Sunday night last week I stayed up as late as I could to watch the Perseid meteor shower. I couldn’t really stay up as late as I wanted to, because it got cold out, and I was exhausted from traveling most of the day. But I stayed up as late as I could. The Earth passed through a cloud of loose debris. Bright streaks flashed, trailed briefly, and faded in the starry sky as the upper atmosphere was pelted with space gravel.
My brother, sister and I were on the beach on Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan, just north of the 45th Parallel. Let me tell you, the American Dream actually happened to my family. My grandparents fled anti-Jewish violence in Belarus. They arrived in the US as children, my grandfather established himself first as a house painter, then as a contractor. My father went to college and became an architect, started his own company, and now we have a vacation house on Lake Michigan, on land purchased when I was around thirteen years old. I don’t think we ever complained as kids when we were brought to the unfinished house, with its floor of bare concrete, heated by a Franklin wood-burning stove.
Over the decades my parents have made it a masterpiece. Though it’s not as large as most houses in the area, with the extra accommodations of a camper trailer parked in the driveway, a few people sleeping in my mother’s art studio attached to the garage, and me sleeping in the enclosed gazebo on a wooded bluff overlooking the beach, we had the entire clan up there at the eponymous Barb and Sam’s House of Wine Drinking and Chipmunk Training: my parents, me, my brother and sister, my brother’s five kids, a wife of one of the kids and a girlfriend of another, plus my brother’s two dogs.
My existence has turned out to be relatively privileged thanks to friends and family, despite my best efforts, conscious and unconscious, to fail at life. I can’t help comparing my oddly fortunate outcome with that of my friend Michael, who recently died of pneumonia at 62 after some years suffering from aggressively progressing early-onset dementia.
In three chairs on the beach, my brother, sister, and I sat next to the dying fire in the firepit. The burning pebbles above at first appeared only grudgingly but soon acquiesced to our demands for a show. We swept our gazes across the sky like lazy satellite dishes, south to north, hooting happily when we... read more