Cabin Country: The Otter Tail mail

  • Article by: SUBMITTED BY MARA RENIER and CAMBRIDGE
  • Updated: August 16, 2013 - 11:49 AM
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Mara, Budd, Joe and Sam Renier shortly after their return to Otter Tail Lake in 1996.

When I was 2 weeks old, my parents brought me to Otter Tail Lake for the first time. My grandfather owned a cabin there, and my parents had already spent many happy days there, as had my sister and brothers. We spent most of every summer there in the ’60s and ’70s. It was our Garden of Eden. I have vivid memories of being in the water til the sun went down and we were blue from the cold. We had only a small fishing boat with a Johnson 9-1/2 H.P. motor, but we did everything behind that boat, including water skiing.

Communication between cabins was primitive back then, but that was part of the charm. When my mom wanted to relay a message to my aunt at her cabin down the shore, she sent us by boat to deliver it, and we would dutifully wait while my aunt wrote her response. I corresponded regularly with my friends back home, but we had no mailbox, so “Mel’s Market,” run by the Melby family, was the command center of the shoreline. All personal mail was delivered to Mel’s store, and he served as our postmaster. Any important phone calls were made from the pay phone in Mel’s.

When I was 15, my grandfather sold the cabin, and we were all devastated. It wasn’t until 1996 when I heard of a great private rental opportunity that I started going back, and by then I had a family of my own, with a husband and two young boys, ages 2 and 4. I was so grateful to have Otter Tail back in my life again, as I worried about my boys growing up without my magical experience there. Since then we have been enjoying the lake just as much as I ever did. I cry when we arrive, and the boys cry when we have to leave. Probably because it was introduced to me so early in life, I feel as if that is where my soul resides, and I can feel myself coming alive again when we approach the lake. A few years ago I started a video compilation of our summers there. It has become my creative outlet as well as a way to survive winter (www.vimeo.com/mararenier).

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