Jerome Shea       June 6, 2010      Weekend Wonk

The other day I discovered a wonderful cache of old letters, and I would like to share some with you. This one has to do with Diana’s family’s place in Madison, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, where we went every year when the kids were growing up. It seems a wonderful celebration of summer. I hope you enjoy this wonk, and enjoy this other summer that has come round again.


Dear Cos and Bren,

You asked about Madison. That deserves a real letter. What do we do there? What’s it like? Oh dear, oh dear.

This morning, we were at WalMart and I made the happy blunder of holding both Madison images and Yeats’s lovely “Lake Isle of Innisfree” in my mind at the same time. You will not be surprised to learn that I began to puddle up, right there in the kitchenware aisle (isle?). Well, if anybody noticed maybe they chalked it up to allergies or my fear of falling prices. I hope so. (I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…)

A day at Madison is very, very low key. I get up. I pull on my shorts and mocs. I plug in the coffee pot if my mother-in-law hasn’t already. I mosey down to the Lake. If it’s roiling, I shout “Good morning, Canada!” If it’s silvery calm, mirror-like, transparent (what a sight!), I sit quiet on the jetty and watch the gliding fish. I wonder if someone, some happy, lucky grandson-in-law over in Canada, is sitting entranced just as I am. I grin. Maybe Diana comes down. I give her a squeeze and we watch together. (And I shall find some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow…)

If my father-in-law hasn’t beaten me to it, I run (figuratively) down to the little store in Chappeldale and get the Plain Dealer. And maybe some sticky breakfast goodies. Since it is roadworthy again (it was just the shocks, we found out), maybe I will have borrowed the old Jeep.

Back again. Most people are up and about now. The serious readers divvy up the PD. I plop into the old chaise lounge on the front porch (that’s the LAKE side, not the road side). I thoroughly digest the PD, one of this country’s better newspapers. If I am lucky, Dick Feigler, their best, has a column that morning. Then there’s chatter and catching up with whoever is around—Pat and Bob Dinsmore, or any of D’s sibs and their families. If my brother-in-law Andy and my sister-in-law Bonnie are there, the three of us tag-team the crossword puzzle. (Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings…)

Now most go off to swim; maybe some bro-in-laws go off to play golf up the street. I read for an hour or so, maybe desultory school stuff, maybe escapist stuff. Then I bethink myself of chores. Does Bob have anything in mind? So maybe we repair some screens or clean some gutters.

Time to run. I have a seven-mile out and back course. It’s not the best, but the roads aren’t too treacherous. Turn-around point is Arcola, a little park pointing out the iron works that used to be there and the wetland (estuary) that still is. Seven miles isn’t far, especially that near to sea level, so I set a brisk pace. If I haven’t started training for the fall marathon, this is my last chance.

The late afternoon works that special magic that comes only in an old house on an old place: clocks ticking, dust motes in the sunlight—the most powerful counterfeit of eternity that you are ever likely to find. And those huge silver maples sheltering the house, dappling everything.

Big dinner, probably on the front porch but maybe a cookout on the beach. Kids back in the lake one more time, intrepid grown-ups with them. And looking for the “green flash” as the sun finally (we’re at the far edge of the EDT) slips beneath the water. (…for always night and day / I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore / While I stand on the highway or on the pavements gray…)

Almost time to turn in. I pop a Genny Cream Ale and saunter down to the lake bluff (this is where I miss Moxie the Wonderdog the most: she was a good watcher and ruminator). With luck, I can see the lights of a lake freighter on the horizon, churning toward Buffalo. The ghost of Moxie tries to catch the ghost of a lightning bug.

I knock out my pipe, scrunch the Genny can, trudge back to the house and my bed. And that, my dear friends, is a day at Madison. (I hear it in the deep heart’s core.)

A couple of years after Grandma Reid died (at 100, in 2000), Madison passed out of the family. The new owners professed to be charmed by the “Cottage,” as the Reids always called it. Later I learned that they had the Cottage and its sheds razed and ripped up half the towering trees, so that they could slap together a McMansion. I have never had the stomach to go back.

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