House on the lake

I’d like to share this great story I’ve read a few years ago from a Chicago newspaper columnist.

House on the Lake

By: Mike Royko

                When the two of them starting spending weekends at the quiet Wisconsin Lake, they were young and had little money. Her relatives let them use a tiny cottage in a wooded hollow a mile or so from the water.

                He worked odd hours, so often they wouldn’t get there until after midnight on a Friday. But if the mosquitoes weren’t out, they’d go for a moonlight swim, then rest with their backs against a tree and drink wine and talk about their future.

                One summer, the young man bought an old motorboat. They’d ride along the shoreline, looking at the houses and wondering what it would be like to have a place in the water. He’d just shake his head; these houses cost more than he could ever afford.

                Years passed. They had kids. After a while, they didn’t go to the little cottage as often. Finally her relatives sold the place.

                Then he got lucky in his work, making more money than he ever dreamed they’d have. Remembering those weekends, they went back and bought a cedar house on the water. The place was surrounded by big old trees, and the land sloped gently, down the shore. It was perfect.

                They hadn’t known summers could be that good. In the mornings he’d go fishing before it was light. She’d sleep until the birds woke her. Then he’d make breakfast, and they’d eat omelets on the deck.

They got to know the chipmunks, the squirrels and the woodpecker who took over the biggest tree. They got to know the grocer, the butcher who smoked his own bacon, the farmer who sold them vine-ripened tomatoes.

                The best part of their day was dusk. She loved sunsets. They’d always stop to watch the sun go down, changing the color of the lake from blue to purple, to silver and black. One evening he made up a small poem:

The sun rolls down

Like a golden tear

Another day,

Another day


                She told him it was sad, but that she liked it. What she didn’t like was October, even with the beautiful colors and evenings in front of the fireplace. She was a summer person. The cold wind wasn’t her friend.

                In November they would store the boat, take down the hammock, lock everything tight and drive back to the city. She’d always sigh as they left.

Finally, spring would come, and when they knew the ice on the lake was gone, they’d be back. She’d throw open the doors to let in the fresh air. Then she’d go out and greet the chipmunks and the woodpeckers.

                Every summer seems better than the last. The sunsets seemed more spectacular and more precious.

                Then one weekend he went alone to close the place down for winter.

                He worked quickly, trying not to let himself think that this particular chair had been her favourite, that the hammock had been her Christmas gift to him, that the house on the lake had been his gift to her.

                He didn’t work quickly enough. He was still there at sunset. It was a great burst of orange, the kind she had loved best.

                He tried, but he couldn’t watch it alone. Not through tears. So he turned his back on it, went inside, drew the draperies, locked the door and drove away.

                Later there would be a “for sale” sign out front. Maybe a couple who loved to quietly watch sunsets together would like it. He hoped so.

Mike Royko wrote this memorial to his first wife, Carol, after she died in 1979. The long-time Chicago newspaper columnist died 1997.

I then went on to research about this writer and found out that this is just an excerpt from the original story November Farewell. A story he wrote months after the untimely death of his wife Carol. The writer died at the age of 64 due to brain aneurysm


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