The following excerpt is from Chapter 2 of The Color of Rain by Michael & Gina Spehn. The book is written in dual, first person voices alternating between Michael & Gina.
Mullett Lake is written by Michael.
Cold spring waters run over the small rocks at the far end of Grandview Beach, providing the only sound to the predawn stillness on Mullett Lake in Northern Michigan. The perfect crystal surface rests, motionless. In the distance, at the first break of light, a lake perch stretches up toward the tangerine sky just enough to gulp a breakfast of fallen mayflies, then disappears quietly below the surface. The silent ripples on the water glide toward the now-smoldering horizon. As the sun begins to wrestle the darkness into retreat, I wish the world could remain this perfect for just a while longer. As I wallow in the calm, the moment quickly becomes bittersweet with the realization that, in the blink of an eye, this perfect tranquility will surrender to the sound and fury that accompany each new day. Cars and boats, people and noises, busyness and bills to be paid, and all of the blessings and curses that occupy the space between dawn and twilight will soon be upon me. In the end, the silent bliss that is morning on Mullett Lake is friend and foe alike; a beautiful and cruel Shakespearean device that each day seduces me with its promise and then shatters me with its heartbreak.
For my wife, Cathy, this was a unique and spiritual place. Her parents, Larry and Jill Lutz, owned a cottage on Grandview Beach, a pretty stretch of sandy shoreline at the far end of the lake, and Cath spent many summers there. One of the largest and deepest inland lakes in the U.S., Mullett Lake seemed to call out to her each time she stayed away a bit too long.
She became a different woman when she was up north. (That’s what the locals call it; when one goes to the lakes in Northern Michigan, one goes “up north.”) Along with flip-flops and waterproof sunblock, Cathy put on a new self when she was there and it looked good on her. Her slender frame seemed taller than the 5’6″ listed on her driver’s license. Her summer hair caught just enough of the sun’s magic to brighten with highlights. Her skin, fair and pink for nine months out of the year, grew deep brown, making her teeth piercingly white when she smiled. Being at the lake agreed with Cathy.
While she and I were still dating, I had to be dragged there. “Come to my parents’ cottage,” Cathy pleaded.
I wanted none of it. I was strictly concrete. I loved the city and was never going to be a “happy camper.” Roughing it for me was when room service stopped serving at midnight. Plus my only notion of a “cottage” came from the dreadful visits to Wisconsin where my dad had taken my three siblings and me in order to get a little outdoors in us.
“You’ll love it,” Cathy insisted.
“I will not love it,” I said, channeling Woody Allen. “Crappy fishing shanties and deerflies the size of Volvos …”
“It’s not like that,” she said. “Besides, we need a nice getaway.”
“Getaway has words like Hyatt in it. Spas and tee times. That’s a getaway! The only thing we’d be getting away from up north would be indoor plumbing and twentieth-century dentistry.”
Yet, as we all know, love makes you do the occasional foolish thing. So I packed a case of SPF 90 and a five-gallon canister of calamine lotion, and we drove north out of Chicago.
As soon as we arrived, all of my fears of outhouses and backwoods banjos were put to rest. It turned out that her parents’ “cottage” was actually a beautiful and well-appointed lake home with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Being a top salesman in the furniture industry gave Larry Lutz not only access to the finer things but a taste for them as well. Their home was spotless, with a clean, contemporary style and a touch of up-north charm. The meticulous white walls remained free of any clutter, except for three large framed photographs that Larry himself had taken and hung prominently in the great room. They had more than one hundred feet of lakefront and all the water toys you could desire: ski boats and pontoon party boats, flotation devices of every kind, and even a SeaDoo to ride.
Nearby I discovered a golf course called The Secret—a fabulous little semi-private track carved out of the virgin pine forest that always seemed to have an opening on the first tee whenever I asked. The people there were great and the course not too difficult. I soon developed a love/hate relationship with the par-five eighth hole, which always taunted my ego into going for the green in two, though there was a well-placed pond in front. This diamond in the rough (all puns intended) was the deal maker for me with Mullett Lake. I began to look forward to going up north as much as Cathy.
Eventually I mustered the courage (brains really) to ask her to marry me. As I waited for her at the altar on our wedding day, I looked around the church at the countless friends and family gathered. My dad caught my eye and smiled a wedding smile at me and then turned toward the back of the church. Just then Cathy appeared, glowing at the end of the aisle. Dad wheeled around and caught my eye again. This time, though, he appeared dazed by the vision he’d just seen. I understood. Cathy had that effect on people.
It was her smile that took me captive the day we met, and never once let me go. There was an authentic quality to her smile that made people stop and look; a basic human truth that seemed to emanate from deep within her and naturally find its way upward and out. Like the magma flow from Vesuvius, there was simply no stopping Cathy’s smile. It could freeze people where they stood and hold them there, sometimes forever.
That’s what happened to me anyway.
Additional excerpts will be posted throughout the next several weeks. Please check back often or subscribe to this blog using the RSS Feed at the top of the page.