Growing up as the seventh of nine children meant there was always someone to play with. But that didn’t stop my Mom and Dad from including all the neighborhood kids on our weekly trips to the lake. You could fit a lot of kids in the car when seat belts were nowhere in sight.
Climbing into two Wagoneers (“Big Red” and “Big Blue”), barefoot, wearing only swimsuits, we traveled the country roads from South Bend, IN, across the state line into Michigan, through the town of Three Oaks. We called out the names of the streets: “Ash, “Beech, Buckeye, Cedar!”
Knowing that just a few more miles down the road was Warren Dunes State Park. We piled out of the car, hopping and skipping along the burning hot pavement in the parking lot. Staying on the yellow-painted lines helped. We raced to the top of the gigantic dune, Tower Hill.
Our feet would sink into the hot, golden soft sand. We climbed and crawled up, slipped back down and climbed again until we crested the top, where the sand was refreshingly cool. We lingered for a while cooling our toasted feet, but not for long.
You could see the blue water of Lake Michigan down below and it beckoned us. We ran, leaped, and rolled down the hill, picking up speed and laughing all the way. We spent the rest of the day riding the waves, splashing along the shore, building elaborate towers and moats and searching for crinoids in the pebbles.
Heading home, we were tired, sun-kissed, happy, quiet, and very hungry. Dinner would come together as Dad grilled hamburgers, a few of us would shuck a couple of dozen ears of fresh-picked corn and one of us would mix up fluffy shortcakes from the “Joy Of Cooking.” As dusk set in, we would search for fireflies and finally, as night fell, we would drag our tired, dirty bodies up to bed. The perfect day: barefoot, swimsuit all day, sand, waves, treasures collected and farm fresh food at its peak of freshness.
Elizabeth Bullard is the executive director of Seattle PlayGarden and also the visionary behind and founder of the PlayGarden. She has worked with children and families in the Seattle area since 1985 and enjoys working and playing alongside PlayGardeners of all ages.
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