When I first came to this place over twenty years ago, I think we were engaged. It seemed odd then to be invited in when we weren’t married yet. I remember the anxiety I felt as we climbed the mountains and took the hairpin turn. Would I like it here? Would they like me? I slept in the small open bedroom (yes, there is no door) and he slept on the sleeping porch. I fell in love with the place. And now we have come back countless times, each time with one more notch, one more step our milestones. Married. Married with one child. Married with two children. Married but only he went with one child. Etc. Etc. Each time different. Each time magical. Each time the promise that we will return. That first year, I never knew. I never knew that this would be our place. I never imagined that we would keep coming back. I imagined it, maybe, but didn’t know it would last the way it has. Now our children have fallen in love with it. How could they not? A lake, a beach, a blueberry bush, a bed on the porch.
We are picking blueberries together, just he and I, here and now. We have never done this before, like this, just the two of us, quiet and serious and concentrating on the task at hand. A promise to get blueberries for breakfast. We can hear our four grown (almost grown up) children out on the lake, their laughter echoing across the water. Then a splash. Then another splash. Then the barrage of splashes between two of them before their sister calls out to stop. We are keeping promises. They are too – for we wait for those calls, like a promise. They let us know everyone is okay.
The blueberries themselves hold promises too. Right now, in early July, there are only a few precious Blue ones demanding our attention. The others are green and won’t be ripe until August. By then they’ll be fat and ready, a perfect shade of indigo. Other promises lie around the camp. Fishing rods and bait. Rafts and paddles. The uncut watermelon. The chocolate for melting on smores later. So much to do in too short a time. But it’s not a vacation. It’s a return to something. Not new, not unfamiliar, not about discovery. It’s about the family we have and revisiting our memories. It’s about going backwards. In time and in pace and in our hearts. We have rehearsed these routines until it is a ritual – one that renews us and reminds us of the promises made. Grandfather’s promise that this place would belong to us as we belong to it.
I’ve broken promises over the years. To friends, to commitments, to ideas I once had. It is sad. I’ve had promises broken too. But… People evolve, or learn something new, or decide to think differently. Things change. Even the paddles left underneath the porch are beginning to rot from termites. There’s a old rusty bike leaning against the shed that we don’t remember ever seeing before, except that this year someone cut the hedges back way far and now we can see an old tire, barely hanging on and the bike with no seat attached to it. Almost perfectly preserved. A promise to ride it again one day, but a promise unkept. The golf cart, which Grandfather loved, sits in the shed with an empty seat and nothing happens when we turn the key. We have promised to find a battery that will fit and to bring it next year. We all break a little. We all age. We all wear down and wear out. Our promises get rusty.
When I was first married, we promised to be true for a lifetime. No one understands what that means when they are twenty or thirty or maybe even forty. It isn’t possible. But what we do know how to do is promise each day. A promise to say good morning and goodnight. A promise to come home. A promise to smile. A promise to cook dinner. A promise to say thank you and God bless you. A promise to find the missing sock. A promise to make the bed. A promise to talk softly and listen loudly. A promise to say kind things. A promise to be there. A promise to show up. Each person holds these promises. Each place holds its own promises. Each thing we touch holds its promises.
The blueberry cup is almost full. We have enough for breakfast and for snacking later. The blueberries have fulfilled their promise and we have too. In August there will be enough here for a promised pie. We won’t be back then, but we know they will be here. After a long, cold, snowy winter when we couldn’t even imagine Blueberries might be here buried under the snow, they arrived again just as they do each year. And we have too. Winter is over and Summer is full of promise. Another promise. Each day we make them, each year we expect them and everything goes around taking its turn.
Some day we won’t return here. Too tired, we’ll say, or too hurt, or just too old or too far, we’ll say. We’ll be too rusty. But I hope not. Just as I couldn’t imagine being in this place being here like this twenty years ago, I can’t imagine being here forty years from now, there being another forty years here. But I hope so. I hope we will always return and always keep our promise. Just like the blueberries.