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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Bon Voyage (09/05/05)

TITLE: The Rieck House
By Emil Bradford


In 1922, E W and Minnie Rieck, my grandparents, built a summer home on Meta Lake in the Wisconsin Northwoods, where my family vacationed, and as a boy I learned to swim and fish for walleye and the Granddaddy Musky of The Lake that, according to whopper stories told by my father and uncle, had evaded the wiliest of anglers in Meta Lake for more than 100 years and had to weigh over 100 pounds. “Yes sir,” my uncle would say, “I had ‘em once, I did. I had him.” Mom would then ask if that’s when Uncle Chet’s line snapped and he plopped bottom-down into the bait bucket? Grandma would laugh out loud (something she rarely did) and say just loud enough for me and my two older brothers to hear, “the ring on his behind was there for more than a week.”

I haven’t been to the Rieck house for more than forty years; the last time was when we closed it up after Grandma died. It was a bittersweet journey. While I was excited to be going to the lake, I knew even as a young boy, things would be very different. There was going to be something missing in the house; there was going to be something not quite right about the canoe barn; and the lake, well the lake wouldn’t have the same reflection in the moonlight that it had when Grandma was there next to me as we watched Dad and Mom canoeing home from their visit with the Steankes who lived across the lake. I knew that I was going to have to say goodbye to someone who had been very good to me. I knew that I was going to go into that house and while it would smell like Grandma it wouldn’t feel like her; while it would look like she was still there; she wouldn’t be. For an eleven year old kid who really loved his grandma, it was gonna be really hard to say goodbye. Over the years I have thought a lot about the Rieck house, the tale of Granddaddy Musky, the canoe barn, and my parents paddling through the moonlight but I have not returned.

This year I will. My wife and I will fly into Chicago where we will rent a car and drive to the Northwoods. And again it will be a bittersweet journey. This time it is to mark the passing of my parents.
This time I will again stay in the Rieck house where I collected the memories of my childhood. I will inhale the fragrance of the canoe barn and see Mom and Dad canoeing across the moonlit lake while I stand beside Grandma. I’ll hear the tales of Granddaddy Musky and the bait bucket. I’ll hear Grandma laugh out loud one last time. I’ll walk into the kitchen through the screen door and take in the smells and sights of Grandma. I know of course they won’t be the same, the house has belonged to someone else for more than forty years but to me, I will be seven again and Grandma will be in the kitchen, making Swedish pancakes, sausage, fresh squeezed orange juice, and there’ll be a box of Sugar Crisp on the countertop just for me and not for my brothers. There will be cherry pie baking in the oven and Grandma’s spoon collection will be hanging on the wall over the dinner table with a spoon from every state and country she and Grandpa visited; eighty-five spoons in all. I counted them every time we went to the lake house just to see if she went someplace new so she could tell me the story. After Grandpa died there were always just eighty-five but I still counted and Grandma always found a different one to tell me about.

This trip to the Northwoods of Wisconsin is for more than marking the passing of my parents, it is a pilgrimage to a place, perhaps I should have visited years ago to pay homage to some people I should have honored all along. But God doesn’t honor my timing. I dwell in a place of His construction and it is in His timing that I go on this journey and honor my people.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 09/12/05
Some of your longer sentences could be shortened...BUT this piece has a wonderful writer's "voice". I can see this place in my mind's eye--you were certainly blessed to have it.
B Brenton09/13/05
Well... this was a great, constructive piece of writing... but constructive is the word wrong here. Kind of like a house (as per the title), it wasn't an enjoyable, easy to read narrative. I found myself getting a bit lost in the building of your words to feel something when it got to the final level.
That's just me though. Some people like big, "constructive" words and stories.
sandra snider09/14/05
I love the Sugar Crisp on the counter for me and not my brothers! You do a good job of painting a picture of your love for grandparts/parents/familyand their love for you. Some of the sentences are way too long and cumbersome, however. The very first sentence seems to go on forever. Grammar needs work. Too many semi-colons.
Deborah Porter 09/21/05
Emil, I was acting as one of the Level 1 judges for the Bon Voyage challenge, and I thought this was a terrific story. Yes, some of the sentences need to be tightened, but I really do look forward to seeing more from you in the Challenge in the future. With love, Deb (Challenge Coordinator)