I turned onto Baker Street and pointed at the Italianate white mansion, “That’s where I lived when I was a kid.”
My friend stared at me, then back at the large building and laughed. “Yeah right. Next you’re going to tell me you had to fashion a dress out of the drapes to save the home from destruction.”
I grinned. “I am not Scarlett O’Hara, but I did live there.”
It’s a hoot seeing peoples’ reactions when I take them to my hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and show them where I lived from age two until I was almost six. Of course, I eventually explain that we lived in a compact one-bedroom apartment carved out of the mansion’s second floor.
My fragmented memories of living in the mansion, which is now a bed and breakfast, include a fenced yard the size of a city block, visiting Ruby, the mansion’s owner, in a room decorated in red velvet, and the pull chain toilet with its wood tank affixed to the ceiling. At my tender age, that we only lived in a small part of the large home didn’t matter.
We eventually moved into a house, and I never looked back. I was too busy with summers spent at the beach, slathering on baby oil tinted with iodine to promote faster tanning, plugging pennies into the machines at the penny arcade, and being able to play after supper until dark. In winter, the city plowed snow from the ice, and we kids would skate from dawn to dusk if our parents let us. High school brought school dances, summer jobs, and a driver’s license. I often passed by the big white mansion, but other than noting how the grounds had shrunk as tourist motels gobbled up the land, I rarely gave the place another thought.
I left Lake Geneva for good in my mid-twenties to chase a dream in New York City and eventually Los Angeles. The dream never materialized, and the more I hankered for autumn leaves rather than palm trees, Friday night fish fries instead of Mexican buffets, and the sweetness that explodes from the kernels of Midwestern corn on the cob, I knew I had to come home. An opportunity to transfer with my company to the Chicago suburbs gave me that chance and I grabbed it. It wasn’t Wisconsin, but I was only an hour’s drive away from my hometown.
A few years after moving back to the Midwest, I returned to the large white mansion on Baker Street and parked in the bed and breakfast’s circular driveway. Moments after I knocked the owner answered the door, and when I told him I’d lived there as a child, he immediately led me up a winding staircase I vaguely remembered then down a narrow hall.
He pushed a door open and my jaw dropped. The space I remembered as a spacious living room, a nice sized bedroom, a bathroom and a small kitchen had morphed into a single bedroom suite.
How had we existed for four years in such minuscule space?
Some years later, I started writing novels, setting many of my stories in Wisconsin’s small towns, including a romantic mystery set in a fictional village just east of Lake Geneva. It was a blast bringing my characters into town for a meal or two as my heroine and her long-lost love searched for a killer. My debut novel, Thyme for Love, will be out in December 2011 from OakTara Publishing.
Still, I yearned to write a novel that focused specifically on my hometown. Two years ago, I began a story set in 1933 Lake Geneva—not about the mansion I once called home, but about another building named the Riviera that has become an icon.During the summer of 2009, almost every week I made the drive over the state line to the Lake Geneva library where I poured over microfilm from the Lake Geneva News Tribune, and fell in love with my hometown all over again. This past month I was thrilled to learn that Summerside Press will publish my novel, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in June 2012.
I am blessed to come full circle and embrace the town and my home state once again through my stories. Wisconsin, and Lake Geneva in particular, remain in my heart and I pray they always will.