Minnesotans have a tradition for vacationing that divides people into two groups; those who have a cabin “up North” and them who “do not.” Upon returning to Minnesota to live, my husband took me through a process of mourning the sale of his parents cabin. This included using our first vacation time going to a resort near the former family cabin and then driving by it (more than once) to show the kids where daddy spent his summers as a kid. I very quickly got the idea that if we stayed in Minnesota for long, I would need to figure out a way for us to either become one of the “Haves” or darn close to it! You see lake life in Minnesota makes the cold bearable. It is so wonderful here with all of the lakes that all summer long feels like a giant camping, fishing, hiking exploration.

So we are on year seven in Minnesota and now that I’m gainfully employed in field that is much more stable than newspapers, I see the glimmer in his eyes again. For the first four years we planned tent camping trips to the campgrounds in the state. We always avoided going back to the White Fish chain of lakes since he missed the cabin. However, there seemed to be more to it. You see, Jeff’s, parents divorced when he was 13 and they announced the break-up of their marriage at their cabin on the White Fish chain of lakes. The saddest day in my husband’s life took place in that symbol of Minnesota summer society. He’d mourned it, and he was done, no need to go back… or so I thought.

Every year we’d spend a couple days camping on a lake near the Twin Cities. Yet we (Jeff) refused invitation after invitation from his brother to meet up in Crosslake. My husband would make an excuse and just ask them to stop by our house in the cities or offer to meet in Duluth at his mother’s home. I know this was probably annoying the heck out of my sister-in-law, who is big on family traditions, but there was something still eating at my husband about going back up north without his dad.

Fast forward two years and we get a call that my father-in-law, Mel, was coming to Minnesota for a funeral and they were going to stop and visit us in the cities. I think this trip changed everything. After the funeral, Mel realized it had been a long time since he had seen his sisters and brothers so they decided to rent a place during the summer in, you guessed it, Crosslake, Minnesota! Mel was going back to the White Fish chain of lakes. So that year we came up here for the first time and camped  and visited  with Mel.

Mel not being here was what Jeff was mourning. The cabin “up North” was not a symbol of societal standing for my husband, but a symbol of his familial unit, intact and happy. In some respects, he wishes the cabin wasn’t sold, but he would have never gotten over the broken family unit it represented. So now, it is our tradition again. For Jeff, the White Fish Chain of Lakes is a place for fathers and their families. He works on the girls swimming and takes them fishing. We come up for the Fourth of July week, and then we come again in August to visit with his father for Mel’s birthday. This year we were even up for Memorial Day. I’m so glad he’s able to share this place with us again. It’s beautiful and who knows, one day we might hit the lottery and buy a place up here.

What special traditions do you share with your family and what do they represent? All happy memories or do they represent trying times as well?

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Hillery Smith Shay, is a proven leader in Visual Communications and New Media Marketing. She holds a MBA, from Bethel University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Haverford College. Shay is an award-winning photographer who has worked for the Associated Press and various newspapers. Hillery resides in West Saint Paul with her husband Jeff and their daughters Jenna and Hayden. She is also the proud stepmother of Erin, Ginger and Jack. Read more about her at hilleryshay.com and follow her Twitter @crazphotochick