I love having my windows open, and hearing birds in the morning and crickets at night. I love wearing flip-flops if I wear any shoes at all. I love putting on shorts and a tank top, throwing my hair in a ponytail and calling it good. I love fireflies and starry nights, eating outside, and hearing kids playing and laughing. I love the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the lake.
I love it all. And it all started when I was young.
As a kid, I spent every Friday of every summer doing the exact same thing — packing to go camping and waiting anxiously for my dad to come home from work. He’d walk in the door loosening his tie and emerge minutes later in shorts and a T-shirt, then climb behind the wheel for the familiar two-hour drive to Pinery Provincial Park in Canada. It was a campground on the shores of Lake Huron, where we would climb dunes to get to the beach in the morning and stay until dinnertime.
It’s where I learned to skip a stone, make a drip sand castle and catch ant lions; where I’d spend hours floating on my tire inner tube, beg my dad to swim with us out to the second sand bar, and we’d swim until we were numb.
It’s where I first fell in love with summer.
Not far away was a little beach town called Grand Bend that we frequented so much that the locals all knew us by name. The place oozed summertime. Sand swept across the sidewalk, and people walked around in their bathing suits, going in and out of shops barefoot. It was perfectly normal to grocery shop in a bikini and sandy feet!
From the sand-covered sidewalk, you could order food from Cheryl Ann’s open windows, play skeeball, see the outdoor roller rink, smell Angelo’s pizza and long for the Canadian butter tarts in the bakery window.
When you got to the end of the sidewalk, the beach began. Right on the beach was a giant slide, the likes of which you see at the Coast Guard Festival carnival. And across from it was a kiddie roller coaster, whose owner had a pet raccoon.
I thought it was the greatest place on Earth, and I dreamt of living there.
Funny that I ended up not in Grand Bend, but a different Grand — Grand Haven.
This is a place that celebrates summer like nowhere else. Here we pack 12 months of summer into three. At any given time there is something going on at the beach — Beach Survival, Soccer in the Sand, skimboard and sand castle contests, pole vault competitions, beach volleyball. It goes on and on.
There is sand over the sidewalks and people walking around in bathing suits and bare feet. You can order food from the open windows of Pronto Pup and Dairy Treat, long for a Butch’s Beach Burrito, eat outside and watch the boats go by or see a beautiful sunset. When the sidewalk ends, the beach begins, or you can choose to walk down the pier if you like.
All comfortably familiar to me.
And every Friday of every summer, we do the exact same thing — we get ready to spend every moment we can on our boat, in the water and at the beach. Now my kids are tan and blonde, and every bit the beach bum I’ve always been — and they think this is the greatest place on Earth.
Indeed, after the Coast Guard Festival is over and Labor Day looms, and all of the tourists have to go home, I often stand on the beach, look out over the water and marvel at the fact that I don’t have to go anywhere. I am home.
— Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist