Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Aug. 26, 2011

A chain of lakes; a chain of events

Located a few miles inside Wisconsin's border with Upper Michigan, the Chain of Lakes is the handiwork of an ice-age glacier. The lakes are linked together by narrow waterways that allow sportsmen and nature lovers alike to move from one to another without ever leaving the water.

But after returning from our annual boat ride around a couple of them, I began to think about a different kind of chain. Husband Art, daughters Mariya and Katie and I have created a lot of memories in that area over the past 19 years. But none of them would have happened were it not for a chain of events, many of which happened years before we even met.

For several years after we married, Art and I took turns arranging our anniversary celebrations. Over our years together, Art had often mentioned how as a youngster he had enjoyed spending summers on a lake and similar adventures he shared with his older children Karen and Matt. So in the fall of 1992, I thought rather than just the two of us doing something for our anniversary the following summer, it would be fun to try to replicate those earlier lake experiences for our family.

I secretly called Art's cousin Claudia to get her advice about places to stay as she and husband Karl had a pair of cabins on the chain. She steered me away from a couple of resorts that she considered to be less-than-desirable and I then began calling others on the list provided by the local Chamber of Commerce. I finally settled on one, made a reservation for a two-week stay and created a "gift certificate" that I wrapped up as a Christmas gift for Art.

We enjoyed our 1993 summer so much that we decided to return the following year. We discovered the cottage we were renting was for sale and decided to buy it. From that point forward, our cottage stay each year has been our anniversary present to each other.

Looking back, Art's cousin living in the area was a crucial link in the chain that brought us there. Without it, I probably would have passed on the whole idea.

But she wouldn't have been there to answer my questions if previous links in the chain weren't already present. Claudia's family had lived in Sussex, a small community near Milwaukee. In the late '40s, Claudia's father died unexpectedly. Her mother Lela was a school teacher and a couple of years later, Lela's principal thought she could use some company after only-child Claudia left for college. He rather firmly suggested that two colleagues, single sisters Jeanette and Louise Middendorf, board with Lela. Claudia said her mother wasn't at all sure such an arrangement was a good idea, but agreed to give it a try.

It turned out to be a good thing, not just for Lela, but for the rest of us as well. The Middendorfs' father and uncle had built two cabins - one gray and one red - on some land they owned on the Chain of Lakes. The men had died by the time Lela, Jeanette and Louise became house mates, but the sisters continued to enjoy the cabins. On occasion, Lela joined them.

Eventually, Claudia and Karl began spending time there, too.

"We first stopped to see the Middendorf sisters on our way home from the first vacation we took after being married," Claudia said. "It was the summer of 1953. The next summer, we began to rent their red cottage for our summer vacations."

Claudia said the red cottage had a big living room, two bedrooms with birch-log beds, a kitchen and a screened porch. The large stone fireplace had a mantle edged with tree bark. Wild blueberries grew between the cabin and the lake.

Later, after Claudia and Karl became parents, Jeanette or Louise would sometimes give the kids tea cups to hold the wild blueberries the children picked.

In 1987, after many years of enjoying their stays at the Middendorf cottage in the North Woods, Claudia and Karl bought land on the same lake. Their tract was just a few lots away from the Middendorf property and it also had two cottages where they could stay during their summer vacations.

The Middendorf sisters living with Lela, the sisters owning land on a lake, Claudia and Karl staying in their red cabin, Art having spent summers on various lakes and me thinking it would be a good idea to replicate that experience, our arranging anniversary celebrations for each other - these are all little events that when chained together had a big effect. In late spring 1993, Claudia and Karl retired. They began building a permanent home on their land that same summer and moved in at the beginning of December. It was also the year we began our nearly 20-year love affair with our little cottage in the North Woods.

Most people like to think that the course of their lives is the result of some plan they could fashion and follow. But the reality is much different. Many of the most important aspects of our life are a consequence of things we have little control over or were intended to address some immediate situation. Rarely do we see the whole. Instead, we see each link develop in isolation and only later may become aware of the complete chain.

Left, Karl, Mariya, Mariya's wife Lacey and Katie on this year's chain tour;
right, the Middendorf gray cabin. Part of the red cabin is at the far right.

Left: Lacey, Mariya, Katie, Art, Gloria and Claudia in Claudia and Karl's home;
right, Mariya, Katie, our German foreign-exchange student Nadja and Art's
mother Donna outside our cottage before heading home in 2005.

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