We have returned to the summer vacation place of my family for one last time before my mother succumbs to cancer. It is a place filled with both happy and sad memories, and I have not visited for nearly twenty years.
The main road remains lightly trafficked and lack of development intends to keep it so. A short drive through the village center offers no malls or megaplexes, only a smattering of cash-only diners, antique shops, tattoo parlors and quaint bed and breakfasts, all of which appear to serve as the faint economic heartbeat of the town. My mother suggests getting a tattoo on her wrist, and given her susceptibility to infection, I talk her out of it.
Further along the road, in front of the Native American themed resort at which we annually stayed, the tipi that greets us remains authentic yet, in an age of political correctness, simultaneously tacky and naively offensive. We smile and pose for photos, regardless. To the rear, a collection of three-room white and green cottages has weathered countless blizzards and ice storms, predating the tiny home movement by a century. As I peek through the windows, I think, how simple and cozy it would be to live in one of these forever.
The mountains around the property have shrunken to hills and the lake in the back now seems small as a kiddie pool, its paddle boats yellow rubber ducks with which someone has grown tired of playing. At the left of the lake, a waterwheel signals it has also survived, bright red and churning, one of the few things that has been refreshed with paint on the property. I do not doubt my father’s ghost fishes in this water, shirtless, tan and sunglassed, hoping to snag a trout early in the mornings.
As we walk deeper behind the property, overgrown grass provokes snakes to be startled by our footsteps, and in turn, we ourselves jump and shriek with their rapid, black swirling movements. We hasten toward the indoor pool area, which we can easily find at nightfall, the chlorine remaining as trapped and pungent as it has for thirty years. We have a photo of my mother holding me here as a child which she keeps on her mirror at home. I remember the fright of almost drowning in this pool, insisting on trying to swim where the water was over my head, my father’s arm suddenly reaching in and pulling me out to air with an, “I told you so.”
The arcade room where my brother and I invested hundreds of quarters is still dark and lined with vintage games that have long fallen out of style, while the recreation area’s hallways seem to argue with each other in clashing oranges and browns. Outside, the open pool area is overridden by families bursting out of their bathing suits and grandmothers seemingly too young to answer to “Nana.”
We notice one innovation above the rear parking lot, overlooking the lake: the balcony separations between each room’s mountain views and its neighbor’s. No longer opening to a shared common bench and gaping railing over which a daring child or drunken adult could effortlessly topple, the partitions now protect and discourage each group of guests from awkward conversations with neighbors. Somewhere there is a photo of my mother pretending to push me over the railing, my face reacting in horror while my father or brother preparedly takes the photo, my mother confidently smiling, knowing I won’t fall.