Writing Prompt: Write about a mysterious or fantastical place in our memory. Like a visit somewhere as a child that, once you were an adult, seems far away and perhaps remembered slightly askew from reality. Or a structure or natural location that enchanted your imagination even as an adult.
I was positive I’d been on a beach at the ocean. I just assumed that it was that time we drove from Elgin to Virginia Beach, up through Washington, DC (through being the definitive word because apparently my dad would not stop), and onto New York city where I was sure our driver was Jack Paar.
When I clarified it with my mom she said that we never stopped at a beach on that trip. When I pushed her she thought that perhaps I was confusing it with our trip to Two Rivers when I was very young. Since I didn’t remember Two Rivers and since I absolutely knew the difference between a river and an ocean, I was sure she was mistaken and that she just could not remember that time we went to the ocean I continued to believe we went to the ocean.
Many years later I found some old photographs that proved we’d been to the ocean. Grandma Green and Aunt Ginny were there and they did not go to Virginia Beach with us, so that was a little confusing. My confusion was cleared when I showed the photographs to my mother and she told me that was the beach in Two Rivers and the water was Lake Michigan.
Many more years later I saw it for myself, probably the very beach where young Dona, Grandma Green, Mom and Aunt Ginny sunbathed.
I know there are photographs, or maybe videos of my mom and me at the beach. Maybe not this trip — I was not even 2 years old, so how could I remember this?
We drove from Elgin via Madison where we dropped off my son’s friend’s bike and guitar at his dorm at UW-Madison. I hoped to visit with a distant cousin with whom I’ve gotten close to via e-mail, but we wanted to get to Two Rivers and do some sight-seeing before dark. After Madison we stopped at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge — a place I’d heard about from a couple of birding blogs I follow. It did not disappoint — but I’ll talk about that in a different post.
The town of Two Rivers, on the shore of Lake Michigan just south of Door County, was settled by Germans, Norwegians, British, Irish, and French Canadians. Early industries were fishing and lumber. I think ships may also have been built there. Many other ships were shipwrecked off the coast. My Two Rivers ancestors were mainly German and I know that some were fishermen and some others worked in sawmills. Some might also have been farmers.
We entered Two Rivers through the much larger city of Manitowoc where we were going to have to find a place to stay because I waited too long to find somewhere in Two Rivers. To say I was excited about this leg of the journey is an understatement. I was buzzing. I was delirious. I was about to see the town where my grandmother grew up and where she and my grandfather met (The story about my grandparent’s meeting goes something like this: My grandfather was a traveling salesman — he sold thread for a company in Elgin — and was in Two Rivers on a sales trip. He took a date to a dance –maybe at the Washington House? My grandmother also went to that dance with a date. My grandparents met at the dance and left together. Their dates left together too. And the rest is history. ).
It was a foggy day, so the drive up Memorial Drive, along the shore of Lake Michigan, was not exactly scenic. I’d read online that this was the weekend of the annual Kites over Lake Michigan festival and wondered how the festival was faring in the mist.
The first thing I wanted to do in town was visit the museum to see if there was any mention of the Koeser family. Using my phone’s navigation application and the website for Two Rivers, we were able to find “The Washington House” which housed the historical museum as well as the replica of the ice cream parlor that apparently invented the ice cream sundae. We found no mention of the Koeser family at the museum, but I did speak to two friendly docents who were able to tell me where the house in which my great-great grandparents lived was located. The back of the photo I borrowed stole from my mom mentioned “The Mexico House” which I’d already discovered was a tavern. The women assured me that it was still standing, although the name was changed. They thought the house was still standing as well, so I was excited to head over there right away.
It took a bit of driving around to find the street, but eventually we found a seedy looking building with a name that Dean thought sounded like a strip club. I sort of wanted to go inside, but Dean was wise to discourage me. It was really a dive. We parked and walked up and down the streets trying to find the house in the photo and then I remembered the description of the back of the photo which claimed the house was “two doors west of The Mexico House”. We walked back to the seedy bar and saw that two doors west of it was part of the concrete parking lot for the bar. Ok, progress. The house would have been pretty old anyway — and judging by some of the other homes in the area, might have been in disrepair.
After that minor disappointment we thought a walk in a cemetery would be fun on this misty day. Somehow I had it in my head that my ancestors were buried in the Pioneer’s Rest Cemetery so we headed there. I was not as prepared as I should have been because I was unable to find any names I recognized. Months later I did find a website that told where everyone was buried. I was in the correct cemetery but wrong part of it. I could have walked around there much longer, but Dean was getting antsy and it was beginning to sprinkle. I snapped a few shots of some interesting headstones and we left.
Dean wanted to visit the Kites over Michigan festival so we headed towards the lake again and easily found Neshotah Beach. Now this was fun! It was damp and foggy and there was little wind, but a beach filled with colorful and whimsical kites is always fun. We walked around for a while and watched a synchronized kite show, then headed back to Manitowoc to find a place to rest our heads for the night.
The next morning we visited the Wisconsin Maritime Museum which was located across the street from our hotel. We took a tour of the submarine which, while entertaining and interesting, was long. I tend to have minor claustrophobia so I kept to the end of the line so I could make my escape quickly if I needed to.
The day was lovely and sunny so we headed over to the Kites over Lake Michigan festival again and watched more kite action while enjoying cheese curds and brats.
On the final trek out of town I wanted to see if I could find the house in which my grandmother grew up. I had the address so we drove to Thirteenth street and looked for 2300. We found it and I snapped a photo and wondered aloud how that small house could have held nine children. Later, back in Bethesda, I found a photo of some of my grandmother’s family in front of the house.
Even though I had a couple of disappointments while visiting Two Rivers, it was a wonderful trip. I hope to go back again someday, but if I don’t, just having walked the streets where my grandmother walked makes me happy.