Guest commentary: Home for the summer
By: Jan Kent, Lake County News Chronicle
Well, we’re home for the summer – again. And very glad to be here. All through the fall, winter and spring we’ve missed the tall birches and pines, the big lake, and our little cabin. We take a peek at our favorite spot via Google Earth now and then, but it’s pretty hard to tell what’s going on down there. Our northern neighbors would call us, we know, if anything catastrophic happened while we were gone, but we’re always eager to return to count the mice in the traps, see what flowers came up against all odds and check to see what has washed up on the beach during the long months. Over the years it’s never been anything more exotic than driftwood, but we keep hoping.
To get up to our North Shore home, however, we have an interesting annual ritual to observe. It’s called “saying good-bye to the neighbors in Illinois.” This is no mere friendly wave and promise to return. We rely on the goodness of our neighbors to keep our house and yard safe during the several months we are absent, and they never disappoint. The neighbors to the east, forward first class mail to our post office box in Finland, fill a big bag with our junk mail, and scoop up and hold for us any boxes that appear at our front door. They also water the hostas on that side of the house. It’s too much of a stretch to say we have landscaping in a yard that’s deserted during most of the growing season, but we do manage to grow hostas.
Our western neighbors keep track of what’s on that side of the house. Before we leave we haul out all our house plants (three, count ‘em, three) and put them on our back step. We have two schefflera and one jade plant – each in a giant pot. All are seriously pot-bound because if we put them in larger pots and add more soil we won’t be able to move them out of the house and around to the kitchen door. These plants, along with a window box of morning glories that climb up a trellis, need a lot of watering – and they get it. Along with some weeding, and much TLC.
And what’s in it for these neighbors – east and west – in return for all this help, you may be wondering. Lots. Our eastern neighbors have a family of five and a car for each member of the family. All winter long they do the car shuffle in their driveway in order to free up the car that they need for the day. In the summer they get our driveway. But not before the western neighbors move their little vintage sports car (that never goes anywhere) out of their overcrowded garage and into our empty one.
We live on a small man-made lake, and we have a beach. The set-back on our western neighbors’ lot means they have no beach. In the summer they have ours. They rearrange our patio furniture, add theirs, and are all set for summer parties. And they do party. Our northern neighbors, who are across the street, also have no beach, and they too enjoy our patio and backyard. Neighbors from all directions occasionally use our canoe and raft. And all neighbors keep an eye out for flotsam and jetsam on the beach and on the driveway, and for anything else that turns up somewhere it shouldn’t.
Timers turn lights on and off in the house. Neighbors have keys and occasionally ramble through the house to be sure all is well. We are up on the North Shore all summer without feeling uneasy about how things are holding up at our home. The neighbors are always careful to tell us how much they miss us when we are gone, but we’re pretty sure we can hear cheering as we turn the corner and head off to the tollway.
And, without a doubt, our house appears much more lived-in when we’re gone that it does when we actually live in it.