Washington Island is a little piece of heaven–packed full of memories. Kids have grown up, some have passed on. Each year I come back, I am older but the Island never changes and when I’m here, it has a way of feeling like we’re all together again.
On a clear blue day in June, my husband, Todd and I drove up from Milwaukee for a long weekend with my parents. We would be celebrating their 60th anniversary, and two birthdays–Mom’s and mine. After a three and a half hour drive you get on the Ferry. Sitting on the deck, the wind whips at your face and the waves either rock stress out of you or puts it into you, depending on the weather. In summers long gone, the old red Ford truck would be waiting with family greeters.
We had spent many summers on the waterfront having a great time with little more than a foldout camper, canoe, picnic table, port-a potty and make-shift shower. As my siblings, Ed, John, Joan and I got married and had kids of our own, additional tents would be set up at strategic points on the property, turning the landscape into a magical mansion of sorts. Eventually, Dad designed a cabin for Mom.
Because of the shore-land and wetland setback laws on the Island, the build-able part of the land was a small area shaped like a triangle. Marsh was on one side and the lake on the other. Dad designed the house to fit into the land perfectly with open aired closed-in porches on two of the three corners and a deck across the front facing the water. By the time he was finishing the house, the lake had moved away about 50 yards. The area that had been beach was now sand, rock and wild grass. The water became harder and harder to get to from the house, particularly for my parents. The views were still beautiful but the lake just wasn’t quite as welcoming as it had once been.
We woke up on Saturday morning to perfect weather and sat on the deck drinking coffee. The temperature was close to 80 but Dad sat with a sweatshirt and jacket on, shivering. He had, had heart surgery two years before and his lungs had been weakened by the procedure. His doctor told him if he ever got pneumonia it would be over. When he couldn’t get up out of his chair, Todd transferred him to his desk chair, wheeled him inside and we convinced him to go with us to the hospital in Sturgeon Bay. The diagnosis was just that– pneumonia. He was there for days while we feared the worst but prayed for the best.
Dad’s pneumonia began to improve with antibiotics, he returned to the Island and everybody else had to get back to work. I stayed on, cooking and making sure he took the right pills at the right time. He had become unnervingly weak and I lived each day with the fear of losing him.
As Dad and I sat on the couch after dinner one evening, light danced across the living room, teasing for my attention. I looked out at the water and wasn’t sure if what I saw was a sunrise or a sunset. An enormous globe was edging its way up from the horizon, transforming in color and size from a fiery magenta to a big golden ball before finally becoming its bright white face staring down at us. “Moonrise,” Dad said, “that’s the moonrise.” I had never seen one before. Most breathtaking, was the reflection created by the light on the water. Unlike the reflection of the sunrise which prances across the water’s surface, the moonrise creates a straight path from the shore to the sky, leading you to a place unknown.
I spent the next days on the beach resurrecting a path Dad had once made, hauling and laying rocks that lead from the top of the sandy beach to the edge of the rocky shore– reminding me of the moonrise. The path eventually covered all 50 yards of the rocky brush and filled in where the water had once been. By August, Dad was doing better and Mom had joined him back on the Island. They would walk up and down my path together. When the sun would set and the moon got ready to rise, they were often there at the water–side by side. I came home from work one night and Dad had left me a voicemail saying the path had connected them back to the water.
“We carried chairs down and sat at the water’s edge this evening. We just love it!”