We turned off the main highway at the intersection where a sign had once directed passersby to a secondary road that led to Beardsley’s Lake. After a quarter mile I pulled the car to the side of the road and turned to my son sitting in the passenger’s seat.
“Here we are,” I said.
“There’s nothing here, here,” Seth said. “Just another road to other roads.”
“This is the spot I’ve been looking for,” I said, and turned the engine off.
“I don’t see any signs of the lake you’ve been talking about.”
“Up there,” I said, and I pointed to the hillside out his window. “The gravel road that I remember is gone, but it used to run from here up the hillside to an entrance gate. There’s a part of the hillside that isn’t as heavily grassed, and whatever grows there is having to work through what’s left of the road. Let’s get out and take a look.”
I opened my door, came around the front of the car to the side of the road and gestured at Seth to follow me. When he shook his head from side to side, I smiled, gestured again for him to follow and climbed over the fence .
The lake was a reservoir constructed in the 1940’s when an overnight trip to Milwaukee might be a family’s yearly vacation and a day trip to Madison or Dubuque was reserved for Christmas shopping. Darlington had not yet raised the mill levy to fund a swimming pool, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day any family that had a car to spare drove to Beardsley’s Lake to swim, canoe, feed the animals, and picnic beneath the oak trees that shaded the hillside that sloped from the lodge down to the water’s edge.
As I walked up the hillside, there were no signs that I was approaching the place mothers had packed lunches for, children had begged to be taken to, and working-class fathers had worked a few extra hours to be able to afford.
Forty years before, the lake had dominated the view once the top of the hill had been reached. The water had been a quarter mile across to the corn and hay fields on the opposite shore, and a mile long, running east to its source at the mouth of a small stream. But when I reached the top of the hill that day and looked down through the oak trees that still stood, all I saw in what had been the lake bottom was grass and flatness.
“Is it all gone?” Seth asked, having caught up with me and standing at my side.
“It appears so,” I said, realizing that I was standing at the approximate place where the entrance gate had been, its bell hanging alongside the road for customers to ring when no one in the lodge had seen them drive up. “Everything except the memories,” and I looked to my left, down the hillside to where the fish pond and peacocks had been where I had been sent on my first day of work, forty years before, at Beardsley’s Lake.