Story by Paul Brophy
I can’t stand a crying baby in a restaurant, especially if it is mine. The wailing makes my skin crawl. That first night, my whole in-law Chicago family was just settling into Casey’s Bar in Egg Harbor, when my six-month-old, Maura, began to writhe and cry. I had to get her out of there.
“I’m taking her back to the place,” I asserted, my impatience obvious, as I arose with her in my arms, asking no one’s permission. “Bring me back a burger, please.”
It had been a tiresome day. My wife, Mary; Maura and I were up at dawn, flew from Pittsburgh to Chicago, rented a car, drove to Oak Park to rendezvous with the family, and then slogged in heavy August traffic through Illinois and southeast Wisconsin to finally arrive, exhausted, at what my wife had sold as a “lake vacation.”
“Would you be interested in taking a lake vacation with my family this August?” she had inquired about April. “In Wisconsin. A place called Door County.”
“A lake vacation? What the hell is a lake vacation?” I grumbled, genuinely puzzled.
I’m from Philadelphia, and vacations only and always meant beach to me: one of the wide New Jersey beaches, with surf, sand, radios blaring from nearby blankets, kids building sand castles, a boardwalk with roller coasters and lucky game winners carrying Kewpie dolls and stuffed bears under their arms, and sunburned, tattooed, muscled dudes wearing “I’m so happy I could shit” T-shirts. That’s a vacation.
“You mean instead of the beach?”
“Well, yeah,” Mary implored. “Look, I know how much you love the beach, and I do, too. But a lake vacation is different. The beach is hot, full of sun, sand, salt water and waves. It’s intense,” she put forth in staccato fashion. “A lake vacation is soft,” her voice now mellow and slow. “There’s shade. Fresh water. No waves to worry about. And no sand getting all over everything. It’s even more relaxing than the beach. Will you give it a try?”
Of course I said yes. I wasn’t going to be a contrarian husband, and maybe I could get myself mentally ready for a new experience and be a good sport about it. But, after a long, hot day of traveling, and then a squirmy baby in a noisy bar … Well, this better be damn good.
I wrestled Maura into her car seat in the rental car – after five hours of driving, she wanted no part of it – and drove the 10 minutes back to the Shallows, a family resort on Green Bay. I had to admit it was picturesque. Multi-colored impatiens separated intensely green grass from a mulched path toward the bay. An oversized, red-and-white wooden rocking horse added whimsy to the lawn. A stony beach. It was dusk. I held Maura in my arms and plopped down by the fresh water. Hmm, where’s the smell of salt?
The sun was lowering over a choppy bay, reddening the sky and water. Wow, a sunset over water.
Ahh. I took a deep breath.
A thunderstorm was passing just to the north of the sun, with tall, dark thunderhead clouds and the awe of sky-to-water thunderbolts. The sun and the lightning were igniting the clouds and the water in that part of the sky. An amazing celestial event, and there I was witnessing this doubleheader, holding my now-sleeping baby in my arms. Sure, a few drops of rain were sprinkling us, but not enough to chase me inside and miss the remainder of nature’s show.
A deeper breath.
I stood, still holding Maura, and, as I moved the chair for a more comfortable sit, I looked over my shoulder to see a near full moon rising.
Sunset. Lightning. Moonrise!
Love at first, second and third sight. I fell hopelessly in love, fighting off the feeling of being unfaithful to the beach.
I’ve been in Door County every summer since, now even a homeowner a mile up the road from that first spectacular show. Thirty-three years. Sure, sometimes I still miss the majesty of the ocean and the sand. But I’m glad to be rid of the blaring radios and the T-shirts.
Mary was right. Lake vacations are more relaxing. Especially in Door County.