Continue with me on our journey, A Journey Through the Land of Serendip. You may recall from the first installment (and if you don’t you can read it here), this past summer two separate storylines from this blog collided in a wonderful adventure. That adventure continues here…and collides with a third storyline…a storyline I have yet to write!
After spending a magical afternoon on Chicago’s south side in the communities of Roseland and South Holland, we continued our journey north toward the Green Lake area. Green Lake, more specifically, the Green Lake Conference Center has always held a special place in our hearts. In the post, Shadows of Days Gone By, you can read about our family’s ties to this slice of heaven-on-earth (and no, that is not the collision of the third storyline). In 2014, we added to the legacy when the family had gathered lakeside to scatter my mother’s ashes near one of the pergolas on Memory Lane. This was our first return since that day.
One of the things both my parents loved to do in their later years at Green Lake was to explore the Amish communities south of the lake. Carmen and I had explored these areas many times during our visits with them. Brad, now 37, had never had the experience. I was excited when he decided to join us on the trek. We would honor my parents by visiting the Amish Pleasant View Bakery and indulging in fresh, warm cinnamon rolls as big as your head; shopping at Mishler’s Country Store; and, stocking up on enough cheese for a year at the Kingston Creamery. Gene and Mary Ellen would have been proud!
Later in the morning, we arrived at the Conference Center. Even after being away for seven years, I got the same ol’ feelings driving through the gates and down the main road. Memories of dozens of visits. Warm, pleasant memories. Family. Friends. Adventures galore. Brad had plans to honor his grandfather the best he knew how…by playing a round of golf at Lawsonia, the world-class course located right on the grounds of the conference center. It was his “Popper”, my dad, that first introduced him to golf.
Throughout the years whenever my kids and I or my sister and her kids visited, Popper would take them golf ball hunting. You see, Lawsonia is a tough course. I always felt like I had a good round if I only lost a handful of golf balls during a round. The grandsons loved their time hunting with Popper. Later as they got older, he would take them for a round. Brad loves golf. I think he always felt closest to my dad when they were playing! “Good one, Brad!”, “You really walloped that one, Brad”, “Keep an eye on where it goes into the woods, Brad” (hey, not every shot can be a good one!).
“Still no collision of the third storyline”, you say? I know, I know, I’ll get there, I promise!
We dropped Brad off at the course and Carmen and I headed into town to check-in to our hotel and visit the annual art festival that happens every summer (another favorite of Mary Ellen…not sure about Gene). After a couple of hours of shopping, we picked up Brad and headed out to dinner at another Gene-and-Mary-Ellen-later-in-life-favorite, Norton’s Restaurant. At dinner, we shared stories. Stories of our times at Green Lake…of our times with mom and dad…times with dad, Popper, Gene, the Reverend Doctor Ton.
Sunday morning, we picked up Brad from the BNB where he was staying and headed, once again, to the grounds of the Conference Center. A worshipful silence fell on us as we got out of the car and walked to Memory Lane. We wandered along the walkway through the plaques and memorials to Baptist leaders of the last half-century or more. Pergolas offer shade and benches for reflection. They too are covered with plaques. Without speaking we each in turn separated ourselves from the others to be alone with our thoughts. We discovered and re-discovered a plaque to mom, a plaque to both mom and dad, a plaque to dad, finally stopping at the last pergola.
This was the place. On the pergola was a plaque honoring my grandmother and grandfather, my mother’s parents. This was where we had gathered seven years ago. My dad, siblings, my aunt, and some friends. This was where we each said our goodbyes to mom as we scattered her to the wind and the water. Of all the life moments I have documented in this blog, I don’t think I have ever written about that day. As I think of that day now, that will be a story I need to write. What is important for our story today is what dad used that day.
As we approached the pergola in 2014, dad had a large brown bowl filled to the brim with, well, with mom. I immediately recognized the bowl as one we had used often growing up…mostly to serve mashed potatoes. Beside the bowl was a yellow measuring cup. This was the measuring cup mom had used to fill her iron with water. THAT is what dad had selected to use for this somber, bittersweet time. (uh, one of the early signs of the dementia that would later take him over). Rather fitting for a family that relied on humor and sarcasm to share its feelings!
During one of the downsizings dad would endure in the ensuing years, Carmen saved those two precious items. It was into that brown bowl I now poured dad’s ashes. We would use the same yellow measuring cup to scoop him up and scatter him to the wind and water. To these, we added a chalice to share in communion. For years, our family would pass the cup to mark significant moments in our lives…a marriage…a birth. Forty years ago, we passed the cup surrounding mom’s hospital bed as she lay near death from a devastating fire.
Brad, Carmen, and I stood in the pergola. I read the eulogy I had shared at dad’s funeral (honestly, it was easier to read at the funeral than it was in those moments…” Niagra Falls, Frankie”). In turn, we each remembered dad/Popper in our own words, sipped from the cup, took a scoop, and scattered him into the breeze with the sun sparkling off the surface of the lake. We then took a scoop in honor of each of the family members who could not be with us that day and scattered them. Dad was now with mom.
As I gazed down the bank, I noticed some of his ashes had filtered through the shrubbery on the bank and landed in the water. As the waves were rolling into the bank, the ashes were dispersing on the surface. It looked like wisps of smoke as the tendrils of ash spread. I snapped a picture with my phone.
Once we completed our goodbyes, we quietly walked back to the car. (I cannot confirm nor deny that we saved a scoop to scatter at the 8th hole tee box on the Links course at Lawsonia). The three of us then spent time exploring the grounds, sharing stories, climbing Judson Tower, sharing stories, walking the lakeshore, and, yes, sharing stories. We left the grounds not knowing when or if any of us would return.
“Uh, but what about the collision?”
The next morning as we were preparing to leave and head home, I was sitting on the balcony sipping my coffee while Carmen got ready. I took those moments to check my email. On the drive up, I had received an email from my graphics designer extraordinaire.
For the past several months I had been working on a new book project. A labor of love. I am releasing the 2nd edition of a book my mom wrote forty years ago. In 1980, mom was almost killed in a fire. She survived. Not only did she survive, but she also wrote a book. The Flames Shall Not Consume You is a book about her journey through the fire, its aftermath, and her wrestling match with God. My own journey to publishing this book has been an incredible journey of love, friendships old and new, and serendipitous moments (remember we are traveling through the Land of Serendip).
My designer’s email contained some sample cover designs. I opened the first one. The collision took my breath away. Her cover design was that of a flower on fire. As the flower burned, wisps of smoke extended from the flames. Wisps of smoke spreading into the air…smoke… smoke spreading across the water. I pulled out the photo I had snapped yesterday of dad’s ashes on the surface of Green Lake. The tendrils of smoke were a perfect overlay for the cover image. Chills ran down my spine. Tears ran down my cheeks.
A collision of epic proportions. Three storylines come together on a balcony in Green Lake, Wisconsin. The Land of Serendip, a series of fairy tales telling the story of my dad’s battle with dementia; A Journey, a series about the discovery of my great-great-grandparents’ involvement with the Underground Railroad; and the, yet to be written series, The Flame Burns Brightly, relaying the journey of bringing mom’s books back to life.