the picnic where nobody came

Uncategorized Jul 06, 2022

It was supposed to be a picnic, a reunion of forty-some family members in a summer cottage community to which my extended family has come for our entire lives.  There would be a cook-out in a park with a playground and a splashpad, and there would be a family photo to memorialize the occasion.  But four hours before, one of the family members who had been feeling under the weather for a few days tested positive for Covid, and that severely altered all our plans.  Everyone who had been in the cottage with the affected person agreed that they would not attend; and from that point on, with the picnic cancelled, most decided that they wouldn’t gather for the photo either. 

My oldest cousin who had organized this whole event had asked me to share a word of historical perspective about how and why we had first come to this spot on Lake Michigan.  I never had the chance to deliver that short speech, so I’m sharing it here:

“In 1931, during the Great Depression, our grandfather Eldo Wagner purchased the Pennsylvania Hotel in downtown Indianapolis.  Within a few years, it became necessary to rent out their lovely home and move into a suite of rooms in the hotel, taking their meals in a rooming house nearby.   

But the streets of the city were not a desirable place for his children to play during the summer, so in 1935 Eldo and his wife Mary were looking for somewhere to take their kids.  Friends with whom they played bridge told them of a resort in Ludington, Michigan called Epworth Heights.  That first summer they rented a cottage called Corner Lane.  Aunt Martha was six and her brother Uncle Bill was ten.  When they were alive, they told of arriving for the first time, running out of the cottage toward Lake Michigan.  The first sight of the ‘big lake’ so caught them that they never recovered, returning summer after summer for the rest of their lives… a blessed addiction.  

In 1937 Mary and Eldo purchased a cottage. Later my grandmother inherited a second from a friend.  Now our extended family inhabits five.  At least one of my cousins was likely conceived here on her parents’ honeymoon.  One was born here.  At least one was engaged and four were married here, five are buried here and many more have been memorialized here.  This is where we hatch ‘em, match ‘em and dispatch ‘em.  This place becomes part of you whether you are born in, marry in, or enter by adoption.  However, you come to this family, you are a Wagner; you belong to Epworth and Epworth belongs to you.” 

That’s what I would have said.  Unfortunately, most of us weren’t able to gather for that picnic. So, I hope someone shares their legacy story with my treasured family.

Love, Liz