If you’re new to Minnesota or planning an extended visit, it’s helpful to know a little something about a place we locals call Up North.
Up North is a luscious land we go to boat, fish, hike, camp, buy a can of pop in the lodge of a ma and pa resort, enjoy sunsets from somebody else’s in-law’s cabin, and watch storm warnings scroll on the bottom of a TV screen while filling up on tater tots and tap beer at places named Last Turn Saloon or Pitstop—where you can still play Pac-Man for a quarter.
Up North can actually mean a property in most any direction with a northerly slant to it, as long as it is at least an hour from the Twin Cities, has a lake, spruce-pine forests, a nearby go-kart track, or roadside statue of a lumberjack on the way.
Another good thing to know is that, whether we’re Up North or in the middle of a suburb, we Minnesotans linger when it’s time to go. When we say “I really should get going,” plan on us hanging around for at least another 30-90 minutes asking about your shrubs and roof shingles and where you get your dog groomed, delaying the goodbye as long as possible.
For 13 summers, my hubby and I and our kids have headed Up North with the families of three of my high school friends− known to a small, but loyal following as Wombonee, Wilma, and Susanna Banana. I’m the one writing this, so I have the right to withhold my high school nickname. I’m mostly Jules to them now anyway.
For the last eight of those summers, we’ve been going to the same family-owned resort that’s about 3.5 hours north—and partially to the west.
This place, with its dancing loons, soul-piercing sunrises, and landscape of purples and pinks, is as breathtaking as a secret garden and inviting as a basket of freshly-baked, homemade rolls served with honey butter.
Between our four families, there are ten kids, five girls and five boys. Ages range from 9-17. Each adult and child plays a significant role in the group’s magical chemistry. If just one were missing at any given year, which has rarely happened, we’d all feel the absence.
As soon as we arrive, the kids pick it up where they left off the summer before.
While we adults lounge at the beach, kayak, read, gab, gut-laugh, and swat away horse flies, they run back and forth between the lake and the pool, build sand sculptures, buy double-scooped ice cream cones in the lodge, ride bikes on the wooded trail, cheer each other on as they waterski and kneeboard, and take part in the resort’s marble mountain contests, minnow races, crafts, scavenger hunts, and bingo night.
And of course, all of us, kid or adult, fiercely compete in the infamous carpetball tournament for the coveted grand prize—a giant Hershey bar and trophy made out of a pool ball velcroed to plywood.
The best part of all, though, just might be the daily happy hour at one of our cabins, followed by a shared dinner. Each family takes a turn at hosting apps, dinner, and dessert for the whole group.
The kids eat quickly and then off to play night games with the mosquitoes. We adults, though, sit there for hours, sipping wine and playing cards under the moon, sometimes making our way down to the campfire for s’mores or kettle corn, all while cracking our “witty” midlife selves up with our collective bantering and reminiscing.
This year, though, each day, each hour, amidst all the laughter and natural beauty, I felt the weight of an impending goodbye. Not a goodbye to the friendships; those are lifelong. But a goodbye to this breathtaking home-away-from-home and all its traditions to which we probably won’t be returning to in the forseeable future.
Due to all of our kids getting older and schedules getting more complicated, our four families need to change to a different week, and that one week that works for all of us is already booked by longtime regulars, most likely for years to come. We’re shopping around for another resort, so we’ll see, but I’m not so good with change.
After we hugged our friends goodbye and drove away from this slice of heaven, I was a pool of tears, of sadness and gratitude, hiding behind sunglasses, in the passenger seat of our beat up, silvery Suburban heading south.
I do realize this goodbye pales in comparison to other goodbyes we all face throughout our lives. It’s of course nothing like the eternal goodbye to a friend or family member that some in our group have had to say over the course of our long-held tradition.
But a goodbye of any magnitude is profound if you think about it—a finishing of one moment and the beginning of another.
No wonder we Minnesotans sometimes loll around in that sacred place in between, stretching it out, delaying the inevitable change to come. We’re much smarter and more philosophical than our accents in movies sometimes make us sound ya know.