“Dinner in a half an hour!” I shout across the deck to my cousin’s deck next door.

“Sue, happy hour begins at 6, not dinner,” Nancy hollers back.  “Dinner is at 7.”

How easy it is to forget the tide table that we follow at the lake. After 11 months away in the real world, I have forgotten to take it easy, slow it down, relax and refresh.  “OK, I’ll shut it down.  Be over in a minute,”  I respond.  Nancy lives in northern Michigan, and has access to her cottage year round.  She adapts more quickly to the slower pace than I do.

For generations, family, cousins, second cousins-once-removed, and friends have gathered at one deck or another along our “compound” of four houses on Torch Lake, Michigan.  We jockey for the lake facing chairs, so that we can enjoy lake views of the tricolored waters while we nosh on whitefish pâté, and other lake specialties while we sip boxed wine with ice.  Truth be told, the non-lake-facing spots are just as lovely, because you catch the reflection of the lake on the big windows of the cottages, and can take in the woods of white pine, ash, and birch surrounding them.

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Nancy has a fantastic garden, so we look forward to her daily fresh veggie contribution to the event.  Her snap peas are delicate and sweet, adding a crunch and tasty compliment to any humus offering.  Bob, her husband, is a cherry farmer, so when he comes and brings some to share, it is a very special treat.  Everyone contributes to the food, but it is the conversation that drives this tradition.

Our second cousins-once-removed, the Mertz family,  have lived here year round for longer than any of us.  They are our touchstones for local news and color commentary.  We share stories about the old days, when we were all young, and turn to them for verification.  The problem with this is that all the Mertzs are incredibly creative people, so there is an ongoing argument as to what is factual, and what is a “Mertz Myth.”  Truth is, none of us really care, as the stories are vibrant, engaging, and perfect for this setting.

Did Grampa Mertz actually shoot a water moccasin with a revolver from the shore, while all of the kids were in the water?  We may never know.  Mertz, a retired Detroit Police Officer, is long gone, but the story persists leaving its mark on happy hour year after year.

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