What’s hot this summer? Mint, strappy sandals and family vacations. You know the drill: Get all the gang to pile into the old station wagon and head off to places far and near, leaving all worldly troubles behind. Well, sort of. Not really. Okay, yeah no—just encountering new troubles. Trade that due date for bunking up with a cousin or four, that jury-duty date for a curtain-less shower and the inefficiencies of large-group decision making on “vacation.”
Family vacation at its quirkiest? Enter the Willert family. We Willerts have a nasty habit that we just can’t kick: heavy packing. Ten-bags-for-seven-days problems. We’ve tried and tried but we’re neck-scratching, support-group-attending, full-fledged duffle addicts.
And this summer, we were off to the parents’ old medical school haunts in Chicago and Nana Willert’s home in Indiana.
Scarred by vacations past, I jokingly warned the orchestrator of it all, Daddy Willert, “No flippers this time, Dad.” But seriously, not a long shot. Flippers and mask in tow not for a trip to the Keys or the Bahamas, but for a middle-of-nowhere, Howdy Doody, northern Indiana family get together. This year we came bearing Aero minute beds, a basketball, volleyball kneepads and rope all stuffed into the nine identical army bags my dad bought at a flea market in Florence.
And so here I sit, stuffed back in the catacombs of the backseat—glass lanterns at my feet, Jenga towers of sleeping bags to my right, and my mom 8 inches away but not within ear shot. Whether we are traveling halfway around the country or just down the road you know the Willert wagon will be packed to the brim. And so now we jokingly have deemed ourselves the “country cousins,” piling in from good ole Floooor-ida. (And Dad has a missing tooth awaiting a dental implant to boot).
Now, the essential staples of any good-old-fashioned family vacation extend well beyond overpacking. Any good one means only one thing: grandma’s. Good old Nana simply must make an appearance somehow.
And the only summer spectacle more entertaining than Willert family travel is Nana’s lake house and its matriarch. Frances “Nana” Willert is among the most rambunctious of the Willert bunch. At 87, she is still the youngest of four. When prompted with “Remember Uncle Gus?” she responds “Gus, when did he die?” Why yes, she is a white-topped, spit-firing, card dealing, trash-talking ball of fire. This summer, however, is Willert-on-the-rocks with a twist. Not just your usual suspects, the four Bostonians and the four Floridians. A poor unsuspecting visitor is along for the ride, the cousin’s boyfriend from Minnesota.
Pobre Pat has been thrust not only into “Meet the Parents” mode, but also “Meet the Willerts.” Dial up Ben Stiller.
We have my mom, the stress ball who wears a fleece anytime the temperature hits under 85 degrees. We have the aforementioned dad, the jokester. Uncle Dan and Aunt Bette, our Boston intellects. Andrew, the people person and Facebook addict. Maddie, the bringer of Pat, and the youngest, her brother Zach.
When we all get together, it’s cards and Amish dinners in the Indiana countryside. It means showers that smell like iron and Nana’s stale cookies. It’s frozen bread falling out of the freezer. It’s hand waving and raised voices. It’s clashing opinions and laughter and angst. With the passing years, it only gets more dynamic and memorable.
This year marks the last summer at Nana’s sleepy, lovely, crazy, crowded lake house. I got up at 6 a.m. this morning. Couldn’t sleep. Maddie snoring, cousins sprawled on the floor, apple crisp left out on the counter, the old grandfather clock tolling out of time. I went outside to see the most beautiful sunrise. And through all the mess, the crumbs, the forced intimacy and the nana, they’re family. And I’m really going to miss this place.
Gracie Willert is a Trinity junior.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.