day family weekend getaway.
When the kids were younger, we would leave on Thursday after work and school; arrive at Cedar Point excited about the next day in the amusement park. It was early in the school year so we would let them skip that Friday from school to hang out at one of the world’s greatest amusement parks, all while knocking out the first hour of the trip to Canada.
We would arrive at the cottage late Friday night, after a full day of rollercoasters and games. With the help of my cousin, I would pitch our “house” in the backyard, a tent that actually slept 6. After the queen size air bed and the double bed for the kids were both inflated, we would move into our spacious weekend home, in the midst of the night. There is no better sleeping than under the stars with the fresh crisp air off Lake Erie filling your lungs. Of course, a shot or 2 of Canadian rye whiskey with my uncles always helped.
I had been going to the cottage since boyhood, so it was terrific for me to watch the kids accomplish all of the rites of passage, fishing for their breakfast, swimming in the lake, climbing the small cliff alone for the first time, walking to the break wall to permanently engrave their names, gathering the wood for the nightly bonfire, and waking up on Monday morning to drive to North Buxton for the Labor Day parade that celebrated the rich history of that integrated community of Canadians and freed African-American slaves.
North Buxton is renowned for being the last stop on the Underground Railroad and was about a 40 minute ride from the cottage. The newly found appreciation for the freedom to be humans, without regard to race, produced some of the most hospitable and beautiful people, caramel colored skin with blond hair or darker still with beautiful green eyes.
But on Labor Day this year, I woke up on my cousin’s couch in Detroit to the smell of a great cup of coffee. I made the trip to Detroit alone this time. The family cottage, just 45 minutes after you get through customs, has been sold. The elders in my family, who would be fishing on the shore, laughing at the kitchen table or getting dressed for the parade, are all slowing down. One Uncle has now passed away. My son is away in college. My wife and daughter both had too much work to do (working on the new book and homework for my daughter) to take the trip with me.
With each passing day, we wake up to a slightly different life. It is filled with lots of fond memories of the experiences and relationships that have shaped us to that point. I have a lot to be thankful for and as my life transforms; I have a lot to look forward to in the future. I will always have and cherish those memories of Labor Day at the cottage on the Lake in Canada. Equally as important, I am going to strive to learn to live life in a way that creates new memories with fun, family, and love at the core.
I went to the Detroit Jazz Festival last night with my cousins. We were not in Canada where we had gone for years and years. And you know what? I saw Detroit as I had never seen it before, bustling with people at the “largest free jazz concert in the world.” I enjoyed my seat at an outdoor café listening to the jazz, and this time I had a Margarita instead of some Canadian rye whiskey.
As I rode home today in solitude, I thought to myself “what a great new memory!”
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