Do you have a place that the mere thought of makes you smile? Maybe it’s a place from your childhood, or maybe it’s simply home after a long day at work. When I was a little girl, there was a place that I visited with my grandparents every summer, and often in the fall. When I became an adult I continued to visit this special place with my my own family. Every summer for as long as I can remember we’d jump in the car and head up the Great River Road following the Mississippi River. There’s something about the drive itself that’s like crossing over into a magical oasis. As a young parent, when life was extremely chaotic, the second I hit the River Road I felt like I could breathe again. I’m not sure what it was, but seeing the sunlight sparkle off that magnificent, muddy river is something that I will have burned into my memory for eternity.
In a world where everything moves way too fast, this place is like a walk back in time. It’s a piece of history . Nestled in the beautiful bluffs that were carved out by that mighty river is a fabulous little valley. A natural spring flows through this valley, and a creek flows from that spring. The bluffs are lined with trees and every kind of creature, big and small, lives in the woods that line the bluffs. It is so incredibly beautiful to walk through the valley and breathe it all in. It’s like being part of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Every single cottage that lives in our dreamy little valley has a screened porch. In my younger years there was no air conditioning and the porch was where we kept cool, and where life happened then, and still happens today. My Grammy and Poppy used to play games for countless hours with me, my siblings, and cousins on that porch. We’d drink lemonade or iced tea brewed with fresh mint and eat popcorn that my Grammy popped in her big silver popcorn pot. It was seriously the most amazing popcorn I’ve ever eaten. I’m not sure if it was actually that good, or if it was simply the precious moment that made me think it was that good. We had so much fun on that porch that at the end of each day my sun-kissed cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so hard. These are the best memories of my time growing up, and I treasure every moment that I spent there.
Every single day was filled with creek walks, frog catching, watching the water bugs swim, bike riding, swimming, hanging out with friends, and eating plenty of ice cream. At noon and five a siren rang to let everyone know that it was time to check in, and the carillon played music that echoed off the bluff walls. The sound of those carillon bells is reminiscent of something out of a European village. Even now, they still chime twice a day.
Another familiar sound that echoed daily was the slamming of the screened door. I bet it happened a hundred times a day, and it is still my absolute favorite sound of summer. It means that the valley is alive for the season and that summer has begun. It means that our friends have arrived and we’re ready to welcome all who enter. It means that it’s time to curl up with a great book and read until you’ve completely lost track of time. It means that it’s time to hear the gentle rain lull you to sleep. It means that it’s time to light the lanterns in the evening and share a glass of wine. Children laugh, dogs bark, frogs hum, fireflies glow, and the magic begins.
What is it about that screened porch that effected me and still effects me so deeply? What is it about that sound of a slamming door that transports me back to this time and place? As I sit here and close my eyes I can smell the smells, and taste the tastes of those summers past. It is remarkable that my memory is so clear, when I feel like it’s getting harder and harder to remember the past.
I did not always feel safe as a child , but in Chautauqua I felt safe. I did not always feel at peace, but there, I did. I did not always feel that I was special, but in that simple little cottage, I was the most special person in the world. To be able to visit a place that did all of those things for me, was life-changing. You see when everything else in my world was out of sorts, Chautauqua was my constant. This gem of a place is real. This all still exists and for that I am eternally grateful. To give my children this experience has also been one of the greatest joys of my life. It is the place where I feel the closest to those I have lost, and because of that, it is home. It seems that the years fly by more quickly than ever, so find your Chautauqua. Go to that place, even in your mind, where you can find yourself again. Take a moment to remember the best times of your childhood.
Maybe your place is in the memory of a loved one, maybe it’s something more tangible. But whatever it is, use it to remember the great moments of your life and the joy that it brought or still brings you. I am forever grateful for that time with my Grandparents, as they were the best people in the world. I am also unbelievably grateful for the friends that I have met there. They are the best of the best, and are more than our friends, they have become our family. This week I really needed a walk down memory lane, maybe you did as well.
In just a few short weeks we will be back in our cottage for the summer and although this will be the first summer that our oldest son won’t be with us, I just know it will be an amazing time once again. May your memories of special moments in your life bring you much happiness and peace my friends! Happy almost summer, and that’s my dish!