In 1928, my great-grandfather built a summer retreat for his young family on the Elk River. The land lined the riverbanks with shallow beaches and piers that seemed to stretch from one side to the other. His children turned bronze under the summer sun as they ran barefoot for hours, dropping fishing lines into the green water while eating blackberries plucked from the bush behind the shed. The days were short, the evenings peaceful and the mild breeze filled the screened porch where they laughed and played. My nana spent a lifetime of summers at the River House, from childhood to adolescence, watching the Navy Boats make their way to the Chesapeake, saying "I Do" on the wooden deck beyond the towering oaks. When strollers and wiggly toes made their way into her life, she packed her little family into their rambling white station wagon, eager to find adventure and retreat at the River House.
Growing up, my siblings and I heard story after story of the River House: barefoot skiing, crab traps and fireflies. When we were tiny and easy to please, my parents would bravely make the trek from Chicago to Maryland. I remember the steep stairs winding like rope down to the riverbank, the tire swing that my mom and her siblings had swung from. I remember sitting in the motorboat, life vest up to my nose and learning about where the revolutionary war soldiers camped. Just around the bend, a clay hill rose high above our little heads, begging to be discovered by the great-grandchildren of its early inhabitants. We splashed in shallow water, molded red clay into soupy bowls and squealed with delight when our dad emerged from the water; a sinister sea monster. We went from mousey to bleached blond, slept hard, woke early and ran barefoot up and down the sprawling lawn. We were, in essence, repeating the steps that had already been taken for three generations before us.
This past summer, we traveled to the River House after 26 years of being away. My older sister and I were moved by nostalgia and keen and fuzzy memories as we made our way up the stairs and into the long hallway of bedrooms. My nieces, ages six and three, sprinted with gusto peering into each room, eyes wide with wonder at the place their Nana, Nonnie, mom, aunts and uncles used to play as kids. Excitedly, we showed them to their room, the same room in which we used to sleep. We spent hours playing games, building sand castles, taking kayak rides and dropping crab lines to the river floor. My nieces gathered around Nana as she told stories from long ago, of being brought to the River House as a newborn baby in 1928. They cradled close to my chest as my mom read stories from the room that overlooked the river. They collected broken glass along the shore and breathed in deep the warm air as a summer storm rolled out upon the river. And in these moments, what mattered most to us was that the next generation would experience the river in the same way we had, yet through their own eyes.
In a day in age that is swirling and whirling with individualism and making one's own path, it is important to invite children into the lives of those who have gone before them. Even if just in the simplest way. Not everyone will have a summer home to retreat to, but everyone has a good story and tradition to share. Think of some of your favorite memories from childhood and creatively invite your child to participate; whether it's the game you played with neighborhood kids on balmy summer nights or learning how to fish. Maybe it means playing kickball at your elementary school or a short weekend getaway to the same place you vacationed as a child. Or maybe it means blowing the dust off of your childhood photo album and letting your son or daughter decide what they would like to learn about you. Remember, you are their hero(oine), so the words, "This is where I used to_____," will linger in their ears for years to come. Take advantage of the unique gift you have in sharing your history with the ones you are making history with.