Growing up & the lake effect

May 24, 2015

Durand Eastman Park - Government Rearing Pond and Scout Camp Rochester, NY

I’ve always loved being near the water and longed to live near it, so when I decided to move to the Monterey peninsula it was a dream come true. The idea that I could walk a couple of blocks and be on a beach? Heaven.

Thinking about that, recently, I really took in– for the first time– that I grew up near water.  How is it I only now realized that I grew up about three miles from Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes?  Because it had so little to do with our family life that it might just as well have not existed. I hardly ever remember that Lake Ontario is in my home town of Rochester, New York.


That blue on the map is Lake Ontario. Just in case you didn’t realize it. I lived in the town called Irondequoit. Yes, that close to the water. And yet, it didn’t signify, not in my upbringing. Not at all.

On the other hand, the lake was a big part of my husband’s life–although he was raised only a mile closer in a part of Rochester called Charlotte.  My own family, though, might as well have lived land-locked in the center of the country. Irondequoit, a town of about 50,000 now, is on the shores of both the Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay, but other than driving over the Bay to get somewhere, we never went to the water. No beach picnics, sunbathing or swimming for us. I do remember a teenage bonfire or two, though, but those were anomalies in my life.

th-4Now look at the red dot that signifies Charlotte.  That’s where M. grew up. Only a few miles separated us, but our life experiences were very different.  He was a “city boy” and I was a “suburban girl.” Our paths never crossed. But he did spend a whole lot of time on that lake, while I could count on both hands the number of times I went there as a kid.

My family never talked about it, but my sense is that the beach was considered “fun” and maybe a bit too frivolous.  Fun was difficult for those who came up during the Great Depression, and especially hard for my father. He thought the primary purpose of life was work and that’s the way he lived. It’s also how he thought we should live. Of course, once we grew up, we made sure to live the way WE wanted and it wasn’t nearly as narrowly as our parents. But one thing we did hang on to was our parents’ work ethic. We just weren’t as rigid about play.

15a7f1583af61e509049058cb6dd5108Today, parents are all about providing enrichment and so many different activities for their kids. But back then, at least in my family, parents did their thing and kids did theirs. I can’t recall a single time when my mother got down on the floor and played with us. It might have happened, but if it did, it was an exception.  Even so, I didn’t exactly feel deprived; it was just the way things were. I didn’t know anything different.

And really, few parents of the 1950s and 1960s were as involved in their children’s lives as parents are today.  M. says his father never went to a single one of his high school football or baseball games. Today, parents take off work to attend soccer matches and other activities their kids are in.

I’ve been away from my home town more than 40 years now, so much longer than I lived there. When I travel back to Rochester to visit, and all the time, really,  I view it with a stranger’s eyes but a kid’s heart. I marvel at the lake and that I lived so close to it.  And I think about all the different ways my family and my experiences as a child contributed to the life I built outside of that small, western New York area.

At this age, the connections are clearer and so are the paths, those taken and those not taken.

10 comments on “Growing up & the lake effect
  1. Laura Ehlers says:

    What a beautiful way to look at growing up. Each generation does what it feels is the best – warts and all. Thanks for sharing part of your story Carol.

  2. I grew up in a small town about 20 miles from the beaches of Lake Erie and same thing- it wasn’t a thought in our lives. Odd. Love this post. You got me thinking about a lot of things. Thanks.

  3. I’ve been looking at old pictures recently of where I grew up, and where I currently live. I love how much it’s changed and look forward to seeing the pictures of now in 10 and 20 years time to compare it to how things are now.

  4. Lynne says:

    So true that parenting has changed throughout the generations. Glad the ‘boomers’ added more play to the everyday grind 🙂

  5. Laurel Regan says:

    So interesting to look back on one’s upbringing and compare/contrast it with how kids are raised today. Even though you didn’t visit the lake much as a child, I’m glad you’re able to enjoy living near the water now!

  6. Alana says:

    It is interesting the way those of us who move from where we grew up see our home towns or cities when we come back to visit. As for me: I was born, and spent my first five months of life, in the Rockaways section of New York City, just a block from the ocean. Then, my parents moved inland, to the Bronx, and I have never returned, ever, to where I was born. A trip to either Orchard Beach (in the Bronx) or Jones Beach (out on Long Island) was a real treat, especially as my parents did not own a car (common, back then, in NYC). Now, I live an hours drive from the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. There is nothing like catching sight of Cayuga Lake for the first time each spring, when we visit Ithaca for their semi annual library book sale. I love seeing the water and watching the sailboats.

  7. I’ve actually driven through that area touring around the lakes looking at the lighthouses. It’s beautiful up around that area. We went camping at a park there one year, but it was further up on the eastern part of Lake Ontario. You know my mother has always been the same way, I’ve talked about that before. She thinks that having fun is basically a sin. Almost like if you are not working yourself to death and miserable you were going to hell. I was angry at her for a very long time because I blamed her for my father’s early death because he was always working for fear of disappointing her.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Small world! I grew up on the other side of Lake Ontario, in Toronto. Now living in the SF Bay Area, I long to move to the ocean in the Monterey area.

  9. Loved reading about your history with the lake. I’ve always lived near water too – growing up in New York on the Atlantic and now living in San Diego on the Pacific – and find it so important to me.

  10. I grew up not far from you in Rome. I was raised by my grandparents and often went to Lake Delta with my grandfather to fish. When I was a teen, I spent a lot of time at the Yacht Club…we didn’t have a yacht and weren’t rich enough to belong, but I had a friend whose family were members. There was also a parking area that was the make out place back in the day. I went from that to the west coast in Seattle, loved Green Lake and walking the beaches of the ocean. Now, however, I’m in Colorado…not many lakes but I’ve come to love the mountains and find I don’t miss being near the water.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.