The e-mail usually arrives sometime in mid-to-late April, the message field containing just two words: Ice out!
Our cabin neighbors, Steve and Diane, retired schoolteachers and full-time residents on our lake in northern Minnesota, know we’ve been waiting for, oh, five months for those magic words, signaling that the time has arrived to open up the cabin.
Time to finally put winter behind us. Time to unlock those recessed images of summer. Time to start planning for another cabin season.
My wife, Margie, and I still work full-time, so it has never made sense for us to keep our cabin open during the winter. We’re nearly three hours from the city with good roads, and driving two lanes on snow and ice isn’t worth it.
That only makes “ice out’’ all the more anticipated.
Every year, it seems, these two simple words conjure up a different special memory. The cabin has been the setting for some of our favorite family activities, enhanced by the presence of three additional cabins of family members on a lake less than 5 miles from ours.
When our two sons, James and Ryan, married — respectively Catie and Bridget — we made each wedding celebration a weeklong event by heading north, and spreading our out-of-town guests between the four family cabins. Think of a weeklong wedding reception with boating, swimming and outdoor dinners.
“Ice out’’ this year means planning for another such event, with our daughter, Anna, marrying her longtime boyfriend, Sam. Our out-of-town relatives know by now to schedule their vacations after the wedding for one more weeklong reception.
And this year there’s even more to celebrate. Since we’ve closed the cabin last fall we’ve added two new grandsons, Connor and Cooper (I can’t believe James and Ryan did that to me); I’ve already called the two boys by the wrong names more times than I can count. Cooper will be making his first visit along with siblings J.J., 4, and Ella, 2.
A legacy of boats
Oldest grandson J.J. is already an avid fisherman and boater, one of the few 4-year-olds to share ownership in a 16-foot wooden runabout. I now own three boats, and I reminded family members after the latest nautical purchase that if I ever relocate to a culture that judges wealth by boats, I will be Donald Trump. No one was impressed.
At least not until J.J.’s 4th birthday, when I made him part-owner of the boat, complete with his own captain’s hat. It includes several provisions — full ownership at 18 years of age, unlimited use for grandpa until then and the right to store the boat winter months in his dad’s three-car garage — all of which J.J. has taken to mean he is the owner of a boat.
The boat, a 1958 Cruisers Inc., has a 50 HP engine that powers at present pretty much like a trolling motor. But it looks good in the water.
Last summer, J.J. took control of the wheel by himself, doing a couple laps of our lake. My biggest boat critics, Margie and James, were in the boat and at least partly won over by the smile and pride on J.J.’s face.
I must briefly digress: Last summer, after the drive on our lake, James and J.J. took a friend’s boat out on Lake Minnetonka for an afternoon of panfishing. At one point, James said to his young son: “This is so much fun maybe we should have our own boat.’’
J.J. immediately responded: “Daddy, I already have a boat.’’
A couple minutes later, J.J., unprompted, added: “Daddy, it’s really too bad you don’t have a boat.’’
A miraculous newcomer
Then there’s Connor, our family’s little miracle. Connor was due to arrive on Feb. 1, but was a bit anxious to meet his family and was born four months early, weighing slightly less than 1 pound. I could write a book about the strength of Ryan, Bridget and Connor, the unbelievable staff at Amplatz Children’s Hospital and the changes the little man has already made in our lives.
He now weighs more than 7 ½ pounds, has been home for over a month and his parents are intent on Connor joining his cousin, Cooper, at the lake this summer to begin our newest tradition. Cousins and best friends, together at the lake.
Connor will certainly be shown the deck area on the hill that overlooks the lake where his dad proposed to his mom.
Every time we think of the cabin, so many cherished memories come to mind. And this summer there’s sure to be more.
We can’t wait.
Dennis Brackin is a Star Tribune assistant sports editor and longtime sports reporter.