Lake Wildwood

May 31, 2012
Lake Wildwood is small and manmade; a burst of life in the middle of deserted cornfields. The closest town outside the gates of the Lake is Varna, Illinois, a town with less than 500 people that is more of a one-pony town than a one-horse town. Almost all of the houses around the Lake seem to be stuck in the 1970s with shag rugs and wood paneling.

The first time my parents went to Lake Wildwood was in 1979, the summer after my mom’s sophomore year in college. The parents of my mom’s friend, Patti, own the house and she invited a large group of her friends that summer. At the time, it was a small house with four bedrooms that had no business housing a large group of college students. Every summer since 1979, Patti has had college friends down to Lake Wildwood. Over those thirty-two years, that house has seen friends come and go, even some friends saying goodbye for good. The house has seen thirteen people grow from babies to young adults. The house has created friendships, like the one between me and my best friend Maggie, whose mom was friends with mine in college. Over thirty-two years this little time warped house has seen a lot, this house has taught a lot.

I learn a different lesson dealing with friendship every year I go back to the Lake. For as long as I can remember, I have looked to my mom and her friends and have had such deep admiration of the bond they have. Since college, they have all dispersed around the Midwest and rarely get together to see each other, yet they continue to be best friends. They are not everyday friends. They are weekend friends and email friends and the occasional phone call friends, but they are still best friends. Seeing my mom and her friends has shown me what kind of friends I want and what kind of friend I want to be. Every year I spend less than three days at Lake Wildwood with this group and they consistently prove how incredible they are. They do things and say things that are intentional and prove through millions of little moments that they love and care for me, as well as the others who join us.
In friendship you have to be there for each other. Over thirty-two years, Lake Wildwood has allowed a place for these women to be there for each other- through moments of joy, sadness, and anger. My mom and her friends have a friend, Jean, who lives in New Mexico. Two years ago her husband was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS. The news was devastating to Jean and hard for my mom and her friends to hear. The summer after he was diagnosed, Jean made her way up to Illinois to spend a much needed weekend away. The diagnosis of ALS was a heavy weight for Jean to carry. But there is something about being with a group of old friends that brings relief, and that was displayed that weekend. I admire that my mom and her friends can just talk. They can stay up until three in the morning and just talk, and that is what they did. That weekend my mom and her friends sat on the long wooden deck talking and listening. That weekend there were tears. A lot of tears. But there were also smiles and laughter. And that is another important aspect of friendship. That year had been a really rough year for Jean, but she was able to come to the Lake and escape that, if only for a while. After that weekend, things were still going to be difficult, but coming to Lake Wildwood offered a haven for Jean, just like a good friendship offers. In good friendship you can be vulnerable and you can cry, but it also allows you to smile and know everything is going to be okay.
In friendship you have to be spontaneous. Including my mom, there are five women who come to Lake Wildwood every year. Every year emails get sent and phone calls are exchanged to their other friends, but in recent years no one else usually comes. Three years ago, when their friend Susan was told about our weekend at the Lake, she told us she could not make it- like always- since she lived in Pittsburgh. When we pulled into the grass-covered driveway that year, we were surprised to see a car no one recognized. We entered the key code and went into the house, only to be welcomed by Susan who had already set up and was getting ready for the weekend. No one knew Susan was coming but everyone was so excited to see her. It is moments like these, unexpected surprises that show how deep their friendship really is. Susan did not need to come all the way from Pittsburgh to southern Illinois to spend her weekend, but she wanted to. Just by taking the extra time to come up and spend a couple days with her friends from college she was able to bring joy to everyone there.
In friendship you have to be selfless. At the Lake, there is no time for someone to just be concerned about themselves and their own needs and wants. Throughout the years people have displayed this through many things. Every year Patti opens up her home to us for the weekend. Patti’s husband, Frank, spends his entire day driving their boat around the Lake so that the kids can have the opportunity to go tubing and waterskiing. Parents reluctantly ride around and around on the boat because Frank does not want to be the only adult. Families bring countless bags filled with food and leave it out in the kitchen for everyone to share. Every year Patti stays up late into the night on Saturday preparing a large breakfast for Sunday morning; and even though no one likes it, everyone still takes a helping of egg casserole in the morning. Parents deal the kids into their euchre tournaments even though the kids do not really know how to play. People spend their nights sleeping on couches and old mattresses every year so that family and friends can sleep in the same room. With little moments and small actions, people at the Lake show how dedicated they are to the friendships they have there. No one comes to the Lake for selfish reasons, only to be able to spend a weekend with their old friends.
In friendship you cannot let distance get in the way. When these women first met they were all living off the same hallway in their college dorm. Today, however, our families are dispersed around Illinois and several other states. It would have been easy for this group to have stopped talking long ago, but they have decided not to let distance become a factor. Every year when we get together, despite how long it has been, it feels like no time has passed since we last saw each other. This lesson has proved to be especially important to me seeing that my best friend is apart of this group. Maggie lives in Plano, Illinois, and I do not see her often, but I am closer to her than anyone else. Having these women as examples has shown us that we do not need to let a two-hour trip come in the way of our friendship. We make long trips on the Metra and may only get to see each other for a short time, but that is okay. We have decided to make it work, because sometimes a friendship is so important and special that you fight hard for it. We have dedicated ourselves to our friendship, just like my mom and her friends have dedicated themselves to theirs.
In friendship you have to be open-minded, not allowing yourself to put limits and restrictions on who you will be close to. Despite years of tagging along with my mom and her friends and adding little tid-bits to their conversations, I never really considered myself a friend to any of them. However, as I have grown older I have found that I have grown closer to each one of these women. This past summer, Maggie and I were sitting and talking with the women as they were all trailing off to bed. After a while the only person left awake with us was Colleen. Growing up I have always been close with Colleen because she lives in Chicago and she has become like a part of my family, but staying up with her that night changed things. The three of us stayed up for another two hours and just talked, just like my mom and her friends can sit and just talk. Maggie and I told her stories about boys and school and other typical teenage stuff. But in talking to Colleen that night we were also able to be deeper and more meaningful. We talked about beliefs. We talked about fears. We talked about death. We talked about God. We talked about things that before I may not have been comfortable saying to another adult. And Colleen listened. In that moment I knew that Colleen was not just my mom’s friend anymore. Colleen is my friend too, and so is Jolene, Kathy, Patti, Susan, Jean, and my mom.
Maggie and I have talked about how life would be great if we could just live at the Lake all year round. In the times when the college group has the opportunity to get together, I always have a moment where I think to myself ‘this is perfect’. This is how life is supposed to be. This is how friends are supposed to be. Maggie and I have said that this group of women is the best group of people we know, and it is completely true. My mom’s friends from college are intentional and vulnerable and commit themselves completely to their friendship. They are accepting and friendly and joyful. After years of looking at them with eager eyes waiting to one day be a part of their group, I have finally come to realize I am, and maybe I always have been. These women are the greatest friends I have ever had; and over thirty-two years this hodge-podge of friends and parents and children has become the greatest family I could ever imagine.





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