Edgar John Rabe was my grandfather. Solid, honest, thoughtful, kind, hardworking, and reliable. Orphaned, held no degree, wrote my grandmother daily love letters during the war, and had one daughter—my mother—a bohemian spitfire. He was stubborn and strong, with twinkling blue eyes, hinting at the dreamer inside. He had a hard life, but life never hardened him.
My grandfather was a provider and worked tirelessly to give Butch (my grandmother) and Cookie (my mother) a proper life. Mom always said she never knew they were poor. This always stuck with me, how my grandfather created a life exceptionally rich in love, happiness, joy, and laughter. My grandmother said they were the wealthiest family on the block.
To give his girls a break from the inner city Chicago lifestyle, my grandfather found a plot of land he could afford. It was there, on Huntley Lake in Antioch, Illinois, that he built a cottage by hand. My mom spent her summers there, running barefoot, making firefly rings, being the free spirit she was. I spent my summers there too, picking cattails, reading in the cornfield, lazily swatting mosquitos from the hammock.
It was nothing fancy. I remember there were crocheted yellow bedspreads with pom-pom details, Maury Povich on the television, Perry Como on the record player. We ate spaghetti-o's in a thermos—an absolute treat. It was a little dank and very kitschy, a place where everyone became a happier, more relaxed, version of themselves when they entered the house that grandpa built.
When I think of Huntley Lake, I can hear my mom's belly laugh, reserved for that cottage. I could hear her all the way down the road at the lake, where my dad was teaching me how to dive off the pier. I remember learning my favorite curse words from my grandmother, who spent the day cooking, cleaning, and "making eyes" at grandpa. I think of my aunts, cousins, family friends, neighbors all making the 2-hour drive north, past the outlet malls and highway-side roller coasters of Great America, never being seduced to stop, because Huntley Lake was fun and freedom enough.
But mostly, I think of my grandfather. He wanted to create a place to make his friends and family happy. A place where he could give his friends, family, and neighbors an experience that made them smile. A place he built with his own two hands. A place where he could be himself, kick his feet up, and have a wonderful time in a community that made him happy, with people who were most special to him.
That is Huntley Lake, to me. There would never be another name.