Each summer my family spent a week on Spider Lake at L' Da Ru Resort, a retreat on the northern shore with about twenty log cabins spread along a shaded hill. Starting in 1985, we'd go over Fourth of July week, usually during the Cherry Festival. After our Saturday afternoon arrival, we were looking at seven days of play and relaxation. As the day went on, we'd watch other families -- some of whom we knew from previous years -- fill into the other cabins. My family of four (boosted to five in 1988 when my second brother was born) stayed in a small cabin on the western hill. What I remember most vividly about our time in the cabin was not the architecture or interior design, or even whether or not they had TVs, but the fact that we got food our mom wouldn't usually buy for us at home -- namely sugary cereals like Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs, and candy like Twizzlers.
Once we were settled in, there was only one thing to do: go to the beach. Every morning, an employee used an ATV to rake the long stretch of Michigan sand, and then set out the lounge chairs -- the kind with soft plastic straps running perpendicular to the length of your body -- for patrons to use. The beach faced south on a relatively straight piece of shoreline, creating long, hot days to sprawl out in the sun.
My family had one yellow inflatable TUFF-TUBE, so my brothers and I had to take turns with, and sometimes argue over, who got to float on it. The water was murky, and we never opened our eyes under the surface without goggles. It seemed like the water would burn if it wasn't clear like pool water, which -- since chlorinated water does burn -- was probably false. When the tube got too flaccid to float on, we'd carry it up the hill to the free air pump attached to a cabin.
In between rushes into the water, kids would gather on the beach to construct massive sand castles. The easiest way was to fill a bucket with sand and pack it tightly, then turn it over and gently pat the plastic until the block of sand stood on its own. Repetitions of this were accented by dripping wet sand on top, digging a mote for water, and inserting little twig flagpoles on top. If we weren't in the mood for constructive efforts, we would smash our creation and bury each other in the sand. Then it looked as if a head was sitting there on the beach talking to passersby.
It went on like this throughout the week, any time the sky was blue and the sun shone down on the millions of grains of sand. All day we could hear ski boats jetting by on the lake towing water skiers, while a warm breeze blew through the trees that covered the hill behind the beach. Visitors occupied most of the beach chairs, but there was never a shortage if you needed one. Some people sat in the same spot every single day. I remember one man in his late '30s would sit at the west end of the beach, smothered in tanning oil, for what seemed like eight hours per day. My father joked that the man would be the first to get skin cancer. As for my dad, he spent his share of time "warming the bones," as he would call it.
As the late afternoon haze faded into evening, people filed off the beach and into their cabins to clean up and cook dinner. Plus, we had to prepare for the featured event: the bonfire. The large fire pit was a circle set about eight inches deep in the concrete, surrounded by simple red wooden benches, right at the edge of the beach. Anyone was free to light the fire, and someone would usually do so by 8:00 pm. Then a variable group of 15 to 20 people would gather, get to know each other, and roast marshmallows under the starlight.
Inevitably, some kid would decide to find a wooden stick to use instead of the provided metal ones, and other children would copy the act because it seemed cooler. My parents quickly thwarted this plan, or any attempt to put an object other than a wooden log into the fire, informing us that it was dangerous. Nevertheless, somehow these campfires remain one of the most special aspects of my time there; the flames flashed the warmest and brightest; the smoke smelled of the richest pine; the s'mores were the most gooey and sweet. All subsequent campfires are compared to and remind me of the ones at L' Da Ru.
One evening each week, before the campfire, a group of about 20 teenagers and adults would swim the relatively short length from the L' Da Ru beach to the nearby island -- one of three in Spider Lake. They had to wait until after 7:30 pm, when the high-speed boating ceased until 11:00 am the next day. I became determined to make the swim one time, though I was probably only eight years old, because I had a tendency to follow people who were much older than me. This tendency was boosted because a teenager named Michelle came during our week. She occasionally babysat my brothers and I back in Troy, and I probably had a crush on her.
My mom said she would allow my participation as long as I wore a life jacket. She wasn't worried about my swimming ability, since all three children in our family had been well trained; she was simply an overprotective mother. I yielded to her request, because I was seeking the thrill of being included in the group of adults, more than the accomplishment of crossing the passage.
That's how sunny days and starry nights went, but Michigan weather is anything but predictable. If the sky was overcast with clouds, we still had plenty of activities to keep busy with. Our first option was usually the shuffleboard at the top of the circle of cabins. We unloaded the discs and rods from the storage cabinet on the side of a cabin, and we usually had to sweep acorns off the concrete board before starting to play. We never knew the proper rules to the game, but we loved the sound of the ceramic discs sliding down the board, especially when they would collide and send a loud crack into the air. After shuffleboard, we drifted across the street to the tennis court. We'd take our Mickey Mouse tennis rackets and try to keep the ball going back and forth as many times as possible, which, since we were all under 10 years old, never lasted long.