There is a group of us that we call the “Torch Lake Family.” This group has prety much had the same members since we started vacationing together, one week each year, at Sunrise Acres on Torch Lake. It’s hard to remember when we started this family, but I know that Riley Bair was not born, yet, so it has to be at least 11 or 12 years ago. We have chosen to return to this place every year, since. My kids have grown up there and have some of their most wonderful memories from spending time with this chosen family every summer. The adults have a group chat in Facebook messenger that has been actve for almost as long. It’s where we send funny and inappropriate things we can’t exactly post on our regular Facebook. Let’s just say some of us have learned the hard way not to open a message from Kurt during a work meetng or in front of small children. Some of us have nicknames on the group chat like Dad Bod, The Five Footer, Robo Word or Putin-on-the-Ritz. We communicate with each other a couple tmes a week, if not every day, when it gets closer to our week at Sunrise Acres. This group is rare. It is special. It is the family we have all chosen to join.

Matt was a member of this Torch Lake Family.

We have been lucky enough to meet others during our vacation time at Torch Lake. Matt’s sister Melissa and kids and both of his brothers have come up for a few days during our time there. Kurt’s Mom, the Heil family, the Wolf’s, and others I’m sure I’m forgettng have come up to visit for a day or two during our years there. The year the Bairs were unable to make it due to another family obligaton, Aunt Jenny rented out cabin #1 and had her friends Beth and Jason and Laura join us for a few days. We invite the owner Jeff to the crab boil each year and he has brought his boat up to take the kids tubing and allowed us to use other fun tents and water toys for the kids. The Cossar’s even bring up their camper for the teen boys to sleep in and have their own space. Each cabin takes turns making dinner for everyone, with Matt always helping in some way with all of the meals. When the kids were small, we would put them to bed at night and bring the baby monitors to the fire pit or down to cabin #4 to play games. Even though there is quite an age difference between the Ruiter, Cossar, Kelley kids, and the Bair girls, they have always gotten along and included each other in the fun. There have been moments of drama of course, but overall, the good memories far outweigh the drama. I love belonging to this family, most of the time more than my own.

For the past few summers, the Bairs have come up to Holland the night before Torch to stay with us and break up the long drive from Peoria.  Our house is pretty small, so they once slept in our camper in the driveway, all three Bair girls on one of the beds. More recently it has been a big girl party in Charlotte’s room and the parents on an air mattress in the living room.  In the morning, we pack up and hit the road, sometimes with all the gear in one car and the kids and dogs in another. We stop in Cadillac for lunch and get to the lake as soon as possible. Even the dogs can’t wait to get there. This is our tradition and one of my most favorite times of the year.  I’m grateful we have all made it work for such a long time even with the physical distance between us.

Year after year, we see the property is for sale.  Since this development, I have always had in the back of my mind during the week that this could be our last year at Sunrise Acres.  I hate thinking that, but my anxious mind can’t help but let it creep in at times. Since Matt passed away in October, my thoughts have been wandering to this dark place again.  Was last year our LAST year there? It clearly will never be quite the same again without Matt. I will love being at Torch Lake, but hate that he is not there with us. Who will start the charcoal and dive down deep with Jon? Who will walk away from the fire pit at night to make a drink with his pants around his ankles to the chorus of “Oh, Matt Bair!”? Will Jen and the girls make the long trip without Matt?  Will we all be full of sadness or will we be able to celebrate life going on? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that if last year was the LAST year at Torch, it was amazing! The weather could not have been better. The days were hot, so hot in fact that Jeff installed window air conditioners for us that week. There was a paintball fight, fireworks, a sweet tree tent and Charlotte got a room to herself for the whole week, with the Bair girls taking turns sleeping over of course!  The water was warm enough for me to swim and I found a piece of purple beach glass. We did go to Charlevoix for a day, but honestly, I didn’t want to leave Sunrise Acres that week. Matt came out in that damn stars and stripes romper on the Fourth of July and that sight is something that still makes me laugh. On the last day, Jen took pictures of the Bair girls and Charlotte doing ballet jumps down the dock. Then Matt, Ben, Jon, Jacob and Lucas did some too! Those are some amazing pictures! We said our goodbyes and hit the road for home.  When we got to Holland, the Bairs were in front of our house. One of the girls had left a blanket there and they decided to grab it and take a bathroom break before heading back to Peoria. We all got one more hug from the Bairs. I’m thankful for that. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know it would be the last hug from Matt, but thinking back, I’m so glad the girls left that blanket!

We don’t know officially if the property is sold, but over the past few years, Jeff has told us that if it’s not sold by January 1st, they will still rent the cabins for the summer.  I’m positive we are on the calendar for the week of Fourth of July.  If my feelings are mixed about this, I know Jen and the girls are feeling this even more deeply.  I don’t know what will happen, but there are a few things I do know. This Torch Lake Family is here for you Jen.  You are covered financially for the week. I will be a good sister wife and come down to pick you up if you don’t want to make the drive alone.  We will laugh and cry with you and I’ll probably pee my pants from laughing at least once. The big kids will watch out for the Bair girls when you need a break or want to go shopping in Traverse City. We will eat too much, drink too much, and sleep late in the morning.  You will find more beach glass than me. I think Matt would want us to keep going up there as long as we are able. We will miss his presence there immensely. Jen, we will understand if it’s too much for you. We don’t need to decide right now and there is no right or wrong in any decision we make.  And finally, I love my entire Torch Lake Family and I will continue to choose to be a part of this rare and special group forever, or as long as everyone is willing to put up with my potty mouth!