This story is going to end with a naked, famous poet; but it’s going to begin with a wedge of fine Italian cheese that I never even got to eat.
On a Friday filled with errands and appointments, we made a spontaneous decision to pick up some provisions from Oh Mamma’s on Mishawaka Avenue. We’d decided that day that cheese sounded like a good thing, but then again, cheese sounds like a good thing every day.
There was just one parking spot available, but there was a man about my age standing in it, and he did not see us coming. Fortunately for me, my vehicle is more jalopy than car. It rattles something horrible when it’s not moving and so the car announced our presence for us. The man stepped aside as he looked our way. Despite his ballcap and sunglasses, I recognized him immediately. Rarely have I bound from a car with more enthusiasm than I did right then.
“Aaron?” I called to him.
It took just a second, but he called the same name right back at me.
And then we embraced.
Aaron Hachen was one of my two best friends through middle school. He played saxophone in the band. I played trumpet. We’d grown up at the same elementary school and played Little League together. I hadn’t seen him in at least 20 years, but there we were at the same cheese shop, in the town where I live, and on the one day all year that he was back in South Bend.
My other best friend was Aaron’s twin brother, Seth; and much to my delight, I learned that Seth was waiting in line inside the cheese shop. I made a beeline for him next. We caught up while we waited. Aaron lives outside Boston and works in advertising. Seth is a bartender and music producer in New York City. I am a published author and write for Moor and More. It would seem we’ve all made something of ourselves during a pair of lost decades.
I couldn’t stay long. There were commutes to make and appointments to keep. Indeed, I never even made it to the front of the line to purchase the cheese that I drove here for in the first place, but it didn’t matter. I exchanged phone numbers with my long, lost friends. It was the most fortuitous failed cheese run of my lifetime.
A few days later, Aaron Hachen sent me a text message and invited me to an afternoon at his family’s vacation home on Lake Michigan in Harbert. It sounded like a beautiful place to visit, but the truth is, I would have accepted an invitation to spend a few hours with my friends at a garbage dump or similarly, Guaranteed Rate Field (where the other Chicago baseball team plays). It was that good to see them.
I navigated my way through a maze of dirt roads with names like Billy Goat Bluff and Poet’s Path before I located their adorable cottage and received a tour of the most charming lake community I’d ever seen. Unlike other waterfront developments, this neighborhood was filled with history and stories, not just the trappings of wealth that dot many of the newer lake towns. Over here was an old dance hall, and over there a family that’s lived in their cottage since the early 1900s. The detritus of the old goat farm was just over that hill, and outside this window, up on that third floor patio…
“…that’s where Carl Sandburg wrote Lincoln.”
“No way!” I cried, disbelief oozing from my voice.
I would have Googled it if there was anything like cell phone reception at this part of the lake, but for now I’d just have to take his word for it. For what it’s worth, I Googled it later, and it is completely true.
“Yep, he’d wake up every morning, make coffee, and write out on that patio for hours. The old-timers used to complain about him all of the time.”
“Yep, because whenever he was writing, he insisted on being completely nude.”
I wrinkled my nose. The view to the patio, at least from where I was standing, was clear and unobstructed. It seems likely that for the people who had the means to build along the rolling shores of Lake Michigan, a naked Carl Sandburg was not the view they were hoping for.
I sat watching the lake, reflecting on the beauty of nature and the romance of the history of this tiny beachfront. But more than anything else, I reflected on the unfairness of life.
When Carl Sandburg writes naked, they give him the Pulitzer Prize for it; but when I do the same thing, they kick me out of the library.