Minneapolis, Minnesota

One of my sisters is quite a carpenter. In this, she channels the talents and vocations of the great-great grandparents on our mother’s side who helped build many homes and churches in North Minneapolis beginning in the 1880s.

Many years ago, Carpenter Sister built – single-handedly, with an assist from a cement truck pouring the foundation – her family’s second home. She and her husband chose to build it on Matson Lake near Birchwood, Wisconsin, where it served as a year-round retreat while their four children were growing up. Recently, with images of eventual retirement and the last child’s tuition payment in mind, they decided to downsize to just this one abode, but only after it had been up-sized.

Two weekends ago, another sister and I made the scene on Matson’s shores to haul sand and help make ready for a concrete pour that will result in a new patio, porch, garage, and – most important – a dining room. Carpenter Sister always has wanted a proper dining room where her children, grandchildren, family, and friends could gather to create the soul- and stomach- satisfying memories that let us know our lives meant something to other people, and theirs to us.

This dining room should last through several generations and any storm the elements throw at it. Its floor-to-ceiling walls will be solid concrete except for the large windows providing a million dollar view of the lake. Once installed, the metal roof will be guaranteed for 120 years. The patio will be a perfect spot for meditating upon the sounds of loons on the lake.

Lakes always have been a part of my family’s life. In fact, few residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin are deprived of at least occasional encounters with them. Only four of Minnesota’s 87 counties lack at least one lake of 10 acres or more, and the state has 11,842. Wisconsin has thousands more. We observe, with landlocked pride, that Minnesota’s lakes have more miles of shoreline than the combined oceanfronts of California, Florida, and Hawaii.

As noted in a previous post, I spent much of last weekend on the shores of Pickerel Lake in Barnes, Wisconsin. There, nature’s orchestra features crickets and frogs instead of loons.

Last evening, James Davies and I drove 25 miles west from downtown Minneapolis to Minnetrista, located on the western shore of the West Upper Lake portion of Lake Minnetonka. The occasion was a summer gathering of board members of the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, a faith-based developer of nonprofit housing; James is beginning his ninth year as a director. It was a lovely lake evening, marked by good people, weather, food, and conversation.

Lake Minnetonka is one of the hidden treasures to which I direct visitors to the Twin Cities, suggesting they make a day of driving the 110 miles of shoreline that surround 14,000 acres of water that twist in countless bays, channels, and inlets. The lake and surrounding land were denied to the Indians (Dakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Iowa, and Ojibwe) in the 1851 Treaty of Mendota. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area drew well-to-do people from the American South to its many waterfront hotels and resorts.

As a child in the 1950s, my family’s life was not complete without visits to my grandmother’s summer cottage on Cook’s Bay of Lake Minnetonka. The bay is named for Mathias Cook, an early settler in the 1850s. Gram’s place was on Island Park (known now as Phelps Island), just across the channel bridge from the village of Mound (named for the ancient Indian burial mounds found there). James and I drove by on our way home last night. The cottage has been replaced with a year-round home. Interestingly, the garage is built into the hill under the house, as it was for the cottage.

One of my mother’s cousins lived in Mound, across the bay from Gram, and I recall riding in a boat from her dock to his. Mound was the original home of Tonka Toys, a company that started life as Mound Metalcraft and was sold later to Hasbro, Inc. The town also was home to the singing Andrews Sisters who Gram claimed among her shirttail relations on her father’s side.

One 4th of July, we drove to the City of Excelsior, located on another of Minnetonka’s many bays, to watch fireworks. I was impressed by the scores of boats anchored offshore and thought how awesome it would be to watch fireworks from a boat. (I never have.) At other times, we visited the Excelsior Amusement Park, a regional landmark from 1925 until 1973.

Gram sold the cottage after her husband died in 1960. For our last summer there, my dad helped me build a raft. Despite our best efforts, the raft would only float if no one was on it.

In later years, our family sometimes spent a Sunday afternoon fishing on Clear Lake in Annandale, Minnesota; camping on the north shore of Lake Superior; or spending a week at the Lutheran Synod’s camp on Green Lake in Chisago City. Later still, we rented a cabin on one of the lakes near Alexandria. Closer to home, we often swam in Moore Lake, near our house in Fridley.

In high school, a friend and I harvested potatoes with his extended family on their farm near Barnum/Mahtowa, south of Duluth. After a day in the field, we adjourned to a nearby lake with his cousin.

Minneapolis is known as The City of Lakes. The Minneapolis Aquatennial festival has staged activities at most of the 11 lakes within the city limits each July since 1939. As a city resident since 1974, it has been easy for me to use them while taking them for granted. During my running days of the 1970s and 80s, the paths around Lakes Calhoun, Nokomis, and Isles were the best.

For a two-month sabbatical in 2004, I resolved to walk the 3.1 miles around Calhoun at least four times a week with Gabe, the younger of our Scottish terriers. He relished such long walks in those days and would stop to swim. Gabe enjoyed waking up the ducks to have their breakfast as we watched the world around the lake come alive in the early morning hours. Afterward, we stopped at Lund’s grocery store for biscuits and donuts and arrived home in time to watch a re-run of The West Wing. That routine lasted not quite three weeks before I became distracted by two, unplanned trips to Texas.

I am grateful for the many opportunities that have been given to me over the years to form lasting memories by, in, and on lakes. I hope Carpenter Sister has many satisfying years to make more Matson Lake memories in her new dining room.

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