I don't remember how old I was the first time I read "Gone-Away Lake" by Elizabeth Enright, published in 1957, but I was 52 years old when I re-read it last month. I've lost count of how many times I've read it in between.
You might be wondering why on earth I would re-read a book, and a children's book at that, so many times. Simply put, "Gone-Away Lake," a Newbery Honor book, perfectly evokes the feelings I remember as a child when the summer stretched out in front of me, seemingly with no end in sight.
Ten-year-old Portia Blake and her 6-year-old brother Foster, city-dwellers, travel by train to upstate New York for their annual summer visit with their relatives, the Jarmans. Their aunt and uncle and 12-year-old cousin Julian have moved into a new house since the Blakes' last visit, one that's deep in the countryside.
On their first day exploring the woods, hills and fields around the new house, Portia and Julian stumble upon an incredible discovery: a dozen or so once grand, now ramshackle, falling-down houses, nestled along the edge of a swamp full of beautiful swaying reeds.
Even more incredible, living in two of the homes, are Mrs. Minnehaha Cheever and her brother Pindar Payton. In their long-ago youth, the two siblings spent every summer at Lake Tarrigo, then a Victorian resort community, with a dozen other families, swimming, sailing, playing tennis and having parties.
From that day forward, Portia and Julian spend nearly every day at Gone-Away Lake, becoming fast friends with "Aunt" Minnie and "Uncle" Pin, hearing stories of their childhood adventures at Lake Tarrigo, while having adventures of their own in the abandoned homes and the beautiful bog the lake has become.
The utterly charming "Gone-Away Lake" is full of descriptions that capture the carefree, long, lazy days of a summer spent in the country. Of course, there's nary a mention of the internet, cellphones or even television. It's a slow, simple time that I adore visiting each time I pick up the book.
I would be seriously remiss if I didn't mention the sequel to "Gone-Away Lake." Missouri River Regional Library no longer owns a copy of "Return to Gone-Away," also by Elizabeth Enright, but stop by the Reference Desk and we may be able to get a copy for you. The sequel is as much of a treat as "Gone-Away Lake" and includes a house full of wonderful discoveries and possibly a treasure or two. I highly recommend it as well.
Lisa Sanning is the Adult Services Librarian at Missouri River Regional Library.