Vacationing in Lakeside 2015 - Part 1
I can walk you past four generations of Lakeside cottages on my father's side of the family and three generations worth on my mother's side. "A Place Like the Whole World Ought to Be" was the slogan I heard repeatedly as a child in reference to my hometown on the shore of Lake Erie. Most people experienced Lakeside for a week of vacation; I became a year around resident at age eight when my parents divorced. When a child grows up in the place the whole world ought to be like, she thinks differently of the world. Every time I come home I realize a bit deeper how place influences who we are and who we become.
Lakeside is a Chautauqua. The Chautauqua movement was popular in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries. The name implies a retreat or resort that combines religious observation, summer education, recreation and cultural opportunities. Few have remained into the 21st century. Lakeside is one of them. CBS reports that Lakeside is the most honest town in the USA. The Wall Street Journal claims a week here is like a vacation in 1899. Neither article finds my Lakeside.
A Chautauqua in general is an impossible concept for people to understand if they have never visited one. Few in my daily life in St. Louis grasp what growing up was like for me. I think only about twenty people in the world understand the full implications of my childhood place. I can name them. My brothers of course. Carol, Brian, and Chuck, the Methodist minister's children who lived at Fifth and Central. Dicky, Robyn, and Toby who lived at Sixth and Maple. Tom, Margret, and Phil who lived a block closer to the lake. The Oglesbee gang a block even closer. In third grade we had a contest on the bus to see who could name their five children in age order. I forgot Jon and lost. Danny lived at Third and Vine. Patty at Fifth and Peach. She could name the Oglesbee's. Jimmy lived just outside the gates, but he ran with us, so he was in. Literally "in" in the summer. We would sneak him in though a hole in the fence at Fourth and Popular. That was and probably still is the oddest thing about Lakeside: the gates. Wide open in the winter, but closed for ten weeks of season every summer. The township school we attended had thirty to forty students per grade, but because Lakeside gates were closed in the summer those of us who lived inside the gates had a different experience than those who lived outside the gates.
Perhaps the best way to explain a Chautauqua is to share the stories.
My nieces knocked on our cottage door just after eight Sunday morning. Ellie is ten. Vivian is five. They are staying seven blocks away. Seven Lakeside blocks. Fourteen blocks east to west and seven blocks north to south make up Lakeside. Its area is one square mile. The girls had woken early and the adults at their cottage were still sleeping. They were bored. They got dressed, found some money in their mom's purse, and walked downtown to The Patio to buy a dozen donuts. The breakfast of champions for decades of Lakesiders. Then they decided to come to our cottage in hopes of sharing their loot with a cousin or two.
A place like the whole world ought to be, huh? These adventures into freedom will develop confidence, and problem solving skills, and determination in my nieces. I know because similar experiences did that for their father, uncle, and me. A town committed to preserving these opportunities for children teaches all inhabitants a duty to common good. I saw that duty in action today when two bikes collided in the middle of Second Street sending young riders to the pavement. Adults responded, knelt, wiped away anxious looks, righted the bikes and sent the boys on their way. Adults present did not know the boys. We did not need to know the boys to respond. It is what Lakesiders do for our kids.
Monday morning the girls took art classes at the Rhine Center at the same time that Josiah participated in a Reader's Theater of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Nathaniel went to story time. A group went swimming off the dock in the early afternoon. Although I suspect someone one could select activities that gravitate the experience to one or the other, a Chautauqua is not really a resort and it is not really summer camp. It is not really in the middle. It is its own thing. I am not sure that explains it either. The phrase "gated community" leads some to assume my childhood was one of privilege. It did not feel that way as a thirteen-year-old working my first job at The Patio. I went to work at four in the morning. I spent six hours dunking donuts. Mr. Sutton paid me less than ten dollars a day and I had to buy my own donuts. Chautauqua meant opportunity, but not easy. Even twenty years ago winter residents lived a different life than summer vacationers. I did not live privileged financially. I did live privileged in place and time.
Monday evening Rich, Nathaniel and I walked down to the lake to see the sunset. We found the cousins sprawled at the end of L dock. We invited our older boys and niece to go with us to Hoover Auditorium to hear Dr. Robert Putnam, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard, speak about his newest book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. Outside of Lakeside, such a lecture would not be the place for youth and little girls and two-year-olds. But Lakeside makes Harvard professor's lectures attainable for children. The open auditorium space is forgiving. Street noise seeping in through the cranked wide windows will be louder than any child next to a parent inside. The multiple exits allow little ones, already snuggled in their pajamas, to leave unnoticed with one parent for a late bedtime while the other stays to listen to the question and answer session. I doubt my children's social policy opinions will be shaped by Dr. Putnam's words this week. But their attitude to learning and education will be. They will think of an academic lecture as something to enjoy. A part of everyday life. An evening recreational activity. They will see the importance of participating in a collective community that learns, laughs, and thinks hard together.
Being in Lakeside again, I understand again why it was so important to overcome Nathaniel's medical complexities to be here. The Chautauqua movement is part of who I am. The Chautauqua movement is how I want my children to experience life. I want their daily lives to include religious observation, education, recreation and cultural opportunities. I want that "A Place Like the Whole World Ought to Be" experience for Nathaniel too. It has been worth mustering the courage to do this trip with him.