For as long as I’ve known my husband (18 years), we have always indulged in a Hoke tradition — a summer visit to Linwood Park in Vermilion. Just a mere 40 minutes from his childhood home in Bay Village, Linwood was where his mom, dad and his seven brothers and sisters and assorted friends and family would set up camp for a few weeks every summer.
Danny’s dad, an insurance agent, would commute from Linwood to his Lorain office during the summer. There was a time, Joanne told us a few years ago, when she and my father-in-law could have purchased a cottage out there for a mere $20,000. Of course at the time it might as well have been $200,000.
When we were there on Sunday, a small cottage in need of some major TLC, sitting just two back from Lake Erie was listed at $285,000.
Times have changed and yet at Linwood they never really do. I suppose that is the park’s charm.
People from all over, including a family from London, England, make the trip every summer to this small strip of beach along Lake Erie, filled with towering trees, the chiming of church bells in the Tabernacle and rows of white cottages.
My first trip there was in September 1990. Danny and I were dating and we had both taken our first paid vacation. We didn’t have enough money to go away anywhere, so we decided to take little day trips in and around Cleveland.
He was so excited to show me Linwood. We packed a picnic and made the short drive west. Once you drive through the gates of Linwood you realize that time has virtually stopped here. The playground equipment is the old metal stuff you never see. Kids roam freely on their bikes and parents placidly stroll hand-in-hand along its sandstone walkways. Generations of families convene for a little rest and relaxation.
From The Stand comes the familiar sound of a screen door slamming as kids run in and out with their stash of penny candy, slushies and change for the game room.
Most of the cottages look just as they did at the turn of the 20th century. White Victorians with green shutters and plenty of white wicker furniture on overstuffed screened porches. No air conditioning here. Only the Lake Erie breezes and the whirring of oscillating fans to keep cool. Clever names on placards adorn their fronts — Snug Harbor, Sea Breeze, Friendly Inn, Seventh Heaven.
Most of the cottages are without insulation, phones or cable. There’s a tiny wooden booth with a single pay phone in case you feel compelled to make a call. But the point out there is to completely unplug.
Our first day there, Danny and I sat on the beach and he told me stories about the old guy who walked the beach day in and day out and would smother his body in vinegar. Or how his dad would give a whistle and a wave when they had all gone too far out into the water. Or how he had to share a bedroom with his little niece, Kelly, who is now 25 and getting married next year. He found a heart-shaped rock on the beach that he gave me that day and I still have it in my jewelry box.
The only drawback of the place is the rocks. You can’t get into the water without having to walk over a two-foot-wide patch of rocks on the shoreline. Most experienced Linwood visitors have a pair or two of water shoes to protect their feet from cuts.
We spent our first family vacation there. Danny, Ryan and I had moved into our first house a month earlier. It was over Labor Day and we found that many of the planes heading for the Cleveland Air Show would buzz the beach on their way in to Burke.
To this day, we both agree that was the most relaxing vacation we’ve ever had for many reasons. Life with one very easy-going baby was pretty simple.
We’ve not spent a week out there since. It’s pretty pricey these days and now the thought of spending our precious week’s vacation so close to home sounds depressing. But a summer doesn’t go by that the Hokes don’t pile into the car and spend the day at Linwood.
My sister-in-law and her family are out there this week. We spent the day and on into the evening with them on Sunday. It was heavenly. My niece, Mary is an aspiring artist and she spent the day collecting flat rocks she could paint. When we were leaving she gave me one as a present. As we drove home the boys talked about how "awesome" Linwood is. "Can we get a cottage there next summer?" they asked.
Mary Beth and Jack have invited us to come back and stay on Thursday night. We’ll see. We’re getting ready to go on our own vacation on the 29th to our family’s other favorite spot — the Outer Banks of North Carolina. But really, one can never get too much of the beach in summer.