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Saturday, August 06, 2011  

Trail's End

There aren't many places I went thirty years ago that I still go to. Not my home at the time, which we vacated near the end of the eighties. Not my elementary school, although I still have the occasional dream that I'm back there and this time I'm going to kick ass. Certainly not the Catholic church we went to, or any Catholic church at all, and church in general hardly ever. Not any of the stores or parks or friends' houses that used to make up my neighborhood circle. In fact, there's just about one place I still go to that I went to in 1981.

That was the year my parents sent for a brochure (yes, people used to do that) and decided to take us all up to a resort a half-day's drive away in Northern Minnesota called Trail's End. I thought it was a terrible, depressing name, ripe for mocking even by eleven-year-old me. You drove way up out of the northern suburbs, past Lake Mille Lacs, through Judy Garland's home town, and then another hour or so until you were off the paved road and making your way with increasing apprehension down narrowing dirt tracks right out of a Stephen King short story. But then, on that last Saturday in July 1981, it suddenly opened out into a sprawling collection of rustic, run-down cabins, overlooked by a slightly less rustic lodge and sloping down to the dock extending for what seemed like miles into Bowstring Lake. And then we all realized why it was called that. My parents, my two sisters, my aunt and uncle, their two daughters and I spent a week sharing a three-bedroom cabin. We spent a lot of time swimming and fishing and exploring the region, and one night my older sister watched Charles and Diana get married on the fuzzy screen of a portable black and white TV we never bothered with again.

It may not sound that great, but the nine of us went back that same week every year pretty much all through our teens, and at least a couple of us have gone back almost every year since.

That first year, the owners and proprietors were an older couple we referred to as Bert and Mrs. Bert, but after a year or two they sold the place to a younger couple with a couple of young sons. And they made that place their livelihood. The cabins stayed rustic, but got a lot less run-down. The grounds were completely made over, the docks expanded, some cabins torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. Every year we went back, something else was new. They were tireless, pouring all their energy into the place. Their dad used to say, "We don't need to go anywhere, we're already on vacation."

Most of us kids quit going in our late teens, at least for the whole week, but then we all started going back, at least for a few days. I brought Trash up there the first summer after we got married, although I admit I have a hell of a time finding the place the first time I tried to navigate up there on my own, in the days before even my early-adopter uncle had a GPS. One year we brought Trash's mom and stepdad with us and shared a cabin with them the same week my family was there. We've also skipped a number of years, and I haven't been back at all since M. Edium was born. Until this last week.

He went up with my parents and younger sister and my aunt and uncle last Saturday, for the whole week. My younger cousins, one of whom was younger than M. Edium is now the first year we went, both have husbands and kids of their own, and they also made the trip up for their first time in years, from Kansas and Texas respectively. My older sister was there the first half of the week, but had to return to work before I could drive up and join them on Wednesday.

Now, instead of nine of us in one cabin, there were fourteen of us spread across three cabins, one of which had been renovated since we started going and two of which hadn't been there at all, I don't think. The place has changed so much since my first sight of it, back when my dad was my age.

It's going to change more. The man who bought the place with his family decades ago passed away this spring. Some of us drove up to Deer River for the memorial, and we were far from the only family from the cities who did so, judging by the guest book. Just his last week, his widow signed the papers to sell it to a new family, who is going to try to run the place the same way it's been run all this time. That's going to be a tall order.

I don't expect the one place I've been going semi-regularly for 30 years to stop changing over the next 30. That would be the biggest change of all. I just hope it's not the end of the trail.

posted by M. Giant 9:28 PM 1 comments


I am currently experiencing a similar past/present holiday nostalgia dichotomy and it’s a wonderful thing.

By Blogger Andy Jukes, at August 6, 2011 at 10:37 PM  

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