We always just called it “the lake.”

“The lake” was a simple, 24-by-36-foot log-sided cabin built in 1940 by my Scandinavian grandparents on a chunk of lakeshore north of Nisswa, Minn. It was also the source of my earliest, fondest memories and has since been a dominant influence in my life.

Childhood summers were idyllic. Every day, my siblings, cousins and I were in the surrounding woods or, more often, in the lake, rarely taking time to change out of bathing suits. We swam out to the raft or down the shore or across the lake. Boats of all kinds — wooden rowboats, fishing boats, small sailboats, canoes and a ski boat — were tied up to the dock. None were fancy; all were simply functional.

My grandparents also lived at the cabin in the summer and I knew them intimately. Both had lively, strong personalities but were also doting and generous of spirit. My grandma was an expert knitter and often sat in the shade of a big oak by the shore, clicking her needles fast and furiously. One of her specialties in the kitchen was homemade doughnuts. Even hot days would find her dropping cut-out doughnuts into boiling lard. My grandpa was a fisherman who used the longest cane pole I’ve ever seen. He was a builder, too, and spent many happy hours at his workbench in the boathouse. Ownership of the cabin has passed now to third-generation cousins but it doesn’t matter; my memories are powerful. I agree with Kurt Vonnegut when he wrote of his intense feelings for cabins on lakes.

“It will be my lake as long as I live. … I have it all right here. … The real one is in my head.”