I grew up attending Methodist churches, which in Ohio pretty much guaranteed that at some point, I was going to wind up in Lakeside.
It’s possible I visited the place once before I knew what it was: My great-uncle Paul was a Methodist minister who retired to Marblehead with my aunt Dorothy when I was pretty young, and I remember visiting them one summer. We went to Kelley’s Island and the long-gone Mystery Hill/Preshistoric Forest roadside attraction, and they lived just a block outside the Lakeside gates, so it seems very likely that we went over there for ice cream or church or mini golf or just to visit the playground.
When I was in sixth grade, I joined our church youth group, which spent a week at Lakeside every summer, always renting the same cottage. It was a three-story place with a narrow, steep spiral staircase and what felt like dozens of small bedrooms – some of which provided the only access to the others – and a couple bathrooms. On the second floor were a small kitchen and an open dining area and living room, with a door that opened onto a wrap-around balcony.
We shared meals, of course, and had a couple daily group activities – as well as half-day trips to East Harbor and Put-in-Bay – but I also remember having an abundance of free time to just run around Lakeside, which was quite a rush of independence, especially in those early teenage years. Shuffleboard was free, miniature golf was cheap, and there was an arcade and snack bar down by the dock, where we could hang out and swim. I always liked walking on the big rocks on the shoreline. Summers in Lakeside, you can watch the sun rise and set over the lake from the water’s edge.
In eighth grade, I started attending another weeklong Methodist summer camp called Reach Out, which was open to kids from all over the state. My first year, 1985, Reach Out was held at three or four locations. Starting in 1986, they just combined all the camps into one at Lakeside.
So here’s the thing: I grew up going to that Methodist church just about every Sunday. Met one of my oldest and closest friends in the world there, and have many good memories of overnights and winter retreats and Lakeside. He didn’t go to Reach Out, but for me, the point was always to just enjoy a week in Lakeside and meet people who didn’t know me from “real life” – that is, the school year. People who didn’t know what an awkward kid I really was, trying so hard not to be the insecure nerd that I was in middle school back home, and whose shadow still felt like it was clinging to me when I got into high school.
After my third year at Reach Out (1987), I was nominated to be on the Planning Committee for the next summer’s camp, and was shocked when I was voted one of the seven “PCs.” This is a thing for the popular cool kids, and I do not belong here, I remember thinking. I’m not even sure I really buy into the church stuff (Narrator: He didn’t.) even though I sing and talk and fake it because that’s supposed to be why we’re here. But I’m a PC and that feels kind of good, so let’s see what happens.
What happened was that over the next year I spent one solid weekend a month – Friday night to Sunday lunch – in the company of six other kids and a few adults, planning Reach Out ’88. One of those kids was my friend Keith.
And this summer, Keith and I returned to Lakeside with our wives and two other excellent close friends and spent a weekend in a house smack in the middle of the old Reach Out neighborhood.
Although it’s possible I’m wrong, I’m pretty sure hadn’t been to Lakeside in probably 30 years: I think the last time I was there was my freshman year of college, when my friend Jen and I drove over from Bowling Green just for something to do on a fall Saturday.
What struck me driving in this time on a late summer Friday after work was how narrow the streets felt, and how oddly closed-in the trees made the neighborhood feel. And then we were in more familiar territory, passing some of the old cabins and Wo-Ho-Mis (a dorm-style building where girls stayed at Reach Out), and the gathering halls and Hoover Auditorium.
We spent the last daylight walking down to the dock and back as a group, and Keith and I ran into one of our former Reach Out leaders down by the lake .(The weekend included a few hours of reunion plans, so although there were only a handful of folks there from “our” era of the camp, we did catch up with a few here and there.) After a late dinner at the house, Keith and our friend Paul and I walked Lakeside well after midnight, locating the distant building where we were assigned one year; finding the empty spaces where the cabins from our PC year had once stood; passing the auditorium where we’d goofed on stage and held the traditional “last night of Reach Out” dance.
Saturday I got up early anyway and went down to buy doughnuts at The Patio – one of the very few places on Earth where I will enthusiastically consume cake donuts, which I generally don’t care for. You go and buy them still warm, and you can’t go wrong with the basic cinnamon-sugar dusting. I took a dozen back to the house.
We spent the late morning kayaking the area around the dock, and then re-enacting a photo I have from the summer 1988 day when Keith and the other PCs and I were thrown into the lake.
After some reunion stuff and then a nap (for some of us), we hung out in the cottage and made camp crafts, and then ordered a pizza. Keith and I walked to Marblehead to see if my great aunt and uncle’s house was still there – it is – and then it was just an evening of games and talking and having a fantastic time with friends while the sounds of A Girl Named Tom drifted in from the concert across the street.
Sunday morning Keith and I met a few Reach Out folks for doughnuts, and then we walked to the rocks on the shore where I used to hang out. There’s one in particular that I remembered, so I sat there for a few minutes.
We finished up our morning with am impromptu grand tour of Lakeside by golf cart, provided by one of our close Reach Out friends and her daughter, and then gathered up our stuff to head back home.
It was strange and wonderful being back there and remembering a lot of things that are way back in my past – but what was really great was enjoying the present with some truly excellent people.