The cottage had been built in 1958, by Northwest Specialties of Elk Rapids, but they didn’t add running water until the year before Sarah’s first summer there ten years later, when she was six.  Prior to that, everyone bathed, did dishes, and washed clothes in the lake.  Drinking water was collected from the nearby spring, and it was clear and cold and magical.  Running water was a cause for celebration, because that meant a toilet.  No more traipsing into the woods to use the Bear Trap, which was what they had named the outhouse years before.  These details were not part of Sarah’s memories, but part of the collective memory of the lake.

The lake holds these collective memories still today, and it will continue to gather each tale, hold and keep it until someone digs it up from around the fire pit to be scrutinized and shared by the circle.  They are the nuggets of lore that have been contributed to over time by those who have come and gone over the many years.  Each contribution painted in the perspective of the contributor.  Each colored in the circumstance, familial filter, and lens of those who shared their stories around the fire pit. It is this collective memory that muddies the water between truth and myth.   

“I truly believe that some of these stories have been repeated so many times, that we have just come to believe they are true,” Nancy reached for a chip from the assortment of happy hour delights that covered the table on the porch.

“Lake Legends,” Laura quickly and alliteratively coined the phrase that accurately described the phenomenon.  “I think they’re all bullshit.  Like the one where Grampa Mertz pulled out a gun and shot a water snake while we were all swimming.  No way!  I think I would’ve remembered a gun at the lake.  Especially if someone had fired it in front of me.”

“Grampa was Detroit PD before he retired, and slept with a pistol under his pillow up until he died.  It drove my dad nuts.  Dad was worried that us kids would get into it.  We were forbidden to touch it, but we would sneak into his room and look at it every once in a while.  So there absolutely was a gun up here,” Margy confirmed. “Text Tom and Betz, they’ll tell you.”

Sarah leaned back in her chair at the table and held her Oberon, in its Torch Lake koozy, to her chest.  Ever since the late 1930s when her grandfather and his cousin (Margy’s grandfather) first bought land on Torch Lake, family had gathered on one porch or another to share food, drinks, and mostly stories.  Most of them were, in some way, true.  Some had, like a rumor on the playground, transformed into legend. At this point, many of the participants in the stories were long dead, and only the tales remained.

Laura typed a message into her cell phone to Betz.  She would know.  Sarah reached for hers and typed one out to Tommy.  In the back of her mind Sarah recalled that day, swimming out in the lake with Tommy, Betsy, and Laura.  They had done that every day of every summer for as long as they could remember, so that wasn’t news, but Sarah also vaguely remembered a snake in the water and running away from it.  “I kind of remember this,” Sarah said quietly.

“It’s bullshit.  Never happened,” Laura looked down at her phone to check for a return message.

Betz finally responded to Laura’s text.  “Yes, there was a snake, and yes, Gramps shot it.  We were all there.  How can you not remember this?”

“Ask her if the snake was on the shore or in the water when Mertz shot it,” Sarah suggested.  “I think it was on the shore.”

“She says,  ‘In the water.’”

Sarah’s phone vibrated and she looked at Tom’s response.  “Sigh, are we still debating this story?  Look, it went like this.  We were all out swimming in front of the cottages.  I was on the water bike when a snake slithered off the shore and was heading straight toward me.  People started screaming about a snake in the water.   I abandoned the bike in front of the cottage and swam in, trying to avoid the snake.  The snake, perhaps in response to the screaming, turned back toward our bank.  Gramps had heard the commotion and had gotten his .22, so when the snake reached the bank, Gramps shot its head off.

I remember Grampa Kay yelling at me for ditching the water bike in the lake.  I suspect that he was secretly rooting for the snake. The water bike was right out front, and I was about to be attacked by a snake.  What did he expect?!  I also recall Gramps dragging the snake’s body around to the back of the cottage.”

“I really think I remember this,” Sarah shook her head and absently took another pull on her beer.  Collective memories are weird, she thought.

“It’s all bullshit,” Laura stated.  “Just another Lake Legend.”